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Local Spotlight: Actually Sane Studios, Dreaming Big With Virtual Reality

There are not that many VR users here in Singapore. This is down to a wide number of factors, but the truth of the matter is that there aren’t many adopters of the new medium. Despite this, there are many studios and individuals working on developing VR projects here in Singapore. This article is looking at one small studio working hard on making high-quality VR content. They’re called Actually Sane Studios, and they’ve already got one title under their belt.

Who Are Actually Sane?

Actually Sane Studios was created in September of 2016 by two former NUS students Wong Kang-An and Ko Wan Ling and a mutual friend, Xu Juntang. Wong and Ko had the chance to work with the Oculus DK2 while studying and decided they wanted to carry on working on VR when they graduated. Without a space to call their own, however, they had to find an incubator to let them work on their first project: Danger Room.

Image courtesy: Actually Sane Studios

This is why they’re currently located at Pixel Studios, near Fusionopolis and the great startup heaven of Ayer Rajah Crescent. Here, nestled among several other young studios, Actually Sane have a small office space to work on their projects. There isn’t lots of room, but enough for all three. There is also just enough room to try out their VR titles. I had a chance to try out both their current game, Danger Room and their currently untitled secondary project.

Image courtesy: Actually Sane Studios

Danger Room is a lot of fun, and it had a high level of polish. Your avatar stands in a retro-inspired VR room and shoot at targets. The twist here is that you need to absorb the missiles shot at you before you can fire back. There is also a time-slowing mechanic, where you turn the Vive controllers to slow down time. At first, I thought it was a little gimmicky, but as the difficulty increased, it became essential.

Image courtesy: Actually Sane Studios

The second, currently in production title was quite interesting. Wong told me that the idea is to create god simulator, where spaceships fly around your head. You can grab them and use them to fire on the enemy ships. Since this was a super early build with a lot of placeholder assets, it was more of a fun distraction than a real game. However, the idea was a solid one, and I’m looking forward to seeing this in action.

The difficulty of working in Singapore

Image courtesy: Actually Sane Studios

After playing around, I sat down with the creators and talked about why they decided to get into designing VR games. Inevitably, the conversation also moved to the challenges of working on VR in Singapore, on top of the already significant issues of working on such a niche medium.

Image courtesy: Actually Sane Studios

“There aren’t a lot of grants for games in Singapore,” Wong said, “There used to be a few, but it’s dried up.” This is not a problem just with Singapore however. Wong told me that they have considered relocating to other countries to make it easier to develop games. Taiwan was top of their list, partly because it would let them try to enter HTC’s incubator programme. However, it can be very tricky to get in, and even then games are not given much consideration. Without many avenues of funding, Wong says they are currently looking at doing contract work for companies looking to use VR.

Image courtesy: Actually Sane Studios

Wong adds that there is another difficulty with working on VR in Singapore. Most companies work with mobile VR, which is in keeping with the state of game development in Singapore. “When we came her [Pixel Studios], they asked us why we didn’t consider working with mobile,” Wong says. He hopes that this will change in the future. When asked if they wanted to spearhead this change, all three agreed that they would like to.

Image courtesy: Actually Sane Studios

There is also the issue of the market for VR. Globally, it is still a very small market, and in Singapore, it’s even smaller. Wong says that he thinks there are about forty HTC Vive users in the whole country. While this could change, Wong thinks that this is still a few years down the line. In the meantime, they will keep on working on VR projects that they believe in and hope that they can keep it sustainable.

So if you want to see VR grow strong, or support a local game studio, go out and give Actually Sane some love. Follow their Facebook and Twitter. If you have an HTC Vive, head over to their store page. Take it from me; it’s seriously good fun.

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