Technology

Canberra's Lightning Rock leads the pack with pioneering virtual-reality game

Four Canberra gamers working from a lounge room have seized on virtual reality technology to be among Australia's earliest adopters and produce a game due for release this year.

Blackout curtains and more than 10 screens border the Lightning Rock office, in one director's lounge room – their focus these past two years has been a cowboy hat-wearing marble.

Within the next six months, the Oculus Rift – recently bought by Facebook – and the HTC Vive headsets will be available  to buy in Australian stores.

At prices over $1000, the headsets are still for the tech-obsessed. But Lightning Rock hope to capitalise on being among the first in Australia producing for the nascent market.

When their Marble Mountain game is released later this year, it will mark a huge milestone for the lifelong gamers.

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"It all probably started about 30 years ago, when [computer] games were just coming out," Mr Pickles said. "Because I think that's pretty much when the love affair started."

While they dabbled with development of other games on other platforms, it was virtual reality that led programmers Stephen Shorrock and Ben Doobov, artist Chris Hahn and producer Shannon Pickles to complete their first game.

"To start with, [virtual reality] is cool, I think that needs to be said," Mr Pickles said. "It allows that different layer of gaming – it's about having an experience as much as playing a game."

As a small "indie" company "working out of a loungeroom", they had already benefited by lots of attention as early adopters, simply by being there when others weren't, Mr Pickles said.

"We don't have millions of dollars to spend on marketing and advertising. But because we're really early into this field we're a very small number of people who are doing this at the moment.

"We can do exciting stuff, new stuff, [and] try and stretch the boundaries."

Their game, Marble Mountain, involves controlling a cowboy hat-wearing marble through mazes and the tops of cliffs, from a third-person camera view perched above the marble.

Nod your head down with the headset on, and you'll see cliffs fall away to nothing.

In this sense the game is different from the first-person shooter games and simulators that have drawn much of the focus of early virtual reality programmers.

This year, and courtesy of the ACT government, the team headed to PAX South, one of the world's biggest gaming conventions.

Mr Pickles said it was an indication of the industry's potential in Canberra.

"[The government] recognises that [virtual reality] is something really exciting, that we could potentially start becoming experts in, and doing really exciting stuff with."

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