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Dolphin school: Classroom Aquatic's whimsically weird VR design Exclusive

February 7, 2014 | By Kris Ligman

February 7, 2014 | By Kris Ligman
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More: Indie, Design, Exclusive, Video, VR

Described as "the world's first cheat-'em-up," Classroom Aquatic is a new and creative spin on the trivia game genre -- one which is played with the Oculus Rift.

"We first developed Classroom Aquatic for the VR Jam, which was co-sponsored by IndieCade and Oculus," explains team member Remy Karns, who leads the game's production and writing. "We wanted to make something that really used the Rift's way of looking around."

The premise of Classroom Aquatic could not be more fanciful: assuming the role of a human diver transfer student in a classroom of adolescent dolphins, the player must stealthily sneak a peek at their classmates' exams to learn the answers to each question. Cheating is the only way to complete the test -- after all, there was no way the player could have prepared for a test in dolphin school.

Moreover, as a setting, the classroom environment allows developers to play upon the Rift's strengths while downplaying its trickier aspects. By keeping the player fixed in their seat for a realistic purpose (for certain quantities of 'realistic,' given the premise), the game emphasizes the Rift's way of looking, affording the same range of pan and tilt as a person. Controls allow the player to lean in their seat, create distractions, and of course, be devious with their exam.

"Some people don't have any trouble using VR. I myself have had horrible experiences with simulation sickness, so we wanted to eliminate that here," Karns tells Gamasutra. "We wanted to create something that felt very natural, which didn't exacerbate the brief lag time that exists between input and action."

Karns, a masters student at the University of Southern California's Interactive Media and Games Division, has partnered with five other developers including several from the University of California at Los Angeles to create Classroom Aquatic. Developing a game with a classroom setting, then, almost certainly draws upon the team's own scholastic experiences -- except perhaps the part about the dolphins or (hopefully) cheating on tests.

"The value of an education in games design really does depend on the individual," says Karns. "There are people making brilliant games in their basement without ever setting foot inside a classroom. At the same time, there are many for whom there is absolutely a lot to be gained from an educational setting."

While Classroom Aquatic was developed with the Oculus Rift in mind, it is not dependent upon it. Karns's team designed the game to play equally well on a normal monitor. Those curious to explore the game's current test build can check out both Oculus and non-Oculus versions on the game's website.

"We wanted to make something fun, something kind of whimsical," Karns explains. "The controls are very intuitive. Our playtesters will often lean in the same direction of their character when they use the controller."

Karns and his team team are currently seeking funds to expand Classroom Aquatic's current prototype into a full-fledged game, one replete with story mode and other features. Like the present build, the intended final product will be accessible both with and without a VR headset. You can learn more about the game's crowdfunding effort at its Kickstarter page.

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