I’m in a darkened hotel room, with crappy carpet and everything. It’s deserted. Carefully, I creak open the door and shuffle along a dimly lit hallway, lights flickering. Is that smoke? I turn a corner to an eerie sight – a wall of overturned chairs, stacked like a futile attempt at a barricade.

What happened here?

“You can take off the Rift now,” says Nick Wigtil, founder, President and Art Director of Big 4 Production, a game development startup in Fargo. He’s also a sought-after 3D artist who teaches 3D modeling at Rasmussen College, and started working with 3D software at 12 years old (Just, throwin’ that out there).

Virtual reality horror game

I unstrap the weighty black virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift DK2, and sit back, staring at the double image that just seconds ago had surrounded me in a very lifelike way. Even still, there’s an anxious aftertaste of being in such a creepy environment.

“And that’s without the actual characters, or the scary music,” the Big4 team says, laughing.

virtual reality horror game

Wigtil using the Oculus Rift to test their horror game.

Right now the virtual reality horror game is in a prototype stage. The monsters and music – a low bass with eerie overtones, very classic horror-style themes created by Nick Ganoe – will come later. I, for one, am too much of a scaredy-cat to enter into a virtual reality horror game just yet.

But for the team at Big 4 Productions, and many experts in the gaming industry, this is the future of gaming.

Virtual reality gaming: Space & Horror

“As someone who plays games myself, I see this as the future of gaming in general,” said David Hermanson, Creative Director and Lead Designer at Big 4.“I knew it would be a good direction for Big 4 Production to go.”

As for why this is the future of gaming, he had a simple answer.

“Because it’s so fun, honestly,” Hermanson said.

Once they decided they were going to create a virtual reality game, Wigtil and their Marketing Coordinator Phillip Bakken researched what the best game genre would be; the most popular results varied between a space game or a virtual reality horror game.

“I knew I wanted to do something scary,” Hermanson said. “It’s a good genre to really showcase the immersiveness of virtual reality. When you really feel like you’re in the game, being scared is just so much more intense.”

Big steps for Big 4

virtual reality horror game

The virtual reality horror game is not Big 4 Production’s first product; since their founding in 2012, they have released 2 games for PC and 6 mobile apps – including their most popular game, Illusion of the Wind, which features a shogun-fighting ninja and has been downloaded by tens of thousands of gamers.

After their most recent mobile game, a side-scroller called Redshift, Hermanson felt it was time to break into the up and coming field of virtual reality gaming.

“Right now [virtual reality gaming] is kind of a barren marketplace,” Hermanson said. “There aren’t many quality games and apps out there for it. That’s why we want to jump on the ball and be one of the first to make a really high quality product.”

In order to do so, they have expanded their team and recruited some of Fargo’s top 3D designers. Currently the team consists of Wigtil, Hermanson, Bakken, Ganoe, as well as Michael Aamold, project coordinator and designer, Ben Earles, 3D artist and designer, Mason Donley, audio engineer, and Mike Kuske, social media intern.

As of now, the team works in their spare time aside from other full-time jobs, and is funded off of loans and out of pocket. Basically, Big 4 Production is fueled on pure passion.

virtual reality horror game

Some of the Big 4 Production team. Left to right: Wigtil, Bakken, Aamold, Hermanson

The need for virtual reality gaming content

As with any rapidly emerging market, they are not the only ones scrambling to create virtual reality content – Ubisoft, creators of Assasin’s Creed and Far Cry, recently announced they too will be releasing virtual reality games in 2016 – but they are among the first.

In fact, right now, the marketplace is so empty that virtual reality headsets aren’t even that useful yet.

“Before any headset can succeed… there needs to be content – which is part of the reason so many major names are dragging their feet with commercial versions,” writes Chris Morris in a Forbes article titled, ‘When will virtual reality games hit stores?’

Even the Oculus Rift, which is the main juggernaut when it comes to virtual reality headsets and was bought by Facebook last year for $2B, waited until last month to announce that a commercial product would be available in Q1 of 2016. (Big 4 Production was able to purchase a development kit version, the Oculus Rift DK2, through a successful Indiegogo campaign.)

virtual reality gaming

Michael Aamold poses with Nick Wigtil on the Rift.

“’It’s a chicken and egg thing,” said Oculus Rift co-founder and vice president of product Nate Mitchell in the Forbes article. “Without an audience, it doesn’t make sense to develop content, but without content, there’s no audience. … The cool thing about VR is it’s new and fresh – and we don’t know what the killer app is going to be.”

The team at Big 4 Production doesn’t know either. But when they’re not working at their full-time jobs, they’re putting in all their spare time to give this virtual reality horror game their best shot. Although the game’s release is dependent on a lot of different variables, the team hopes to have it done by late 2016, Wigtil said.

“It’s a lot of work. But we’re trying to get the business up and running so we can do it full time,” Wigtil said. “That’s the dream.”

Photos courtesy of Big 4 Production and Marisa Jackels.

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Marisa Jackels