I am happy to announce the release of EVEREST VR, the very first product of Sólfar Studios, co-developed with RVX. It’s been nearly two years now since Sólfar Studios was founded with the goal of bringing people to impossible places through transformative virtual reality experiences.
As an impossible place for most people, Everest ranks quite high. At the same time its stern beauty and majestic presence is something that everybody should experience at least once in a lifetime. One of the promises of VR is precisely to be able to do that, so we decided to put it to the test.
For us as veterans from the game industry, approaching this new media was a great learning experience. Did we want to create a game or an experience? Did we want to tell a story or allow the user to create their own? What was our target audience and what would their expectations be?
We decided early on that EVEREST VR would not be a game.
The reasons for that are twofold. On the one hand, the level of graphical fidelity that we were striving for would be prohibitive for us to reach except for a few chosen key locations, considering the size of our team and budget. Secondly, once we grasped the level of immersion that we could achieve by focusing on a few key locations and the fact that it was actually possible to capture thesense of awe of being immersed in a majestic landscape, we decided that this would be an experience that you would want to share with as many of your friends and loved ones as possible. That meant having the experience as accessible as possible, for people of any age and computer literacy, as well as giving people the opportunity to experience all the key moments within a sensible time span.
This is why we chose five key moments in summiting EVEREST and tried to recreate them faithfully and as gorgeously as current hardware allows. Following the logical sequence of locations as you come closer and closer to the summit, you are free to go through each of these moments at your own pace, but also to go back to them and enjoy the scenery from different vantage points.
Finally, we also allow you to experience the landscape from more of a cartographical point of view in a special ‘God Mode’, where you tower over the mountain range like a giant. This mode we plan to develop further, adding infographic layers and historical information so that the product truly becomes an interactive atlas providing both emotional experiences as well as more pedagogical insights.
As I said before, we have strived to maximize the graphical quality of the experience but at the same time we wanted this to run well for the majority of current VR users. This is why we integrated various middleware solutions to Unreal Engine 4 such as Simplygon, Granite from Graphine and trueSKY from Simul to make the most of the content we had. And last but not least, we integrated solutions from NVIDIA that allowed us to push the envelope of what was possible on their range of cards (GeForce GTX 970 and up) significantly. This included integration of MultiRes (and soon Lens Matched Shading) that reduces the peripheral resolution of the rendering target, reducing overall rendering time without affecting the visual quality; and integration of Turbulence to give realistic and real-time simulation of blizzards and spindrift.
On the flip side, this also meant that we didn’t have as much room left to optimize for AMD, so current performance on AMD is not as aggressively optimized, with the RADEON RX 480 as our minspec. We are actively working with AMD and Epic to improve that, but we also provide access to some graphical settings that users can tweak and adapt to their current hardware and comfort level. Reprojection can help for many levels as there are few fast moving objects in our scene (except your hands), making reprojection artefacts less visible.
I hope you all enjoy EVEREST VR and that you come to appreciate the beauty of the mountain as we have through this past year of development. I amazed myself a couple of months ago by tearing up during a certain scene, even after having experienced it repeatedly for months and months. In that sense a beautiful landscape is like music, it can move you and surprise you again and again even when you thought you knew it by heart.