An Interview With Daniel Havens, Creativerse’s Game Director

Creativerse City

Earlier this month, Playful Corp. released their new game, Creativerse.

A sandbox builder that encourages you to play however you want, Creativerse wants to carve out a place for itself in a genre that’s dominated by Minecraft. It’s a promising title that I had a lot of fun with. You can read my thoughts on the game here.

I got to chat to Playful Corp.’s Game Director, Daniel Havens, who was kind enough to answer some of my questions about Creativerse. Below, Havens tells of his experiences creating the game, gives his opinions on VR and more.

Duncan: Firstly I’d like to say I’ve really been enjoying Creativerse; you can really tell a lot of fun has gone into making the game. Obviously there’s always stress in making such a big project, but is that the case? Do the creative team like playing and spending time in the game?

Daniel Havens: The core team working on Creativerse has changed a bit over the years, and while I think it’s safe to say that everyone who worked on the project has enjoyed playing the game, the current team is by far the most passionate group we’ve ever had. Several of us go home and play it at night. Some are even fairly active in the community, to the point where, if you know where to look, you can find and start playing with an engineer who was coding the game earlier that day. Each of us has our own long list of features we’d love to see added to the game, and we’re always eager to expand those lists based on what our players are excited about. I think that’s one of the secrets of having such a passionate community – we really do love the game, which makes it easy to genuinely care about it and our players.

“If you know where to look, you can find and start playing with an engineer who was coding the game earlier that day.”

Ironically this also leads to one of the biggest challenges we face. The realities of running a live game with a small indie team, plus the constraints of operating costs vs. revenue – it often clashes with the goals of building a sandbox where we want truly anything to be possible. Often that tension is healthy – it demands a certain focus and challenges us to find creative ways to keep big ideas elegant and simple when they easily could have ended up a bloated mess. But sometimes it’s just plain painful, like when we have to say “no” or “not yet” to things we (and our players) desperately want.

Duncan: You have lots of experience in developing for VR. Do you prefer creating more open and creative games like Creativerse or do you find more enjoyment in creating on-rails experiences that VR often leans toward?

Daniel: We definitely enjoy both – we are a group of passionate gamers and love all sorts of games, both as developers and players. But as you might expect, some are more passionate about certain genres than others. As mentioned, the team currently developing Creativerse are all devoted sandbox fans. Part of that has to do with where we’re at in life – several members of the team are parents and love playing the game with their kids. Others love the experience of sharing it with girlfriends or family who are newer to gaming and watch them fall in love with the magic of the sandbox.

Stepping back a bit, a big reason we’re so drawn to the genre in the first place is that, as creators ourselves, we know how much fun and pure joy lies in the act of creation. Enabling people all across the world to tap into that joyous experience is the reason we do what we do. Nothing brings us more meaning than giving people a small slice of happiness they can share with their friends and family.

Creativerse Valley

Duncan: Creativerse draws so much inspiration from Minecraft, and I think in a lot of ways it makes it so much more accessible. Would you say that was this one of the goals in making the game?

Daniel: We are big fans of the genre that Minecraft popularised. The endless possibilities and potential of what a true sandbox game can be is tantalising – just look at the sheer volume of impressive content the community has made for that game. But we had a lot of ideas on ways to both push the genre forward and improve the overall experience. Accessibility is a big one. The vision for Creativerse from the beginning was to make it as easy as possible to get the game, get your friends in there with you, and go about having fun, whether that’s exploring and going on adventures or collaborating on a big creative project. That’s the main reason we knew we had to make the game free to play, that we had to do all of the hosting ourselves, and that we needed to present a polished, intuitive experience that had just enough mystery and moments of discovery without being frustratingly opaque.

“As creators ourselves, we know how much fun and pure joy lies in the act of creation. Enabling people all across the world to tap into that joyous experience is the reason we do what we do.”

Duncan: Stepping away from Creativerse briefly, I’m really interested in what you think about how Sony is handling VR just now. I know you’re a true believer in VR, as am I, but I would like to see them, and Microsoft, in fact, making more games for VR. Would you agree?

Daniel: We are huge fans of VR, it’s true. We started talking with Oculus as soon as we knew what they were up to and jumped at the chance to partner with them when we made Lucky’s Tale. So of course we’d love to have more content available to play. But the market is understandably challenging at the moment. There just aren’t enough units in the wild to justify a lot of funding for VR games. But that won’t last long. The hardware, software and costs are only going to get better, and soon they’ll reach a point where the adoption rate really starts to take off. When that happens you’ll see something similar to the app rush in the early days of the iPhone. We can’t wait.

Duncan: What would you say is your favourite thing you’ve seen created in Creativerse, so far?

Daniel: This is difficult – there’s so many to choose from. One player, deadwo0d, built a world full of amazingly detailed pixel art and then took advantage of a glitch with ladders to make a functional roller coaster which takes you on a tour so you can view each piece.

We also recently launched player-published adventures, where anyone can publish not just their builds but a guided experience or mini-game inside those builds. A player called Supadave made an obstacle course in the sky that was brilliant on its own, but then he figured out how to use our machine blocks to build a checkpoint system so you don’t have to start over from the beginning each time you fall.

Both examples combine two of our favourite things about our community: their vast creativity for building and their ability discover emergent behavior and/or repurpose things in ways we never would have thought of ourselves.

Creativerse Ship

Duncan: You’ve said previously that you don’t just want to port the game to VR, but Minecraft has had some success in including VR support. With that in mind, and your expertise in VR development, do you feel any pressure to support Creativerse through VR or was it always a vision from the start?

Daniel: Two thoughts here. First, let’s go back to another example from the early days of mobile gaming. Everyone was rushing to make games for mobile, but not everyone was taking the time to truly understand the medium, its strengths, its limitations. Playful’s founder, Paul Bettner, figured out early on that convenience was the most important thing to optimise for, which is what allowed him to beat Scrabble at their own game when he made Words With Friends. Virtual Reality has entirely different strengths and limitations.

In our opinion, comfort is to VR what convenience is to mobile. It is super easy to make people uncomfortable in all sorts of ways: motion sickness and nausea, obviously, but also soreness and exhaustion (think of Valve’s infectiously fun but arm-destroying bow and arrow mini-game in their Labs demo). The art of making content for VR is always going to start with the question of: using the hardware and haptics available right now, how can we make something that harnesses the amazingly immersive world of VR while also being one you can enjoy and linger in for long stretches?

For Creativerse, a virtual reality version was never the star we were steering toward, but it’s always been on our wish list of things we’d love to do someday. And yes, we’ve experimented a bit with a VR version here at the studio. The most recent incarnation actually has a lot of potential. But, like most games built for another medium, it’s still at best akin to wearing a suit pulled off the shelf at a store. Our players deserve a tailored, comfortable fit. Hopefully one day we’ll figure out how to give them that.