Onward remains to be one of the most popular and ambitious VR games on the market with almost 2,000 user reviews on Steam nearing a perfect 10/10 rating. When it originally released into Early Access on Steam over a year ago for HTC Vive it took the VR gaming world by surprise with its attention to detail, intense realism, and laser-sharp focus on delivering a fully immersive military-sim shooter. Not bad for one guy that dropped out of college to make his dream game.
After a year of updates, working out of the Valve offices, and hiring a small team of dedicated artists and programmers to work alongside him, Dante Buckley has his eyes set on the future for both Onward and his indie development studio, Downpour Interactive.
“I knew it would be popular, but I never expected it to be this popular,” Buckley tells me during a recent interview. His modesty is a constant theme every time I’ve spoken to him, even though he is technically now several peoples’ boss. “This is my first time actually leading a team. With my age and experience there has been a lot to learn but thankfully they’re really receptive and want to make fun games and willing to be led. So far everything has been going pretty well. They make my life a lot easier.”
In that statement he’s alluding to what his life was like when he was working on Onward basically by himself. With regards to his work-life balance, there simply wasn’t any. His life during that time was literally eat, sleep, and code. That’s it. It was unhealthy and unsustainable.
“It was hell,” Buckley admits. “I’d wake up, go to work by sitting on the computer all day, basically thinking in code while staying up until I couldn’t anymore, then go right back to sleep and start it all over again the next day. I was addicted and I loved it, but yeah. If I were to start another company I’d make sure to setup a structure in the beginning. It was bad.”
All that hard work has paid off though. When Onward first launched it was a relatively straight forward game with only a handful of maps and really just one competitive multiplayer game mode that tasked teams with killing each other or completing a singular objective. Now there are multiple different ways to play, including cooperative multiplayer against AI opponents, which help the game feel more fully realized.
To top things off on this long journey thus far, Onward finally released on Oculus Home for Oculus Rift and Touch officially two weeks ago — I found out because an Oculus PR representative told me so and actually was in charge of setting up the interview. This means in the past 12 months Buckley has gone from working at the Valve offices to being represented by Oculus’ PR team, which I find interesting.
“I feel like it’s just smart business to work with both equally and get the game out to as many people as possible so that they can have the best experience possible,” Buckley explains. “Just having it on both with SteamVR support and Oculus SDK support and working with both companies is important. In a lot of ways both of them helped shape who I am with Steam itself and Oculus even going back to the Kickstarter days and seeing them form and inspire me to get into VR.”
We still don’t really know what’s coming next, but that didn’t stop Buckley from dropping some hints during the interview. “What’s next will be announced before the end of the year and it might be a bit controversial when we decide to talk about it, but overall I think people will like it,” he says. “Most will be excited, but with any community sees changes there is backlash sometimes. It’s an announcement, within the next month or so. It’s exciting for sure.”
I tried pressing him to find out if these are changes coming to Onward or if this is news about a brand new game and all he would say is that it’s an announcement coming soon, so that’s not much to go on. In the past he’s alluded to a desire to work on emotionally-charged narrative-based experiences, so perhaps this will be a new game announcement and not anything to do with Onward.
For more details on Onward make sure to check out our Field Guide that’s full of tips to help you excel on the battlefield. You can buy Onward on Steam for Vive and Rift or on Oculus Home for Rift. Let us know what you think of the game down in the comments below!