Have you ever met someone for coffee and suddenly found yourself wearing a pair of Oculus virtual reality goggles? And then you’re flying through space dodging space rocks and making embarrassing “whoa” noises but you don’t care because you’re flying! If that doesn’t happen to you, then you probably need to have coffee with Justin Moravetz, founder of Bend-based Zero Transform.

An alum of Sony’s game development studio here, Moravetz’s bootstrapped company is behind two VR games, Proton Pulse and Vanguard V. BendTECH talked with Moravetz about his passion for virtual reality, the popularity of the games he’s made and the future of his startup.

Startup: Zero Transform
Founded: 2014
Employees: 6
Location: Bend

Why did you leave Sony to start Zero Transform? My two passions are virtual reality and game development. I spent the last 9.5 years making games for Playstation, but I wanted to create a content studio that focuses on making brilliant virtual reality content. This is the evolution of gaming. VR is projected to be a $30 billion industry by 2020 and just under half of that market is VR game content. It’s exciting times for a game developer in VR. And though my experience is primarily in games, VR can help people in so many situations where they want to escape but they can’t. It can give patients in the hospital a chance to be somewhere else or let a person exercising compete with friends or say travel to the top of a volcano

Justin Moravetz, founder Zero Transform
Justin Moravetz, founder Zero Transform

What was the game I was just playing? That was a demo of Vanguard V, which is a five minute game designed for virtual reality. You just use your head to both move and fire. You play as Qu, who has tracked the parasite menace and is trying to save the planet from annihilation. You start by flying through space, then you go to the surface of a planet and eventually into the center.

And your other title is Proton Pulse? In that one, you’ve been chosen to compete in a diabolical game of atomic paddleball. You can use your paddle to direct the Proton, an energy ball with awesome power and the only thing that can destroy an attacking enemy known as M.O.A.I.

Have these games been popular?  In the last three weeks, people have played Vanguard V — which is five minutes long — for more than 100,000 hours. Lots of people have posted about it on YouTube. But the kind of feedback I love is the note I got from a dad whose son was in a wheelchair, unable to move his arms and legs. He can play Vanguard V just by moving his head. What we really want to do is develop the full version of the game, but that takes a lot of resources.

What did it take to make the Vanguard V demo? We put it together in three weeks, basically working around the clock. It was me at my house and my team — which includes developers, voice actors and musicians — would come over and we would just hammer. I supported the costs through the virtual reality consulting work I do. For example I recently had a gig with SpaceX. We have the whole game mapped out, but I can’t ask people to work with me for free. We tried a Kickstarter asking for $200,000, though it failed.

Art from Vanguard V Level 2. Photo credit: Vanguard V website.
Art from Vanguard V Level 2. Photo credit: Vanguard V website.

Why do you think that was?  Kickstarter is a great place for small projects or big projects from well known people.  My Kickstarter was to support a team to make a project for virtual reality.  There is a public belief that independent games are cheap to make. The reality is that my team could have brought more take home pay working at McDonalds.  It’s bad to ask for funding and still not have the resources to deliver.  That was the first problem.  The second issue was that the public doesn’t understand virtual reality yet.  It’s something you have to experience to comprehend.

Are you doing more fundraising? Yes. This is a booming industry and we want to move fast. I’ve had offers from investors, but it’s important to me that this company stays in Bend. There’s a magic about this place, and because of Sony, there’s a lot of game development talent. I was recently close to signing  a deal, but I realized that the terms would allow the investors to move the company after two years. I think we have a huge opportunity, but I need to find the right deal.

Kelly Kearsley

Kelly Kearsley, the co-founder of StartupBend.com, is passionate about startups, entrepreneurship and Bend. In addition to writing this blog, she creates content and manages content projects for global financial companies, tech firms and startups. She began her career as a newspaper journalist and later worked as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in WSJ.com, Money Magazine, CNNMoney, MSNBC and Runner's World. See her work at kellykearsley.contently.com or kellykearsley.com.

You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].
Kelly Kearsley