Aug 23

Designing for VR

Interesting article on VR and AR  – obviously Oculus and Carmack come up and there is a quote towards the end “I’m not a game designer.”


Give it a read and pop back here (or skip it and muse the following).


I like VR. But after Oculus Rift hits retail we are still a critical step away from it being fully utilized for games. Back in the late 90’s I had a VR head set that (at the time) was pretty good, but not great: partially because of the latency, but more because of what you could use it for.


The stereoscopic 3D was the best part about the headset. Sure it was super light, it had a blast shield you could use because the screens were semi-transparent and of course it had at least 2 axis of tracking – but the stereoscopic was where it was at. That’s what immersed you most in the world.


Actually it had 2 settings for taking a 2D input and faking 3D which made some movies awesome. (Oh yeah, didn’t mention that, it had video input too).


Take a break, it’s a longer post

What I found, and what many developers will find when they get their dev kits at the close of the year, is you need a reason to move your head. For the most part, people just move their eyes. People mostly use just their eyes simply because you are still anchored to mouse and keyboard. Even with a controller, in nearly all games you’ll still have that disconnect where you are using your hands to move in the world but your head to look.


Expect many on-rails moments where you get to have a look around, or postcard moments where you enter a new scene and the story/action doesn’t progress for a bit.


As a games designer, the challenge is to involve VR in a way that doesn’t create a disruption between looking and moving – combined with the hard truth that it can’t be gimmicky. We’ve seen various Kinect and motion titles use movement to achieve something that really breaks the immersion. For example, the shaking of the can in Sonic Racing (Kinect) really throws off the in-the-game factor.


Or to put it a better way, any dev that thought they’d create a Minority Report style interface for Kinect and discovered how awkward it is to physically operate like that knows exactly what I’m talking about. Go YouTube it, there are some homebrew vids out there and they all show/state the same thing.


As not-seen in Minority Report

Also keep in mind that the neck is not a series of muscles you want to use to control movement, and in fact for any lengthy duration you’ll avoid using your head just to look as you start to get fatigued/achy. Think about it, it’s way easier to tap the A or D key or move the R stick than turn your head, we’re all so acclimatized it’s second nature anyhow. It’s funny how it comes with Doom3, just imagine trying to line your crosshair up: You’ll keep your head as still as possible so you can use the mouse.


Speaking of immersion, VR does a strange thing to your brain. Every now and then you have that ‘did I lock the front door when I left the house’ feeling. That sense that there is something in the world you’re supposed to be looking at, or that there is something just out of sight that is of vital importance. Maybe this is a trickle-down effect from standard games, when you quickly take in everything visually and process and it’s now amplified due to the VR, I’m not sure, but it happens.


What we need is another interface device that gives us the connection to movement that we want. Now that’s a Kickstarter! The Oculus Aura: A circular motorized desk. Use mouse and keyboard and move too! Full 1 Axis of rotation!!! The Oculus Orbit: A motorized responsive mat that lets you run around whilst keeping you from actually running out the window!!111




Most designers will realize it’s a case of re-framing the question: What can I do with this technology that maximizes it?


You start to discount using the head tracking aspect as a plus in fps games, you start to think that in racing games it could be used to look left and right to check your competition, your awareness of how much better story telling could be awakens. Your design muscles rarely stretch in this direction, go warm ‘em up and brainstorm J One things for sure, the indie scene will love it.


I’m got getting a OR dev kit, but I’ll likely get the retail version at some point. I loved the stereoscopic level of immersion way back when (even at 320×200!), and I’ve yet to find a product that reproduces that feeling of being in the world. Fingers Eyes crossed, this will be it.




Main Photo by Ringoblu

Fancy dress kids photo by juhansonin

Flower photo by Adam Baker