The quest for comfortable VR

When I put on the Rift and play a game, I want it to feel good.  I want to be able to stay plugged in for hours and hours and become lost in another world – to explore, have adventures, do things not possible in the real world.  That is the general expectation of the average consumer and at the same time the ultimate dream of any VR enthusiast.

So what happens when we have a perfect light weight easy to use device that delivers the ultimate VR experience – the Geordi La Forge visor of VR?  Can comfort be guaranteed?  Not really.  Even with perfect VR there is always the specter of inducing motion sickness because your eyes see movement your inner ear is not experiencing.

In fact better VR is likely to be even more intense when motion is involved because your brain is really convinced it is perceiving motion that the vestibular system is not registering.  I started to really think about this after experiencing Crescent Bay and especially the Showdown demo.  That wasn’t even regular movement because it was in slow motion.  I can only imagine what some intense movement would feel like.

So where does that leave developers?  In a bit of a difficult situation, especially for anyone making first person content that has any kind of movement without a cockpit of some kind.  There is still a significant amount of experimentation and ideas percolating to the surface about how to tackle this dilemma.

This problem and the general desire to have a comfortable VR experience has been a big concern of mine for Lost Loot.  After much experimentation and a fair amount of user testing I decided to take a different path with the design of the game than I had originally planned.  That new path comes in the form of a third person 1/10 scale miniature world design!

First person has always been difficult and when testing with people generally new to VR I have always had a mix of success and disappointment.  Often about one third of people would just quit playing after a few minutes and complain that it was uncomfortable.  After testing with the new miniature world version, nearly all of the people playing, many of them new to VR have enjoyed the game, and not given a negative reaction.

The miniature world third person version works well in a number of ways.  The key one is movement.  The player is only moving through the space in inches per second instead of feet per second.  This combined with an avatar to look at in third person makes the whole experience much more comfortable.  It is also possible to discern depth over more of the world.

Another key aspect that makes the experience better is improved model and texture detail because everything is scaled down.  Suddenly all of the models and textures that looked blocky and blurry in full scale look intricate and detailed in a miniature world.  This makes it easier to use existing art assets and also have a great looking game without the stress of very detailed models or huge textures.

I am still figuring out how interiors will work and planning to do more experimentation with the controls to make the game as comfortable as possible.  My hope is also to work on some unique interaction and movement techniques once Oculus establishes the input system for the Rift.

A good summary of the benefits of the miniature world design can be found in the Oculus Connect presentation by the studio working on Lucky’s Tale.  They came to pretty much the same conclusions.  Also I recommend checking out The RPG Room.  I really feel that more games can benefit from a miniature scale world and I can imagine it being the standard for any Baldur’s Gate style VRRPGs in the future.

I am currently doing some final work on the Pre-Alpha Update #2 of Lost Loot which will feature this new third person miniature world design.  Here is a preview of what it looks like.  Enjoy!


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