25th February was the first ever SouthWest VR conference down in Bristol. We took along Smash Hit Plunder and our Gear VR’s down with two new comfort modes, new book UI, and a new game mode.
I also did a talk “Allow them to believe:Lessons learnt creating dynamic VR gameplay”, which I’ll attempt to go through now!
After a brief introduction, I discussed that development started on the DK1 in June 2014. We knew the target platform, but couldn’t show it at that time.
We then moved onto the Gear VR and have been showing at events since.
When coming up with your game idea, work with the platform, not against it. Look at all teh advantages and limitations of it.
VR is best at exploring spaces and objects and at empathy – so we knew we wanted to target at least one of those advantages. Also – working on the Gear VR meant that we needed to work on its strengths, meant really making use of the fact the Gear is wireless, and had a built in touchpad that everyone is guaranteed to use.
It has limitations of course.
Our game would have to be able to run on a mobile phone – which is lower powered, limited battery life, and the player may get a call mid game! We also love all the exciting possible input devices, but we couldn’t target them all – and we don’t know which players may have. Also we have limited team availability- so we needed the game idea to be scalable and manageable.
For the example I used, I talked about the touchpad at the side of the Gear. Knew we wanted anyone with a Gear to be able to play
- – It’s built in
- – Simple to use
- – Still allows for player agency – feel like they are doing something
At first you think – wow, one button controls, that’s going to be a serious limitation. But it didn’t take long to realise that even such a simple controller – there was so much you could do
- – Tapping
- – Using positions
- – Gestures
And of course, making these context sensitive in game
- – Move somewhere – look to where you want to go and tap
- – Pick up – tap and hold
- – Shake – with your head or rubbing the pad
- – Throw – a swipe and let go
The touchpad directly influenced the game we were going to make.
Once you’ve understood your platform, you can move onto developing your game concept.You want to think about what are the core pillars, or ideas, your game should do. Your game only needs a few key words that everyone in your team can look to, make sure they are ticking them off
In Smash Hit Plunder we were keen to make it feel like a full game experience. It is our first VR title as a company. For us, most importantly was for the player to feel like they have some sort of agency in the game – like they are really doing something. It also had to be tactile – everything feels like it has some sort of crunch, bite, like it’s really there in front of you. Without those – for us it could be any game on any platform, missing the point of VR.
You have an idea, it’s forming, but it really helps to have references get the feeling of the game to the rest of your team. Try and keep this short and snappy, and it doesn’t need to be games. This is the one for Smash Hit Plunder. We wanted to get the feeling of searching, interesting interactions, and great rewards.
As soon as we started prototyping our idea, we looked into player comfort. Comfort is something you have to design in from the beginning, as it can have a large effect on gameplay. You also have to remember that everyone is different – some people need all the help they can get, while others actually hate anything that may seem to detract from the experience in their eyes.
We’re looking at a potential range of options for players. Some, we want to make sure that are on all the time – things like no screen freeze. But you as a developer have final say on where you draw the line. Options such as cockpits and forward only gameplay obviously have a massive effect on the game you are creating.
In Smash Hit Plunder;
- – We wanted the player to look all the way around – bit part of exploring and using the wireless advantage of the device
- –Normally the only way to turn is with own head
- –So there’s a natural limit to how fast you can turn
- –People with motor conditions can still play with optional controls to turn on swipe turning with 15 deg. incremental snap turns
- – Instead of a cockpit
- –We have hands for reference
- –Stabilization cubes effect “magic dust” in game that act as a static skybox, staying with the player rather than the world. This makes the world feels like it’s moving, rather than the player, making you feel less ill. The more cubes, the more comfort.
- – Moving is done by look and select
- –Feet markers show where you’re heading – acting like a travelator, showing you the expected path so no unexpected surprises
- – Immediately up to speed with only 1 frame of acceleration
- – For players that still struggle
- –There’s bringing in the fog to reduce visual movement
- –And we also have teleporting movement – which works in the way as incremental turning, only forward instead
For players to staying absorbed in the game they need to feel like they are actually there. They need to feel like they have an effect on the world, and impression on it. You can do this in various ways, from effects to reflections – but the best way seems to be building it into the gameplay like we do in Smash Hit Plunder. Players in Smash Hit Plunder feel like they are really there because they can actually pick up props in front of them, and turn the neat rooms into a right mess.
To make the world believable you have to take care when designing the space.
- – Get the scale right! We had some numbers a little off and it cost us a week in development and reworking.
- – The player can look anywhere so look out for bad geometry.
- – Players are expecting coherent world with predictable rules e.g. Dropping a glass, I expect it to shatter. Not necessary realistic world, but your world must be sticking to it’s own rules
- – If a player chooses to wander around – reward it! It doesn’t need to be in XP or money – it can be with story and narrative.
- – Scaring the player is a careful balance. They are already more vulnerable to the outside world because
- –Hardware is covering their face
- –Can look away from TVs
If they are too scared in VR they will just take off headset – phobias amplify the issue. So what can you do for scared players?
- – Create a safe space inside the world which they can quickly escape to
- – Alternate routes that may require more skill, but will be less of a threat
- – And warn them before playing
After we started play testing Smash Hit Plunder, we found out a few more interesting things;
- – When players first start, they need a little time to get used to things
- – They didn’t even know to turn their head
- – They will be attracted to the first visually interesting thing they will see
So in the first demo of Smash Hit Plunder – we got the players to start facing a door
- – This forced them to turn around
- – Some would try and interact, so we changed to a wall
Not having a mirrored room was an issue
- – If they turned right – all fine, great reveal of the room
- – If turned left – saw that was a boring bookcase which they would spend their limited time on! It was colourful, and the first 3D virtual objects they had seen in their life
So our first room is now very plain, and same either way they turn!
In terms of balancing arcade timers, just remember that new players will take a longer time just looking.
At some point in your game, you will need Menus and player UI – for things like timers and health. These need to feel like they belong to the world so not to break players out of feelign like they are truly there.
You can use “In world props” for UI and HUD. For example, in Book of Potions we had an actual thermometer in the cauldron, rather than temperature text written all over it.
For menus you can use “Inventory props”. Our menus in Smash Hit Plunder are on a book which the player carries around with them. When the game is paused, the book comes up.
The evolution of the timer in Smash Hit Plunder is actually pretty interesting.
At first, it was a timer on a wall
- – But players too busy with smash things to notice it
- – Also, they could be anywhere in dungeon
So we moved to a watch
- – It’s a very realistic action to look down at your watch
- – But hand kept moving away
- – We needed to show more information for different game modes
So we moved to a magical book
- – The book is dynamic, can change page to change information
- – Player can look down at any time they wish to check it
- – We bring it up in front of the player for menus
As a note – we found that text needs to be higher resolution than you think to be readable.
And a quick note about cross hairs – a normal crosshair you will always draw on top, and at a set distance. If objects are closer the cross hair really fights with your eyes! Just making it depth aware, sits in front of anything that its over, i.e. like a laser pointer, means that you don’t get that odd 3D fighting.
And finally, you’ve created this amazing game you have to play test it often! As a developer, you can be the worse person to judge how fun or comfortable an experience is – you know exactly how it behaves. We started showing Smash Hit Plunder when it was 3 weeks old! Even without being on the final hardware, was still incredibly valuable.
- – Just make sure you listen, don’t argue back
- – Watch for their physical movements, facial expressions as they don’t lie
- – Record any data you can
- –So in the Gear, even more interesting – all on the mobile so we can’t watch it
- –We have our multifunctional shared screen
- –But we can also spy on you to see what you’re interacting with
(read more about it here – from a previous blog post)
At events with non VR players you need an approachable space and hardware. A large device on peoples faces is scary – especially for some of our older generation that have played.
We also wanted to blend the VR world into the real world, get people into the frame of mind of the game – so we created pixel art facemask and brought real props from the game world. This allows their mind to get prepared for the experience.
You should design the whole experience, from first noticing the game into the room until all their friends and player have played and walked away.
And that’s all I had time for at this talk! I will be doing another soon with a lot more of what we found and VR design.
We had a great time at SWVR, and it was fantastic to see so many familiar and new faces. Thanks everyone for trying out the game and your wonderful support!