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Christopher Morris

Game Design for VR Devices

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It's no secret that VR devices are going to have a big impact on society in the coming years - and even better that their introduction is in the gaming industry.

 

I am an aspiring game designer. To educate myself outside of school - I read a lot of articles about game designs of all types, not just video. I am hoping to one day be involved with VR devices, and create games for them. But therein lies my issue, and the point of this post:

 

How do you design a game that is focused more on the experience, than the gameplay itself?

 

My thoughts were gravitating towards a simulation game design. I guess before you get into it, you would have to establish what you are trying to do. I have an idea for a game centered around emotional experiences that also includes metagaming.

 

So my question would be: how do you craft/design a proper emotional experience? Would a degree in psychology help you achieve this? Would simple life experience (social situations) be enough?

 

I look at things like memorable characters in film, how they interact with other characters, their reactions/emotions and can see how it would be easy to create these situations - yet it also vexes me.

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The VR headset, IIUC, are just fancy 3D glasses. So I don't think that anything particularly unique has to be done from a game design perspective. However, if a game designer is truly looking for VR experience than that would be more dependent on the hardware involved.

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It's no secret that VR devices are going to have a big impact on society in the coming years

Why? What's so special about these devices (which existed for more than a decade already)?

 

I advise caution, the same fad about VR we had in 90s, IIRC (and so far I'm still waiting for the practical results biggrin.png)

Edited by Acharis

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I don't know what the future of game design is personally. Hell, 20 years ago people never would have imagined how advanced we are. Considering the fact that new technology is being developed real fast in this day and age, I say the future is unforeseeable.

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@Deadmedic - a degree in literature is probably more useful - those memorable characters come from writers after all wink.png 

 

Are you thinking about a character-centric game, or more like an exploration game?
 

It's no secret that VR devices are going to have a big impact on society in the coming years

Why? What's so special about these devices (which existed for more than a decade already)?
I advise caution, the same fad about VR we had in 90s, IIRC (and so far I'm still waiting for the practical results biggrin.png)

Because they actually work this time around laugh.png
The resolution, field-of-view, head-tracking precision, latency and display quality is so far ahead of the 90's that it's not comparable. Not to mention the quality of 3D graphics that we can produce these days!
 
Have you tried an Oculus DK1 or DK2 yet? The DK1 has very poor resolution, persistence and display-rate compared to the DK2, but as a proof-of-concept, it definitely showed that it's now possible to create an authentic sense of artificial presence.
 
The big indicator is that theres two separate billion dollar companies bringing products to market. The Oculus DK2 is pretty much consumer ready as-is, and Morpheus is apparently of even higher quality -- which you'd expect from a company who has experience and capability in designing and/or manufacturing their own displays, sensors, lenses, processors and 3D games wink.png
 
The fact that someone's willing to place a billion dollars on an all-or-nothing bet, is inspiring a lot of confidence elsewhere!
Also, Sir David goddamn Attenborough is filming his next project in VR-compatible format (360º stereo).
</off topic>

Edited by Hodgman

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 and even better that their introduction is in the gaming industry.


What other industry could it come from?

VR is already in use by military and heavy industry for training purposes.

I've worked for games companies that have done side projects such as VR simulators for mining (getting staff used to being in the tunnels and being so far from safety) and for F/A-18 pilots cool.png

I've also seen tank simulators (in use by a national army) actually using the Oculus DK1!

 

Also as mentioned above, a feature film will soon be available in VR format for viewing -- so the entertainment industry. Facebook recently bought Oculus, so they'll likely want to push it as an entertainment and social media device.

Prior to project Morpheus, Sony has previously manufactured stereo head-mounted displays, which were used for viewing movies/TV, when you didn't have enough space for a big screen TV (such as on the train). Incidentally, Japan (where the HMD is sold) is probably the only place where you can use a HMD on a train and not be robbed laugh.png

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I think that it's easy to over-think it... but it's also easy to under-think it, e.g. it's just a game on steroids. From a technical perspective you want to emphasize the 3D nature, reality and sense of presence while minimizing things such as motion sickness and breaking the illusion.

 

Some random concrete examples:

  • Get rid of 2D HUDs - they break the illusion. Either dispose of them altogether or find a way to include them in the 3D environment, e.g. as part of a cockpit or other in-game objects.
  • Ensure effects work correctly in stereo, e.g. billboarding may look weird in VR.
  • Provide some depth contrast to maximise the 3D feeling... like they do in 3D movies but please not as bluntly!
  • Try to match the body experience with the visuals, e.g. if the player is seated then an in-game seat adds realism, controllers like the Hydra make the player feel more embodied, rendering a body for the avatar adds realism, etc. This can also help reduce motion sickness.
  • Keep the player occupied so they're not thinking about wearing a VR headset. You can even do nifty game-inside-a-game stuff.

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Skepticism aside about the hardware, when dealing with a FP experience you are dealing with a personal situation, so I would approach this like writing a song. Sing what you know. Emotions are pretty universal so a personal experience is best exercised by romanticizing the experiences we've had and using artistry to attract people to feelings we've all felt. Once you have them feeling something, challenge them with action that conflicts those feelings. Should be fun enough as long as the player feels a sense of connection to the experience. 

 

If you're going to explore perspectives beyond FP using VR hardware, I think a good starting block is literally exploring gamplay mechanics that depend on the player's physical perspective. Occulus uses a track IR system allowing you to really change the vantage point you are looking at things. Many TP experiences have a fairly locked view to keep the player focused on the action the artists have designed (with a specific perspective in mind). VR using tracking enables the ability to really explore a wide variety of LODs, by creating gameplay that engages the player to narrow their focus and widen it to achieve different controls. VR offers TP gameplay with a unique level of interaction. The subtle lean in that so many RTS players do to micro manage combat could actually expand (change UI) the level of micro and casting controls individual or smaller groups of units can use for example. 

 

Suppose lastly is the simulator end of things. I've often felt these are really just a less fun version of most FP games. I can understand the appeal from an educational and social stand point, however IMO from a game dev stand point VR is really just a gimmicky extension of the experience most players would have just as easily with a good monitor and track IR (if you want to expand on the immersion). I'd prefer a dev building a sim, build a game around the sim mechanics.

 

Star Citizen is a good example of this. Chris Roberts could have easily created of space simulator given the technical design focus he started with (thruster based flight controls and a demand for high end hardware through an extremely high fidelity and robust control and customization of the art assets) but frankly, that sim would not be very fun. The success of that game will be because it is a game not a simulator. The success of VR when it occurs will be with fun games that demand consumers push hardware forward. Devs building demanding software which consumers love thus pushing hardware manufacturers to be bold and aggressively push the boundaries of what a "PC" experience is. (rant complete)

 

If you have plans to design for VR, don't hesitate or go looking for an education beyond what you know as game designer. Like designing game mechanics for any peripheral, try and push the boundaries of how a player can use the hardware. The "easy to learn impossible to master" tag line comes to mind. It's easy to use our head/eyes to see what we are doing but its hard to actually use this to change our perspective of "how things are". Think about what it means to be "looking the other way" or what can happen "in the blink of an eye" or how our vantage point of a situation changes our understanding of what is really happening around us and you'll quickly realize just how incredible this tech is in the hands of a dev with even a bit of artistry for fun. Multiple endings might not even need different endings if you play with this technology "right". 

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