In his latest Techcrunch column, Tadgh Kelly presents 5 Design Tips for VR Games. I usually agree with his notions about games, game design, and the game industry, and he makes some important points in this article. Interestingly enough I think his list is not really about “this is good VR game design” but more about big challenges that need to be overcome by designers – with some tentative suggestions on how to do so.
Personally I am rather skeptical about the current hype around VR. I tried both versions of the Oculus, and to me the resolution is way too low to make it an enjoyable experience. I’m usually busy counting pixels. I think the Google Cardboard approach makes more sense than building a dedicated VR helmet. I found the image quality on the phone much more bearable, and also instead of having an unwieldy Lawnmower-man style helmet on you head, it’s just a lightweight phone. Without cables! So you can move around freely without danger of tripping.
Three tryouts with VR come to mind: My first “new” VR experience was the rollercoaster demo. Not much going on there, but after I put on the Oculus my colleague put a fan in front of me and switched it on the moment I raced downwards in the rollercoaster. This added a lot to to the immersion of the demo!
When the new Oculus came out I tried a Formula 3 racing game. My colleague (the same one) also had set-up a proper Formula 3 seat, pedals, and steering wheel. Again, those things enhanced the otherwise rather lackluster experience.
The final example is coffin experience Taphobos and I have written about it before. It works so well because you are actually inside a real coffin (or even just a large cardboard box). So you can feel that you are entrapped, again engaging more than just your sense of vision into the experience.
But back to the original article. Tadgh Kelly lists the following five points:
1) Which way is North?
It’s difficult to orientate yourself in VR. You might get lost or miss stuff that is happening outside your field-of-view.
I’m not sure if I agree that this is a problem specific to VR. Is orientation really that much more of an issue than in first-person shooters?
2) Don’t make me move
Having the player move around is a bad idea because of the attached cables, and because the room you are in will probably be not entirely empty.
I agree and I disagree at the same time with this point. While I can see that walking around your own room might be difficult, I also believe that free movement is one of the big chances of VR. The three examples I mention above all work without, but I would like to be able to do more than just move my head around. Yes, for that I need a free space, and I also need VR without cables!
3) Never seize the camera
Cut-scenes and similar should not take away the control of the camera from you.
That’s very simple to implement, and also good advice.
4) Pincer controls
Gesture recognition is still not reliable and accurate enough to provide satisfying input.
This is basically the Kinect-problem. While broad gestures are easy to recognize for the software, grabbing and manipulating smaller objects is often extremely tedious and often just does not work. However, I do believe that you could have fun lightsaber battles in VR – just give the player a Wiimote or a Playstation Move controller. (And yes, make sure there are no cables.)
5) Depth perception
If objects are too close, they become less believable.
I have not paid much attention to this, but I can certainly see the potential for problems, especially with currently very low resolution devices.
In general, my main concerns revolve around not yet sophisticated enough technology (resolution), restrictions (cables), how to not artificially make the player not move about, and lack of suitable and reliable user input.