#4 [usability review]: Beat Saber VR

As part of my challenge of gathering 30 game usability reviews, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).

Video: Beat Saber gameplay

Yes, I got THE game! Now that I am getting used to VR and all the awesomeness related to it I had to buy Beat Saber just because it sounds very very cool. For a usability point of view, I thought it would be nice to test the game, looking at principles of heuristics and accessibility. More info about the game can be seen in this link. Note: I only played the solo version of this game; however it should be enough to get an idea of the overall gameplay.

What is the game about: this is a “Guitar Hero meets Just Dance” style dynamic game in VR in which you have two light sabers in each hand. You have to cut flying boxes with the swing of the sabers and doing this in the rhythm of the music. The songs follow a “EBM” style and have a electro-industrial feeling as well (that brings me memories, anyway!).

Good things

a) Gameplay. The game has a very good pace and as a beginner the player might not feel tired with so much new information. The tutorial is optional.

b) Visual consistency. Colours are the same in most of the interface design. This is also used in the walls and they reflect the lights from the sabers/controllers. There is always the use of 2 colours in the interface. This is good because it allows the players to keep the attention into a specific point.

c) Field of View. Since we are talking about VR, FoV is very important and the game has a good use of space and perspective. Since the game is a fast-paced game, there is little head movement, which helps players to concentrate on the other movements required to win the game. Thus, there is little potential for cyber sickness.

d) The tutorial. This tutorial is very simple. Although it can feel a bit unrealistic since the game has so many things going on at the same time, it still brings an element of surprise when the wall comes towards your face. See this video below:

Things that could be improved

a) Balance. The game could have more balance. As a beginner, I was slaughtered by the first song and couldn’t do much because I was missing the boxes a lot of times.

b) Controllers. It might be the way my VR headset is positioned, but the precision of this game should be improved considerably. Perhaps in the tutorial it could have a way to calibrate the game according to the settings of the headset. Also it was not clear if the player needed to click on the button to make the saber work (of course you don’t have to do that but since the player needs to click on buttons in the interface before the main gameplay scene, then it can be confusing). Precision is also not very great.

c) Colours. When you are not doing so well, all the scenario becomes red. It is not very clear if it is red because of the colour of one of the blocks or because the player is losing points.

d) Fail sound. Once immersed in the song it might be that players are not expecting that the sound ends like the end of a record. The sound can be too loud and it can break the whole experience at once. I suggests devs look at this as a potential improvement for this game.

e) Overall sense of control. Although players can choose the settings before the gameplay, it is not evident how to pause the game. Also, it is difficult to check and look at the scores all the time. This might be secondary, but for some players who are trying to beat their own scores, then this might be an issue. A suggestion could be “curving” the environment a bit more and having another distinctive way to give feedback to the player if the player has been keeping a “non-stop round”.

Best practices in VR and recommendations

According to this post, best practices in VR start with the physical environment and it is crucial that the play area is well determined beforehand. This definitely impacts the overall experience. Therefore, although it might sound boring for the player it is crucial to have some “house keeping” practices in order to ensure the best experience for the player. I am sure devs tested the game for cybersickness and I can say that personally I did not feel anything. The game gave me a sense that I was doing some real exercise. However, for players with more sensitivity, this should be mentioned. There is one screen at the beginning of the game that shows the possible complications of this game if the player is sensitive towards movements.

The tutorial could have different levels. For players who are not yet familiar with the technology, it is still necessary to have very simple and small paced tutorials. Another aspect to mention is that perhaps the game could give a feedback if the player is out of the play zone. Of course players can see the grid around the play area, but the position where they should be is not very evident. For example, in the game there is a mark on the ground with footsteps. Players might not remember to check the mark and that can influence their performance. The tutorial could also include a way for players to go back to the “mark zero” and experience this idea of coming back to the same space. For example, the game could have another way of showing that the player is out of the “perfect” spot by highlighting this on the top of their heads of just showing an invisible line on the middle of the horizon line.

The UI on the left in the menu sometimes could be overlooked. The tutorial could also show that could can change the settings of your game by selecting specific aspects. This was not evident in the beginning. And it might be that players who are not used to a 360 experience might miss these features.

Another aspect to mention is sound. As Casey Fictum mentions in this book VR UX, sound is most of the VR experience and should be considered as a key element. The fail sound could be improved since it breaks the continuum of the experience drastically. This can be because players might not be expecting it to end like a broken record since no one actually experience this sound anymore. Other sounds should be considered in order to improve the experience.

If we consider making this game more accessible, then there are a lot of elements that might need to be revised. However this would be related to a different research question! :)

Author: Vanissa Wanick

I'm an Interface Designer, Marketing specialist and Games/HCI Researcher. I write about games, serious games, games user research (GUR), user experience design, culture and ideas that could make our world a better place for everyone.

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