#EWIGCONF 2016 – Design challenges in Virtual Reality games

VR and player comfort
In early September this year (2016) we had the opportunity to attend to the European Women in Games Conference 2016 at the Greenwich University. It was a very good conference, lots of great people from both industry and academia, asking questions about the games industry, diversity and cutting-edge technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR).
In this post I will try to bring a little bit from 1 session that I’ve attended: the VR workshop.

The main topic of the workshop was “Presenting the main issues while implementing Virtual Reality”. In this talk, Laura Dilloway from Guerrilla Cambridge introduced us challenges and possible guidelines for the creation of games in VR environments. I might say that most of the content in the talk was new to me. Laura showed the case of the RIGS Mechanized Combat League, the new game from Playstation that features a combat with robots in different arenas.
First of all, VR is quite new, so we could ask questions like if there are different rules and possible different gameplay in games that use VR, for example. Some of the design challenges are related to player immersion and presence like:

  • Giving the player a body
  • Correct the placement of camera
  • Physical body motion
  • Enduring that everything is in the right place

In fact, as designers we have to review the way the player perceive the world as the position of the camera is crucial.
There is also a challenge related to the sense of scale, which could be conveyed by other elements in the game environment. Crowds and doors are a few examples. The assets need to be in realistic sizes.
Another aspect mentioned by Laura is that when creating in virtual reality you need to test it all the time. We should not underestimate VR! The relationship between 360 movement and fixed point should also be considered.
In the end of the day, interface design is the main strategy when dealing with VR games and player comfort. As a designer you can use optic flow and brightness in order to bring comfort to the player. Try not to use absolute black and white for example. Materials could be used in the same way. For example, when you walk the character you could leave footprints in the sand. For ground rush, the choice for material should be strategic. Designers should also bear in mind that sometimes some details are not rendered with enough pixels.
One point raised by Laura was that everybody’s eyes are different so we need to test with a wider audience. This shows that testing is crucial. Thus, one way to solve this problem of diversity is to bring more choices in the game. Yet, it is still a big challenge. One strategy mentioned in the talk was the use of blinkers in order to avoid peripheral vision by the players.
The biggest question about virtual reality is still player comfort. Don’t take away the camera from the player. One advice is to avoid placing things directly in front of the player. As Laura mentioned, performance is king, and I totally agree. As designers we could use defaults like 60fps and mart usage of dynamic lights and correction of player view camera. By using horizontal lines we could also help the player to situate the camera correctly. It is all about the position of the camera.

Another strategy presented by Laura was that designers tend to “climatize” people through tutorials until they get used to it while playing the game. I think this could be a very successful way to bring people inside the game and provide them all the support and guidance required to proceed in the game. Players should be able to customise their settings according to their preference (always, if possible).

I think that the lessons to take home are that in VR and games we need to test a lot with fresh eyes and we should not be afraid, just because it is new. Using defaults and providing these defaults to the design community could also be one way to make it easier. As it is a cutting-edge technology, we need to share, test and publish as much as we can. We will get there! Thanks, Laura!

Follow Laura here: @GuerrillaLaura

Read more:
On-device motion tracking for immersive VR: Freedom from wires
New RIGS Mechanized Combat League trailer shows off Dubai arena

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