One new media form that goes hand-in-hand with VR is 360 degree video. I’ve recently figured out how to record 360 degree footage of games that I make or help make, so here was my first ever shot– the main menu of iSlayer, a game that I’ve been helping work on.
Challenges in Virtual Reality
As I delve deeper into the world of virtual reality, the more challenges I find, and the more I fall in love with it. For starters, (as I’ve already blogged previously) motion sickness is a serious problem, and there are certain things you can do in your level design to avoid getting sick.
For one, you can have a wide variety of colors. I know that the artistic style of the mid 2010’s was greyscale/monochrome art with a dark finish, but that is going to confuse the player when teller have to try adjusting their eyes to an object. Not only does the player have to have accurate depth perception in the game, but also the player has to focus on the pixels instead of the screen (and sometimes particles on the screen if not cleaned properly).
Also, reflective surfaces are super tricky. Not only does the game have to render calculations for accurate reflections for TWO cameras, but sometimes the reflections (and motion in the reflection of you have ripple effects) are a little too much for the player to handle and leads to motion sickness very quickly.
Unfortunately, it seems like good level design for VR includes making large landscapes instead of small rooms. If the player has to adjust their focus from an object that’s up close to an object that is very far away, it not only takes them longer to adjust (which takes them away from their immersion), but it also triggers a little bit of motion sickness. I’ve noticed this more going from long-distance sight to looking at something close by.
Another thing that I just recently learned is to really try to nail down the dimensions and pavements of your cameras. Do your best to measure the size of your character in relation to the player, and guesstimate the distance between cameras to match the actual eyes of the player. Doing this will hopefully make it so the player isn’t playing cross-eyed.
The last and biggest problem that I’ve yet to overcome is motion in virtual reality. What is the best way to control a character in-game? Eventually I’d like to get rid of the controller and just use my hands/body. Is there an efficient way to do that? Not that I can tell yet. More on that after Mark and I finish our next project– I think we’ve come up with a super solid solution.
Testing the Portara Engine with Halo 2 Assets
In our new VRMMORPG, we are beginning to test gunplay. While starting to get the guns in order, my programmer asked me to put together a sandbox testing area for guns. I thought to myself, “What has the best, most balanced gunplay in video games?” Of course, the answer is Halo so I dug up some old Halo 2 assets (the multiplayer level Coagulation, some gun models, and of course the Master Chief player model) and began testing. So far, the guns seem to work pretty well in the Portara engine, but there’s still a LOT of work to be done. It’s very promising to see Halo 2 content running without lag on an iPhone with online multiplayer! Here’s hoping for a Halloween release!*
*please note that we will NOT be selling our game with any copyrighted material in it; including, but not limited to Halo assets.
Battling Motion Sickness in Virtual Reality
As many of my followers know, I’m working on a virtual reality game– the world’s first VRMMORPG codenamed Project Portara. I’m in charge of all the things you will see and hear in the game, which includes level design.
I upgraded to Mac OS X El Capitan so I could get the Xcode 7 Beta. This allowed me to finally play-test Project Portara in real VR and with the Steelseries Stratus bluetooth controller. As amazing as this was, it became very clear that motion sickness is going to be an obstacle in the user experience. I strapped on my Google Cardboard to my family and close friends, and watched them stumble about while watching them in-game on my Mac. Most were able to play for a maximum of 5-10 minutes before getting sick.
My little brother is a frequent gamer, and he was the only other person besides me who could play indefinitely without getting sick– it’s interesting how it seems like people could build up a tolerance for screens– is it cause of effect? Are gamers people who are capable of staring at screens for hours, or does gaming make people capable of staring at screens? I’ll run some tests at a later date, but for now, I’ve got to treat this symptom with proper UI and level design.
I found that putting a stationary object in the middle of the screen (such as a weapon or UI) helps players by giving them a point of reference while looking around in 3D space. I’ve read that you can superimpose a “nose” in the middle of the screen. We added a sword to test. This definitely helped, but we’re going to have to add more for sure.
Now here came the tricky part– I added a set of islands (pictured above) to our game, but it honestly made me incredibly nauseous two days in a row. After playing the game for 10 minutes the first night, I got a migraine and quit work for the night very early. Thinking I only had a head cold, I tried again the next day And experienced the same results despite being in good health.
I realized that this area that I had spent three days designing would now have to be scrapped. I think that the island area of my world had three things that triggered headaches and motion sickness, and they are all things that I’m going to avoid in the future while doing level design for virtual reality entertainment.
1. Reflections. I added water with real-time reflections, and I think that for whatever reason, it messes with people’s eyes while wearing VR goggles. I’m curious to see if it’s just for Google Cardboard, or if people will experience the same troubles with the Oculous Rift.
2. Too much variance in terrain height. I added a lot of flat ground (to make it look good for the top-down view), and I think that constantly adjusting your eyesight to look around walls and across flat lands caused a little too much eyestrain. I’ll try to make terrain changes a little more gradual in the future.
3. Too close. Walls, pillars and hills were too close to the player all the time. You’d walk across a cluster of tiny islands, but when you turned a corner you’d be confronted with a wall. Constantly having to adjust your eyes from looking at distant objects, just to have a wall appear right in front of you actually became an issue when playing with a VR headset, so I’ll have to keep that in mind when I redesign this whole area.
I’ve been working on a game over the past couple months, and it’s actually starting to look good enough to show screenshots! I’m super excited for Project Portara, as it will be the world’s first VRMMORPG, and one of the very first cross-platform MMORPG games. This is a screenshot from part of the game world– hope you enjoy!