Saturday, 21 December 2013

Forward! A design consideration on the Oculus Rift

I was quick enough on the draw to get my Oculus Rift dev kit pretty early in their distribution so I got some experience with it early on.  I took the Unity Angry Bots demo and turned it into a first person shooter using the oculus to aim the gun as well as mouse and keyboard for normal controls ().  When it was done there was one thing that harmed the experience and broke the immersion for me.

You look around with the Oculus Rift, but you still need the mouse (or another controller) in order to sit comfortably while playing and spin all the way around.  This left me in the position of having two ways to turn my body.  Having two ways to turn is fine but if one of them is your head, you will drift out of a comfortable position over time.  How I noticed this was that after less than a minute my head would be twisted uncomfortably left or right and I would have to center my view by looking forward while using the mouse to counter-spin my body so that my game view would continue looking where I wanted to go.  After a little thought about this I came up with the idea of a "Definite Forward."

A Definite Forward basically means that whatever "forward" means to your avatar should not change while you look around.  If you think of Mechwarrior, this would be like torso-twisting a mech.  If you press forward you'll continue in the direction that the legs are facing rather than move in the direction the torso is facing.  In this way a player is free to sit in their chair and look in any direction without ever having to break immersion to compensate for their head orientation with other controls.

You know who did a good job with this idea?  The EVE guys with Valkirie

Their Definite Forward is their cockpit.  From your head's point of view the cockpit is stationary and you look around within it, never having to adjust for any way that you control your ship.  The same could be said of the interior of a car (hint, hint).

I used this premise in SnowDrift ( too by deciding that the player's skis would always point "forward."

There is one challenge created by this method though.  If you're not moving your head to change your player's orientation, why do it at all?  If you don't do it you're missing so much of the VR experience.  This challenge can easily be overcome with game mechanics though.  Watch the Valkirie video again and pay close attention to all the game mechanics that cause the player to move.  There are lots of them.  I didn't do this part very will in SnowDrift, but I've got some things to try before release.

Having a Definite Forward in your VR game can help reduce moments that cause the player to break immersion.  It works best when paired with other mechanics that entice the player to explore the features of VR.

Merry Chriskwanukkah

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Overdue Thoughts on Interstate 76

Interstate 76 was quite simply one of the best games ever made.  It spawned a bunch of crappy knock-offs, including it's own sequel Interstate 82.  None of these games came anywhere near the quality level of '76 though.

I've thought about this problem a few times in the last 15 years.  What made '76 so special?

  • The first thing that comes to mind is the Disco soundtrack and styling.  These were certainly awesome and from my perspective, came right out of left field.  I had never considered that someone would set a game in a time or place like this.
  • The second thing is having early CG cutscenes between every mission.  These were also awesome.  Their emphasis on style and character add a lot to the experience.  The voice work was campy-excellent too.
  • Third we have guns and shooting. The mechanics were just solid.  It was fun to line-up your foe and blast them.  The combat just felt good.
  • Lastly we have the car builder.  You got to design your car to whatever spec you wanted.  This allowed you to customize the play style 

Those are what I'll call the overt factors.  I think everyone remembers those parts of the game.  Certainly the people who have tried to replicate the feel of '76 have a version of each of these things.  But why was '76 the only game where cars shooting at each other was as fun as it should be?

I actually jumped into Interstate 76 a couple weeks ago when I bought it from  Technically it was a broken mess.  The textures and movies were all screwed up and I had some physics glitches that didn't let me get through the second mission, but do you know what?  I think I found the answer!

  • Interstate '76 was a lot more than car combat.  There was a world there.  There were civilians in cars sharing your road, there were villages that you drove through, and the mission structure changed while you were playing.

If I were to make a car combat game (hint hint) I would certainly want to include mission writing and voice acting as pillars of the design.