Friday, 25 July 2014

Arrival of a Train and Tiny Airplane Windows - Building VR Experiences with Motion

So I was flying home from the Las Vegas, the plane was just taking off and I was getting a great view of the dessert from the air.  I thought to myself "I wish the top half of the plane was made of plexiglass so I could get a truly epic view of the area."  I quickly realized why this would be a terrible idea. People would be freaking out!

But isn't this what we do in VR all the time?  In fact, one of the primary reasons VR is taking off now is because we've been able to cheaply create a device with a field of view capable of giving negative experiences like freaking people out or making them sick.

So my question is, what can we learn about comfortable moving VR experiences from Tiny Airplane Windows.

Before I address that directly, I'm going to diverge to the "Arrival of a Train at a Station".

This clip is one of the first moving pictures ever shown to a public audience.  And once again, people were freaking out and running for their lives!  They thought the train was going to crash right into the theatre.  If the Lumiere Brothers lived today, it would be natural for them to propose a list of best practices for film making that would include a note that "objects should not move towards the camera" in order to make the film going experience comfortable for everyone.  Of course the audience quickly grew out of these freak outs and we have a vibrant film industry that recently refit half the screens across North America so it could move objects towards the camera in stereo 3d.

Don't get me wrong.  I love Couch Nights and all the stationary experiences coming down the line. And I understand that at the start of a market such as this, Oculus should be concerned with the widest adoption of VR possible.  I'm just tired of hearing about the "best practices" as if they're some sort of fixed laws.  The fact is they're a set of hypotheses - really good guesses made by experts on the current state of the populace.  These hypotheses will be validated in an experiment that will begin when the first commercial kit gets it's big marketing push.

One year later though, the populace will have changed and the best practices will have to be adjusted to fit the expectations of the market as it begins to take shape with ages, genders, races, orientations and expectations on what the VR experience can deliver.

Just like we can't avoid trains in movies forever, we're not going to be able to avoid moving VR forever either.

So how can we develop a VR experience with motion in it today when the audience may still be freaking out at trains?  Easy - tiny airplane windows!

Build your experience with a foreground object (it could be a cockpit but it could also be a helmet or visor) that has a variable sized viewport.  You could then open or close the view based on the comfort level of each user.  This would allow you to build the motion experience you want to build and not alienate the beginner audience.  A user such as myself could get the plexiglass airplane while my mother in law could get the little tiny window and we could both enjoy the trip.


  1. I don't know if it's the fact that I have DK1 for over a year now, but I really think the moving experiences are waaay more awesome than the sitted ones. Of course, like you said, Oculus are trying to get to a broader audience (including designing what is for me a bizarre genre for VR, which are the 3rd platformers - not too much VR for me), but we know the power of a moving experience. I think your idea is cool. I'm designing a horror title (off the box not marketing-recommended for now), but the whole lot of emotions, sensations and thrills those titles can produce in VR are waaay bigger than with movies. So it's just a matter of getting used to it. It's still gonna take some time for people to adapt.

  2. I like your Lumiėre Brothers comparison and agree that it will take a moderately familiar, "airplane window" experience for users to be comfortable moving forward.

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