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Best practices for VR, from seven devs working with the Oculus Rift
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Best practices for VR, from seven devs working with the Oculus Rift

October 29, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

What was your goal going in to the project, creatively speaking?

Kantor: The most appealing thing about VR to me is the opportunity to be fully immersed in a fully-realized story world, so I wanted to create a story-based game with a unique, surreal environment that would be both wondrous and sort of terrifying to explore.

Yang: To make something that sufficiently spoke to gamers' sensibilities while not being totally boring and instantly knowable.

McNeill: I like to use game jams as a chance to create prototypes for ideas that I've had for a while but had been procrastinating on. A tight deadline and a light dose of competition is the perfect motivator for me.

I had already been playing around with the idea of a VR cyberspace hacking game for a long time, so my goal in the VR jam was to finally realize it and evaluate it. The jam was the perfect opportunity for me to actually test the idea out in the real world, and to get some VR dev experience to boot.

E McNeill's Ciess

Oculus has been pretty transparent about many of the big obstacles to VR design -- in particular, simulation sickness, latency, and UI. Did you run aground of these problems during the project? How did you choose to address them?

Kantor: For me, the biggest challenge has been in designing a way for players to move around freely in the virtual environment without getting simulation sickness.

I've seen a lot of games that circumvent this issue entirely by making the entire game control through head-tracking only, which feels great and is a natural fit for the platform, but it seems like it would be a prohibitively limiting constraint if every successful VR game had to follow it.

The big problem with standard FPS controls with the Rift is that players who have this control scheme hard-wired into their brains have a very hard time turning off their reflexes to control a VR game as if it was any other first person game. This can cause some serious nausea, since players will be looking wildly around with the right stick as they are moving, all while their inner ear is convinced that they looking straight forward and not moving.

I've found that the amount of simulation sickness decreases remarkably when players use their heads and bodies to turn and inspect the space around them, rather than using the controller to do so. I've been experimenting with control schemes to try to facilitate this sort of play, but I'm not sure I've landed on anything totally satisfactory yet. I think the closest I've come to was with The Recital.

I mapped turning to the left and right bumpers, and forward movement to the right trigger -- a spin on classic, almost universally-maligned tank controls. My thinking was that by purposely breaking our reflexes to use the control to navigate the space, we will instead rely on our instincts to look around for ourselves, only using the controller to turn by an amount that would be physically uncomfortable. When I showed The Recital at E3, I got very few complaints about physical discomfort or simulation sickness, which I attribute both to the control scheme and the environmental design.

Maguire (Daylight): I can give you a perfect example [that we encountered in Daylight]. In a mouse-and-keyboard or controller-based [FPS] you have arms to sort of root the player in their orientation, but when you’re moving around in the VR thing and your arms are locked to your view, it feels like you’re tumbling through the environment. It was completely disorienting. So even detaching those so that you have free head movement, kind of like a turret, cut way down on motion sickness.

[Regarding latency] we're going through it iteratively, and figuring out ways to improve that. The first thing we did was detach head movement from the arms. The next thing is likely going to be the resolution. Another is just making sure the player has good visibility. Tuning up the field of view, making sure the lighting is set up so you don’t feel you’re not in control, is going to be key for us.

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