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In a typical video game, to exit a play session you press the start button, and select “exit” from a menu.
In Owlchemy Labs’ VR game Job Simulator 2050, I ate a burrito to quit the game.
Here’s how it all went down. I was playing Job Simulator at Valve’s Steam VR event in Seattle, demoing a dozen top-tier VR games. I was playing the latest version of the game pretending to be a short order cook, making bad sandwiches and questionable smoothies, when my demo time ran out. I was told to press a button on the HTC Vive controller, which spawned a suitcase. I opened up the suitcase, and…well just watch the clip below.
As goofy as it is, the burrito as an exit device encapsulates great VR design approaches: it fosters an immediate curiosity that provokes the player to interact with an object in a 3D space; it’s intuitive, operating as expected (suitcase opens, you eat the burrito); it really only works in VR; and it’s the result of hands-on playtesting and iteration.
“We had this really terrible idea,” Alex Schwartz, CEO of Owlchemy Labs told me. “We knew that once you hit that button, we wanted to spawn something in front of you, and then you’d do something to get back to the menu. That was the framework. Then we thought, ‘What if it was a thing that comes into your hand, like a weird thing with a handle with all of these buttons.’
But that just didn’t work with playtesters, who were smacking this virtual device on a virtual counter trying to get it to work. It just didn’t feel right. Schwartz said Owlchemy tried spawning a menu that unfurled for the player, who would point to a selection on the menu. But that just didn’t feel satisfying in a game that was all about grabbing stuff.
“I forgot who, but someone [on the team] said, ‘Ok, what if you ate something to confirm?’ We were like, ‘What?’ Then we prototyped it. When [Ty Burks, our 3D artist] added the ‘Really?’ question in rice in the middle of the burrito, we were like ‘Oh my god, I’m so fucking sold.’ It was laughter around the whole company and we were dying.”
Schwartz added, “You can never know how good something’s going to be in VR until you try it out with a headset, with your hands, and it either clicks or it doesn’t. That means the fastest you can iterate is the best for development. We’re not going to sit down and write a [game design document], because it’s going to be wrong. We just try it out in VR.”