Virtual Reality has come a long way from the curios often found in carnivals and science museums. The once-massive novelty kiosks have been reduced to the size of modem and sent home for you to stick your face into whenever you want. With VR becoming more and more prevalent within the consumer space, a new frontier for game development has opened up with its challenges and opportunities. It’s not as simple as adding head tracking to a first-person shooter, however. The fundamentals are much less simple.
The key to the successful development of a VR game is to make the player feel present in the world you’ve invited them into. A typical 3D game doesn’t require this; a HUD can be pasted on the screen, with movement and actions being more abstract and unnatural. When you plop a player in VR, the less you reliant you can be on the more abstract features of a 3D game. They need to feel present in the game world, and that means that both the world and their interactions must feel more natural.
Simple features like ditching text promptly and replacing them with signage in the game world can help. Slapping a box full of words on the player’s face can break immersion, so trading this out for helpful labels in the game world itself is more natural. Pressing a button to change your loadout works in a typical 3D, but in VR, it’s better to have them reach out into the game world and grab their next death-dealer.
Take, for example, Another Reigny Day’s delicious health potions. Rather than the player simply picking them up and having their life force replenished, they pick the bottle up, pop the cork, and shake it out all over them until the bottle runs dry.
Trading out your weaponry requires a similar system that keeps the player present in the game world. In Another Reigny Day, you’re given a fine selection of pots to dip your arrows into. These let you choose from flaming arrows that cleanse the earth with righteous fire or chicken arrows that draw enemies away with the delicious smell of deep-fried poultry. All this is done without any abstract button presses because the information you need is communicated throughout the game world.
The challenge is avoiding any breaks in immersion. It’s easy to get lazy while designing the game world and fall back on old habits. The entire design, from the point-of-view to the UI needs to be consistent to never break the immersion. A single establishing shot can rip the player from the game world and remind them that they’re wearing a headset. If you must draw the player’s attention to any specific element, it needs to be done in an organic way that leaves the player in control.
Succeeding in this new frontier can be a bit of a balancing act. Like any new experience, a certain degree of experimentation and iteration is necessary to stumble upon the secret formula. However, the most important feature for a successful VR experiment is that the player must feel constantly present and connected to the world you present to them. Regardless of whether you’re making a hyper-real office simulator or a fantasy underwater kingdom, it’s important to make the player feel like they’re a part of that place, rather than simply having it glued to their face.