Schell Games won awards in three separate categories at the second annual Proto Awards last month for their virtual reality game, I Expect You to Die. The next day, Founder Jesse Schell gave a presentation at Oculus Connect, sharing the lessons he and his team learned with a room full of VR developers at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Schell’s learnings haven’t all come from I Expect You to Die. Not by a long shot. He has been involved in virtual reality for over 20 years as a professor and game developer. Read up on him. And take these seven lessons to heart if you’re interested in building VR experiences of your own:
1. Motion sickness can be eliminated.
The human tendency to blow chunks on a boat, in a car, or in VR is a natural alarm system that occurs when our brains mistake certain types of motion as neurotoxic threats to our well being. It exists to protect us from things in nature, like poisonous mushrooms. The important thing to note when creating VR experiences is that these feelings of nausea occur quickly and stick around for a long time. Here are Schell’s top four ways to keep a lid on it.
1. Keep the frame rate above 60 frames per second (FPS). 90 is even better.
2. Avoid virtual camera motion.
3. Don’t accelerate and decelerate.
4. Keep the horizon level.
2. Design for the medium.
Don’t just imitate old ways of doing things. It’s a bad habit we humans share. It’s the reason early movies were just stage plays captured on film. For VR, focus on sense of presence as the core differentiator.
“If you’re here to copy the same things, get the hell out of here!”
3. Immersion is greater than gameplay.
The immersive nature of the experience you’re creating is like a soap bubble. It’s beautiful. It’s fragile. And everything in the world is trying to destroy it. Protect it by removing these immersion breakers:
Shallow Object Interactions
In testing I Expect You to Die, users kept trying to unscrew a plate on the car’s dash using a knife, instead of the designated screwdriver. When that didn’t work, they considered the experience to be broken.
Expect to spend twice as much time on sound design when creating in VR and leave no sound out of place. If a coin dropped on carpet and concrete sound the same, immersion is lost.
Proprioceptive disconnect (virtual avatar standing/sitting – wrong worse than absent)
If you’re sitting and look down at your avatar’s body in any other position, that’s worse than not seeing a body at all. Getting it wrong is worse than leaving it out.
At the time I Expect You To Die was developed. Input options were limited. While a game controller seemed like an obvious choice, it turned out that a mouse was actually more effective. As an avatar in the driver’s seat, it ended up feeling more natural for players to feel like they were reaching in with the mouse. With more complicated motions like twisting a screwdriver, they learned that it’s such an automatic motion, the brain doesn’t mind if the game automates that twisting motion. He also said they chose to create a comedy world because comedy protects immersion.
4. Looking around takes getting used to.
We have been trained our whole lives to look straight ahead. So Schell did things like put a gun in the back seat of the car to teach players that gameplay is everywhere. In VR, we get to look into things and behind things.
5. Different hardware enables different experiences.
Pick a platform and optimize for it. In the future, systems like Oculus Touch will be how people operate in VR.
6. Iterate. A lot.
Traditional games are about interacting in an environment. VR is about manipulating an environment. Like throwing a rock through a window.
“Fail fast and follow the fun.”