I’ve had an HTC Vive for 5 – 6 months now and I’ve been frantically prototyping things whenever I get the chance (very much like the Google Daydream team have been doing). Hand tracking really changes things. So much so, I expect any VR system without it will be considered incomplete and obsolete in about 2 years.
Here’s a glimpse at some of the things I’ve been making to test out ideas and mechanics. Note that everything here is in prototype phase with various stock assets throw in as quick placeholders – the final look of assets is likely to change considerably in anything that graduates toward a released product:
A few months ago, there weren’t really any commercially available VR cricket simulators available on Steam or elsewhere, so I thought I play around with making one. It works surprisingly well for a bit of batting practise, although Unity’s PhysX implementation is difficult to tune to be glitch free, even with lots of tweaking. Subsequently, two VR cricket games have launched on Steam in quick succession, so I need to re-evaluate the market here to decide if this niche is already over-saturated before moving too much further.
The beginnings of a molecular biology lab training simulator. There were a few challenges here in producing liquid models that would rise/fall when pipetted into and out of tubes, but that part is working well enough. The intention is to add a guided tutorial to teach various protocols for working with recombinant DNA. Not an easy product to sell to a consumer market though, so I need to establish who the customer would be if this were to be further developed.
A remote control UFO which follows the tip of the antenna on your controller. You can pick up the little people in the town in your tractor beam and shoot the jets with your laser. This prototype didn’t start out anything like “Final Approach” but after stepping back and looking at what I’d made, it’s clear to me there are a few significant similarities even if the gameplay would be quite different.
Dance moves game
This one is a bit of a failed experiment. It’s not an attempt at a ghetto version of Tilt Brush – you can record your hand movements as you dance to a song and play them back. The intention was that you could try and mimic your own (or someone else’s) recorded movements in a type of 3D rhythm game or dance instructor app. It turns out it’s really hard to accurately mimic your own movements, even when you made the recording and know what they are, and even if you provide a time shifted ‘premonition’ of where the movement is about to be. The idea might work if it were further developed, but I think I established it wasn’t low hanging fruit and was going to require a whole lot more experimentation to make it work as a game or training app.
Rube Goldberg Thing
The irresistible physics sandbox in VR, based on the NewtonVR library (you might recognise the shape of those buttons). This is the type of thing I expected Fantastic Contraption to be like when I first heard of it – a little more along the lines of The Incredible Machine in VR. My particular twist here is to combine pressure sensitive buttons, lasers, mirrors and laser detectors, as well as laser destructible barriers, along with a few other sensors. I’ve built a mostly working save/load system so levels you build in VR can be saved and restored. It has the foundation of a interesting puzzle game but there are various problems still to be solved (eg a mechanic for restricting teleportation, further exploration of how to make interesting puzzles with this toolkit).
This was originally developed with GearVR gaze selection and touchpad in mind, however for fun (and faster development) I also added HTC Vive controller support. It’s something like a mashup of Mahjong and solitare Poker. It could make a cool casual puzzle game, but I doesn’t really benefit much from being in VR, so I’ll probably continue developing it in the future as a non-VR (or VR-optional) title.
In related news, development of Spectral Station (aka Cardboard Rogue) is on hold and is unlikely to resume in it’s current form – the project was very specifically designed for low spec Cardboard with gaze-based interaction, to be released at a time when there weren’t many other interaction options. At the rate VR hardware has progressed since it’s inception and given the intended scope, it’s not going to be ready for a final release before it becomes embarrassingly obsolete. Now that I have access to a system with robust hand tracking – the HTC Vive – it’s very hard to go back to working with anything primarily gaze-based. I’ve learned a huge amount about designing for VR and user interaction from pushing the project to the stage where it is, and as much as a hate having unfinished projects, there are too many better opportunities ripe to be explored. I don’t think it’s the best use of my time right now to continue pushing it further without a radical overhaul. It will be a great starting point to steal some code and ideas from in the future if I ever decide to make a VR dungeon crawler better suited to utilising hand interaction. So let’s not call it dead – it’s just hibernating while it undergoes a metamorphosis to one day emerge, barely recognisable.
Where to from here ?
I feel like I’ve started to become a “VR native”, with a decent grasp of the emerging design rules that make for comfortable and interesting VR experiences. There’s a whole lot more to discovered (or rediscovered) and refined, but we already have a set of working patterns for locomotion, UI and physical interactions. It’s time to take the most compelling example and turn it into a polished product … the question is, which idea to pursue ?