Understanding The Body's Role in VR & AR Game Design
In this 2016 VRDC session, Funomena lead designer Robin Hunicke explores some of the core challenges and opportunities that the body presents in VR & AR development, from controller design and gaze inputs to body posture, movement and gesture design.
Today I am talking about embodiment as a design surface for designers in VR and AR titles.
The eyes, the ears, and in this case, now, the hands and the senses on our hands, can be engaged in experiencing what we like to call presence, the psychological state or subjective perception in which even though part of an individual's current experience is generated by and or filtered through human made technology part or all of the individual's perception fails to accurately acknowledge the role of technology in the experience. It's a kind of a strange way to define it. But I think it's interesting to think about it this way. Your body is being fooled into believing that what is it is experiencing is real. We’re really tricking your body, and this is creating a space where designers can and will explore how presence affect one's experience of playful content.
When you're wearing a head mounted display the hands are very important. And there's a lot of work being done right now to figure out what those hands will be. Why are we obsessed with the hands? Anyone who's tried to work with VR knows that when you are in a space where you're experiencing reality, and then you can't see your hands, you feel weird. They call it the rubber hand illusion, the idea that there's a physical object, and there's no response to it. Trespasser, the video game from many, many years ago famous for this sort of disembodied hand problem. It’s really important to display the controller directly having an abstract hand model, or showing the primary game object or tool or brush, whether that's a hammer, a gun, one, whatever it is, or some combination of these seems to be super, super important for engaging the body.
Games that do this well are about touching stuff. They're about, you know, being in the space and just like poke poke poke. Jenova Chen, who led the design on Journey, used to say that when you're in an inner interactive virtual space, and you're moving into for the first time, whether it's a VR experience or a classic video game experience, that you're like a baby, just pushing every surface trying to see what happens. And these games really engage you that way. So while that's not news, what's interesting to me is the difference between the power grip and the precision grip. So if you think about the controllers, I want you to put your hand out in front of you, and make the gesture that you make when you grab a controller. for VR, it's a power grip.
THE POWER GRIP
It's a force grip, and when you make this grip with your arm, you put your hand out in front of yourself and you grab space, like really do it, like retain your Wing Chun, you know, advocate and you're gonna do the on- inch punch. When you do this motion, you engage your fist, your lower arm, your shoulder, your bicep and your back muscles and your torso, the power grip has this effect of immediately stressing your body and it raises your blood pressure and your heart rate. If you do it with force, if you really try to do it, you can actually engage all the muscles in your arm and when you do a one inch Punch in Wing Chun, you can really crack someone's skull really hard. It's a really, it's a very powerful tool, the power grip and we use it all the time. When you swing an axe. When you punch somebody, when you do a really vicious dance move, you know you're using the power grip. Now, the other grip is the precision grip.
THE PRECISION GRIP
Pretend we're conducting the score for journey. It's a very different feeling. What do you engage in when you engage the precision grip, just your hand, just a little bit, maybe on the backside of your arm. Your body is telling you. This is action. This is thinking. This is why artists love is to have a tablet with a pen instead of a mouse. That the relaxed pose of painting and drawing. It’s a physical thing and t the tool itself engages the mind in a way that's really insightful and has worked for thousands of years.
So when you're using a power grip, to do precision activities, how do you translate that body feedback? This is a question that all of us get to work on. Now. What is the feeling of painting when your fist is closed? It's not even finger painting. It's like punchy painting. It doesn't really feel right; when you open your hand it feels much better.
This desire to create a sense of precision was something that was at the core of Luna, when we started working on it, we actually started working on it, not for VR, but for the Intel gesture sensing camera. And I really wanted to build a game where you could just touch the world with your fingers. In the very first prototype that Scott Anderson ever made, you would press the buttons and it was a little pair of chopsticks and they could just use these two pieces as chopsticks to pick up little things. So immediately with the capture buttons and the pressure, he started thinking delicately so translated the power to something precise. We actually modelled and physically sculpted, what we call the grasper for the game, which is like a dinosaur claw, or bird claws. It's also like a lotus.
The other thing that we decided to do was to de emphasise the butt of the controller and grasper thing and focus on the tips. And to give it a brush light quality, it's still not finished. It's a work in progress, but when it grasps it becomes more of a pod, more subtle. Solid in the tips, and then it opens again. So we've got this feeling we really wanted to have this hand presence that would make you want to touch the world in a different way. A hand model is helpful, but it may not translate the action, the way that you wanted to. something
Best practice literature advises you to put a body in there, that's great except that It can be pretty disturbing if the body isn't your body.
A very interesting experiment was done with body image and owning an underweight or an overweight body for people with eating disorders, looking down and seeing the body that you actually have, versus the body that you think you have, and then having a discussion with therapists about it, link to the paper in there as well.
And what we're finding right is that the lack of realistic body identification conveys difference to us automatically. Again, if you're going to put a realistic body in and I'm moving around in the body, but it's doing unrealistic motions, or it's not totally smooth. The elbow joints to the arms and all this other stuff are not responding the way that I want them to then I will find it really difficult..
We've been seeing some interesting work on gesture, and reaction and celebration, in embody avatars in social spaces. In this context, say I'm Lucy Bradshaw. I'm not going to be seeing myself this way. But I'm going to see them that way. Right? I'm going to see my hands, but I'm gonna see them. And so we're trying to kind of mix that space. And when you look at spectator view mode and the way that we're embracing this, it's also we're trying to get as much out of the the motion of the body without actually having to replicate the physics of it.
So the body is back sort of, when it comes to actual avatars. VR is a little bit like puppeteering right now. So when you think about gestures, and the body if I can't see the whole body? And I'm just seeing my hands and I'm trying to do ninja moves. What are you seeing? You know, are we simulating the rest of that body? How do we how do we perceive that? And specifically, if you're going to wave your arms like a ballerina, you're just going to see the tracers on my hands, right, like, just for a minute trying to make a balletic movement with your arm.
(Shows examples of different movement options in games)
BODY = EMOTION
You can also use the body to create emotion e.g reaching up, striving, sitting back and relaxing, rhythm etc
I like face tracking. It's better at knowing what you want than you are.. If you ever go to dinner and watch two people on a date, and you watch their micro expressions that they're not catching because they're so busy trying to mask their own feelings.
When you do a close up in a film, you feel emotional. You know, when you bring things into perspective with the person at eye level, suddenly your heart opens up. That’s basic film technique, but when you bring it into VR… now you're really first person!
Wayward Sky does a great job of this, playing between the two camera frames, even though technically it's not a frame. It's an embodiment frame.
So, it's not about the camera frame anymore. It's about the body frame.
(Shows footage of Luna playtests)
At the same time, that we're thinking about how presence influences gameplay, we're also seeing how presence may in fact to influence education, there's a lot of stuff if you just Google VR and learning, we're doing a way better job actually of selling this, even though we haven't actually implemented any of it yet. It's very interesting to think about moving away from the blackboard and sitting down and actually, you know, working in a virtual space on a task. And the words that we use to describe this are body learning or self-determination in classrooms. And there's a huge interest in this, especially in underserved communities where education really sucks.
Engaging in a task or teaching others how to do something is the best learning experience. And sitting listening to someone talk, which I'm doing to you right now is the worst.
Hunicke, Robin. 2016. Understanding The Body's Role in VR & AR Game Design. In GDC Vault, edited by GDC. U.S.: YouTube.
Still Logged In: What AR and VR Can Learn from MMOs
In this 2017 GDC session, `Ultima Online MMO designer Raph Koster talks about the social and ethical implications of turning the real world into a virtual world, and how the lessons of massively multiplayer virtual worlds are more relevant than ever.
Social spaces aren't just games. When I was making Ultima Online, I designed places and worlds and societies that just happen to have a lot of games in them. Really, most of the work was going into simulating things like tailoring and rabbit hunting and running a shop. So, if you are making a social VR or AR space, you aren't just making a game, you're designing a society.
MAKE ENHANCED INTERACTIONS ON PURPOSE, NOT BY ACCIDENT
Do you recall the case of the virtual groping in quiVR?
A woman logged into this game about doing VR archery, and a stranger named Big Bro, I think walked up and started virtually groping her. The company didn't know about the incident until an article was written about it. To their credit, they immediately put in a bunch of features so that gropers couldn’t access people. Bodies could not see one another anymore. When they came into close proximity, players could expand what they called a personal bubble and they added a new gesture that they added a new feature where you can create an exploding blue force field that turns the harasser invisible and prevents them from interacting with you. The company was very upfront and immediately posted a post mortem about what had happened and encouraged everybody to take this stuff seriously.
Ideally there would be other players on hand, people who are logged on 24/7 monitoring behaviour, who could make a harassment call, turn Big Bro into a toad and ban him for life. This is actually best practice in online community spaces.
Because if you host an online community where people can cause harm to another person you are on the hook.
You're the government of that space, you're hosting real people.
CREATE A DUE PROCESS
You need to institute a rule of law. That means having a code of conduct and user license agreement, Terms of Service written in plain English that every player affirmatively signs up to the first time they log in and they swear an oath. I will abide by this and it needs to be posted everywhere. And you need to be reinforcing this as a cultural thing every day.
You don't get to abdicate doing it. It has enormous benefits, just not only as a cultural thing, but also for clearing up edge cases, because you're going to be fighting an awful lot of edge cases.
DOCUMENT WORLD ACTIONS
The most concrete practical thing is a tool called the circular buffer which is simply a recording keeping track of the last minute to five minutes of every single interaction each client sees and storing it, discarding the stuff that's over five minutes old and always entering the most recent stuff so that when something like this happens players can hit the Report button to ensure that they have impartial evidence to hand which can be adjudicated.
Believe me you will have cases where it will turn into one says the other says if you don't have tools like this.
You need to have an incontrovertible evidence. Voice logs aren’t enough. You need to record every single gesture so that when somebody does this, the CES person can replay it back and verify who started the fight.
It's not going to be cheap.
But you need to do it.
CREATE PERSISTENT ACCOUNT SYSTEMS
A key lesson from all kinds of social spaces in virtual worlds is that offenders repeat. The number one killer on Ultima Online was personally responsible for murdering over 4000 people. And if your social VR or AR System does not have a persistent account system with persistent identity the players invest into, you're effectively making every player get away scot free. Because all they need to do is create a brand-new account every single time they log in.
Actions like this matter more in VR, precisely because VR embodies us and makes us feel like we're really there.
If you haven’t read the original rape in cyberspace article that’s homework item number one. This was an article that came out in the Village Voice in 1993, regarding the first major documented virtual rape incident.
He didn't even do it to their actual bodies. He did it using this technological tool that was available in this game called a puppet. And the puppet all it did this was create text and make it look like somebody else was doing something. The victims were actually just standing there and they could mute and block him all they wanted. But it didn't matter because it looked to everyone else in the room like Mr. bungle was getting these poor people to do horrendous things to themselves. In 1993, this became a bit of a cause celeb because people started arguing about whether or not that was really rape. I mean, it's online. That can't be real, can it? We know better now, I hope. Although, and we'd have to see. I think there's plenty of Twitter trolls who probably still like what's the big deal, right? But I'm pretty sure that right now somebody is going you know, it'd be awfully cool to do user generated content and social VR, and somebody is probably inventing the VR version of that puppet right now.
And of course, the most famous incident I encourage you go look up the video on YouTube. It's, it's astonishing in a surreal kind of way. This poor woman Auntie Chung was literally attacked by a flying swarm of thousands of penises that's world around her in a tornado. If you run that world that's on you as much as the troll.
Every feature you make should be looked at first as a weapon.
How will a player abuse someone else with this?
Odds are you aren't actually evil enough when you play test.
How many of you played A division? It’s an MMO shooter on the console with a triple A team in which they made all the players collide with all the other players and then they had single quest-givers sitting in the Central lobby. So there were lines running out the door and people would barricade the door to prevent other people from getting quests, right. My personal experience with making that mistake was in the alpha for Ultima Online … players would let others out (who would then often try to block access for others) and then they would rush to the windows and shoot them in the back as they walked away.
LIMIT WHAT EMPLOYEES AND ADMINS CAN DO WITH THEIR IN-WORLD POWER
And the people you hire will hire other people who will in fact do things like consider it a perk to go over to people's private chat spaces and watch them as they engage in you know, very private things. You have to hard code in limitations, log off every kind of extra normal command, the ability to grant or revoke any kind of capability granularly per individual, and only grant the powers that are specific to the scope of that individual's job.
In the early days of MMOs we had issues where game masters were having hot tub parties with players and trading sexual favours for endgame items. They needed the ability to spawn those items for their job. Unfortunately, we didn't have logging in the hot tubs, so it was hard to prove that these situations were happening. We have drifted away over time from having in game admins and the reason is in order to minimize the possibility of personal relationships forming between customer service and individual players because corruption happens.
DEVELOP LEGAL INFRASTRUCTURES
MMO started as the wild west of gaming and ended up being the single safest genre for women to play in gaming, because everything else is unmoderated voice chat.
Whereas MMOs have persistent identity, have persistent community have the logging, all this stuff that you talked about, and that's something that we fought for And Blizzard led the way and made it real. And you can actually see the gender split of that audience of Wow, just go from 20-80 to 50-50 over the course of a decade. And I think that's important for us to realize it took a lot of work.
Also, be aware that if your virtual world is successful, your digital objects are going to have real money value. There's no escaping it, so simply assume that anything you create as a digital object has real world value. And people will be doing things like sleeping for it, paying for it and stealing it. Just go in the door, assuming that that is part of this field.
Fundamentally, you should not be opening a virtual world unless you think in terms of this kind of legal infrastructure. You're the government of this space.
Furthermore, the people who use virtual spaces are very often using them for therapeutic purposes. That means a higher incidence of individuals inside your space who are dealing with psychological stress of various sorts. There is not a single, large scale commercial virtual world that does not have the FBI and suicide hotlines on speed dial. The number of runaways that we tracked down for the FBI and the police, while at Sony Online, was easily in the triple digits.
Be prepared to deal with manifestations of mental illness. Those folks will frequently be calling for assistance within this virtual setting. And you have gone and built their home away from home, the place that they use to cope, the place that they're using in order as their support system. Often the friends that they've made in your space are the ones that literally keep them alive. You are holding their lives in your hands. So you have to take it seriously.
LET PEOPLE PLAY WITH IDENTITY
One of the huge mistakes of social VR is that they're forgetting the joys of being someone you aren't. That has always been a fundamental premise of engaging in a virtual world. Even in the normative modern MMO worlds, cross gender roleplay is still incredibly common.
One of the beauties of the early internet and virtual worlds in particular is that nobody could tell you were a dog, only now we can hear you barking on Discord.
This is why I hate voice chat. Because it's one of the many things that is taking these tools away from people.
The original world which Richard Bartle designed was intended to be a blow against the British class system. That is why you can level up and be anyone in anything. Because he felt like he'd grown up in a very restrictive world where, oh no, you have the wrong accent. You'll never get a doctorate. And in fact, a lot of the earliest virtual spaces were safe spaces for they were safe spaces for queers, and for the asexual who prefer the idea of having hundreds of little tentacles for genitalia.
It extends beyond voice chat, though. How many of you are short? Like me? All right, short people, you guys know that you have lower lifetime earnings than tall people, right? You get less promotions and lower salaries. So it turns out that halflings and gnomes in fantasy role playing games earn less XP per hour and level slower. Because we import real world biases into these worlds. I have lost count of the number of social spaces that don't have race as a customization option that it’s embarrassing.
BUILD EMPATHY WITH IDENTITY INVESTMENT, TEAMWORK AND EMOTE SYSTEMS
As people enter a space, if they don't have a stake in the space, if they don't have persistent identity, it's very easy to behave as a virtual sociopath. They don't have any community ties whatsoever. So you have to start creating investment into an identity really early on. So those of you who are making systems that are dropped in, don't.
You also can't use things like credit cards to block for example, average U.S. household I think has 13 credit card numbers. So the real way you have to do it is by causing personal investment in the identity they're creating, so that they don't want to lose the investment they've made.
There are two classic ways of doing
1)gameplay that involves teamwork.
2)Incorporate an emote system. Best Practice emote systems involve automatically parsing text chat and pulling out the emotional cues that people are already sticking in there like Smiley's. Otherwise, if you give people manual, complex puppeteering structures it’s too hard. Yes, there's a subset of people who are good at puppeteering. Most people are not however.
LIMIT SOCIAL OPTIONS TO SUPPORT POSITIVE INTERACTION
While voice does convey a significant amount of emotional content, you can't expect people to be trained actors and know how to convey emotion. If they need to do is convey real emotion, they will prefer to use Skype where they get all the cues. So my actual advice to social VR people bluntly, is to sidestep as many of these problems as possible. Don't have large scale worlds with a bunch of strangers interacting with one another in an unsupervised fashion.
Stick to small groups, people who mostly already know each other. Also, make the avatars relatively unrealistic so nobody cares about the fact that the emotional cues are wrong.
If I were making a social VR thing that I wanted to be a commercial success, I would go clone a game where you sit at opposite sides of a table. You can wave your hands and your head, all you want. You can build crazy avatars, because it's all about personal expression, getting to know the other person. It's limited to two people at a time. So, if you bail or block, you'll never have to deal with that person again. It just sidesteps all the issues, right?
Play to the strengths of VR today. It’s clumsy, but you can play with that. I think that is part of why something like Job Simulator is one of the most successful VR experiences we have. it embraces the limitation.
All of these issues get dramatically worse once we're talking about social AR.
Rendering is by far the least important part of this entire field. The representation is not the part that really, really matters. What matters is the action that's going on on the server, which is where you actually track things like the avatar profiles, their histories, the location of objects, how they interact with one another.
Text games actually embody you almost as powerfully as VR does. That is why text muds are also great role models. For example, consent systems for paired emotes was a very, very common design trope in text muds. Where you can't just hug somebody or grope somebody, but there is almost a two-factor authentication process the players must go through in order to engage with others.
That stuff popped up in the text worlds first, because in the text worlds, there was no distinction of distance. Everybody was standing on a pin in each individual text room. So, all it took was one word for them to be interpenetrating with your avatar.
All of those things will happen in the real world. It is not going to be very long until there is a template ID associated with your washing machine, and it will have its own character sheet that will have its repair history. That's not far-fetched. So if you start designing your social structures in a way that incentivizes players to commit virtual violence against one another, they're probably going to start doing it for real.
MISTAKES ARE TOO EASY: DEVELOP A PLAYER’S DECLARATION OF RIGHTS
All of these things can be quite unintentional. Pokémon GO I'm sure absolutely did not intend for its map of spawns to be racist and classist. And yet, it's really hard to find Pokémon in poor black neighbourhoods and in rural areas, because it's UGC map happened to be built out of kids who are going to Stanford and Berkeley. So we do have to think about these issues.
It might be that someday legislation will that protects virtual layer annotation rights. That might actually be the only solution to something like Pokémon spawning in your backyard.
As yet there are few clear rules. What if somebody happens to start spawning Pokémon on top of a Black Lives Matter rally? It is trivially easy for an operator of a virtual world to pull something like that. We've seen the early Harbinger's of things like that. Anonymous got its start by holding a flash mob in front of Scientology facility in New York City. We kind of trained people to do this.
If there was only one Pikachu to have in a Pokémon Go flash mob, I think we would have seen Pika murders by now. It's human nature.
And there are other risks - Just yesterday, it was discovered that a cloud toy company was storing the voice chat logs of all of the kids that ever talked to their plushie on AWS instance on a database that was not password protected.
To my knowledge, exactly three virtual worlds in history have bothered to adopt a Declaration of the Rights of players.
Start thinking in terms of the rights that players should be having in these spaces, because soon enough Internet of Things is going to hit. This is also not fiction
Let's have some fun. Seriously, let's explore, have some fun.
Just get your homework done first. Thank you.
Koster, Raph. 2017. STILL LOGGED IN: WHAT AR AND VR CAN LEARN FROM MMOS. In GDC Vault. U.S.: YouTube.
MAKING AR AND VR TRULY ACCESSIBLE
In this 2016 VRDC session, Minds + Assembly's Tracey John, Radial Games' Andy Moore, Tomorrow Today Labs' Brian Van Buren, and independent designer Kayla Kinnunen explore the challenges and necessities of making sure virtual reality experiences will remain accessible to players of all backgrounds.
18 -20% of the population have some kind of disability (visual impairments, hearing impairments, cognitive impairments, motor and mobility impairments) and this figure increases rapidly with age.
There are some people for whom VR just isn't an option e.g. anybody who wears glasses may struggle with VR. But many more can gain access, so long as the software is designed in an inclusive way. Accessibility forces you as a developer to think outside of your own box – to be more than the bad designer only designing for themselves e.g. If you build a room scale experience, that game should also be playable by someone who is seated and can only play with a single hand.
If you design an experience for an abled body adult within the normal height variance, you are writing off a large number of people, you're even blocking off yourself at certain age groups e.g. small children don't have the same reach, or cognitive capacities.
– Think how the human body interacts and experiences space with the game.
- Ask: what if I have to do this with one hand?
- Ask: what if I have to have a standing-only mobile experience that someone who seated needs to use?
- Ask: should I be putting objects on the floor for people who have difficulty bending over?
- And question why you should force somebody to do a Konami code, when just pressing the trigger button will do?
There’s a lot of knowhow in this area now…go to gameaccessibilityguidelines.com, go to Microsoft's webpage on how to create an accessible video game and take on board those suggestions like MAPPABLE CONTROLS for people who can’t easily press buttons.
1. CREATE ALTERNATIVES
Try to be comprehensive in what you're designing so when you're designing a space in VR use the entire toolkit you have available. Instead of creating a cutscene, it's about designing how to make people to look at things, and how to use colour palettes, or designing a comprehensive cue, something that uses audio AND lighting.
e.g. When I was designing an earlier iteration of our game, in order to get people to turn their heads, I would use audio cues because positional audio is such a powerful tool in virtual reality, but people with hearing impairments wouldn’t respond, so that forced me to redesign our trigger system and redesigned our cue system making sure that there was a visual aid as well, like targeted lights and flashing arrows.
When you're trying to design with accessibility in mind, you come up with solutions that end up killing three or four birds with one stone. So. if you want to design an experience that's playable on a desk, instead of at room scale, you've now solved the problem of people having to bend over because now everything's at desk, and if you make the desk height, variable, that supports small people like children. Even the challenge of limited mobility is solved. All these problems are solved sometimes with a very simple solution. You can actually open up whole new markets, not just for people with disabilities, but people with small living rooms also benefit…and all of a sudden you're now solving for platforms that maybe have more limited tracking areas as well.
2. EXTEND HUMAN REACH
So, imagine a default action where you walk over to something, you pick it up, you walk over to where you want to put it, and you place it down - instead one group created a ray cast from the controller to act as a highlight so that whenever that red cast collided with another object in space, pulling the grab button would just suck that virtual object right into your hand. To extend that they also allowed for a half Press to hold an object in place where it wasn't at a distance. And so that would allow people to move things around. That would also allow them to kind of hold down a half trigger and move their arm backwards and actually extend an object out. This allowed the user to have full control of object placement within a three dimensional room scale space, all without actually moving from their chair.
3. MAKE PLAYERS MORE MOBILE
The easiest things you can do for mobility is to have teleporting in your game. It adds a way for somebody to navigate around your space in a very intuitive way, especially if you also add rotation on the teleport so that you can actually highlight a space where you want to go to and then immediately pick a direction you want to face. This would allow somebody that's chair bound, and only able to face in one direction to put themselves at any position on the map.
Alternative mobility design strategies -
To keep the pleasure of movement and gesture we added a grabby claw. You can take a stick and telescope it out using your physical motion. And you can hit the buttons on the controller to grab things remotely and still move them. So, you still get a sense of connectedness and presence.
And instead of going for teleportation, we opted for scaling. You can scale the whole environment so that your natural arm reach can now reach across your room instead of having a teleport button.
Not every solution works in every in every application. But if you think about these kinds of things early on in development e.g. knowing that scale is an option really opens a lot of doors.
4. TEST WITH DIFFERENT SHAPED BODIES
If you’re trying to make a game accessible later in the development process you have to just do a ton of user testing and watch for the pain points, which could just be like a sigh of frustration. If someone keeps having to bend over and pick something up. These sorts of barriers are likely to first show up as annoyances. to people that are able bodied.
e.g. One of the various near field interactions we were asking players to do is to play a game beer pong. And there was a ball dispenser that would dispense the ping pong balls that came out and would throw them and there were visual rewards if you knocked all the balls out of the out of the container…for Wesley, who is our artist who is six foot seven and has a bad hip and bad knee, for him to bend over and repeatedly try to pick them up was very painful. So we ended up putting a detector in there, so if a nearby space is ever empty of balls, the programme then pours out a bunch more balls and refills the container so that people don't think of that as being an accessibility concern.
People have different head heights – does this affect the play?
If you are at a different head height, there are multiple different ways to get around that- scaling being one of them, being able to adjust the head height of the users is another one, as is designing the space so that it is customizable. e.g. make the height of the control panel adjustable.
e.g. in our game Fantastic Contraption your toolbox is a cat. If you double-click the cat comes flying and you can position the anywhere in the world by just like clicking your finger and calling the cat. But something that a lot of people discover fairly quickly is if you pick up the cat, and you place it anywhere, at any height, not even on the ground, it'll just hover in that position, so that you can customize the play space and put your tools wherever you want them. And we have made prototypes of other games where every metallic control panel has bolts, and if you undo the bolts, you can pick up the whole control panel and move it. So, it's not difficult to build in these kinds of features.
Install your game on someone's computer and watch them play it at home over time.
We discovered that many Vive players don't use headphones at all, so you can't rely on audio cues at all.
We also found that if you don't support seated play, then good luck having a successful title on, say, psvr.
If you don't support forward facing gameplay, then good luck launching on Oculus.
… if you solve for disabilities, you also grow your market incredibly.
Reach out to your local disability meet-up groups and invite people to try your game out.
And remember to play test with people who have different sorts of disabilities because motor impairment is very different from mobility impairment, which is very different from hearing impairment, which is very different from vision impairment, which is very different from cognitive impairment. Each have their own specific needs.
5. MAKE YOUR OWN CONTROLS
As a wheelchair user, I turn in a tank fashion where I will turn one wheel one way and one wheel the other way in order to do a tight turn. And for the Vive controllers, if I have to hold down a button in order to keep holding on to an object, that becomes very difficult for me so I'll just put the five controllers in my lap and move to the area that I'm at turn or do whatever. Okay, same problem with the Oculus, the sensor ring for the Oculus Touch gets in the way and I'm using the butt of my palm in order to turn and this for something that requires you as a user to make quick turns and quick movement changes it really screws things up - so Valve has made the hardware of the sensors available so you can partner with them and modify the sensors to create your own controllers and that's really going to make it very easy for people to come up with personalised controls, so there's no reason that you can't go to your local maker-space with a 3d model of a controller and build it. And that's going to make it a lot easier if you need to design controllers that have straps on them to strap the controller into someone's hand because they don't have the grip strength in order to keeps a controller to their hand. Or if someone needs to have larger buttons, because they have less motor control those these things, the hardware solutions are there. It's just building them.
It becomes important to understand what are the base actions that you're trying to accomplish, and then allowing for the possibility of end users being able to remap those actions to different inputs.
And the great thing with VR is it allows for a lot more inputs to just happen naturally. So, you can use gaze, you can use head position, gaze will get even more higher fidelity when we actually have eyeball tracking… it's a puzzle. And I've seen some people experimenting with interesting gameplay designs where the hand controllers are intended for a second or third player and the main character only uses the headset. We can get incredibly creative here.
2016. Making AR and VR truly accessible. In GDC Vault, edited by GDC. U.S.: YouTube.
Location-Based Interactive Storytelling the Walt Disney Imagineering Way
This 2013 GDC Next lecture from Disney Imagineering's Jonathan Ackley and Chris Purvis focuses on how the lessons of theme park design can inform game design in the virtual world. Just as in video games, Imagineers deal with issues of artistic design, architectural storytelling, interactive narrative, massively multiplayer gameplay, adapting classic characters to the interactive world and community building. "
Disney theme parks are designed to take Disney movies into the real world and let guests travel through those worlds, which turned out to be a very popular idea.
DISNEY THEME PARK GAME DESIGN TIPS
Make participants the main character
e.g. Agent P, a story where the guest is a secret agent. It was a high-tech story, involving secret agents would use mobile devices. To be consistent the modern-day setting, secret agent roles, electronic devices, the story and the locations all work together holistically.
Guests are given a Mobile phone, their “field operative notification equipment” and they take part in a treasure hunt and the phone tells them the plot it tells them exactly where to go. And when they reach a location. There is a story point that can only be solved by the guest and by pressing the communicator or the phone button, it triggers the secret agent device and amazing things happen and so the guest is the hero. Now for a kid, this is huge, because we all would love to blow things up in the real world. But laws and physics don't allow it. But it's particularly important for kids because they don't normally have a lot of real-world power. So giving them control over a physical environment is very important. E.g. when a little girl triggered one of the effects she turned to a perfect stranger and jumped up and down and screamed. I did it. Did it I did it!
Know your audience.
You need to tailor experiences to things that interest your audience, to the technologies that they use and understand, the things that are going to intrigue them. little bits of magic that are going to make them wonder. You don't talk down to them. You could create the most fabulous attraction but it requires you to walk a marathon that's not going to be very popular. You need to understand who your guests are. Don't bore them.
Tell one story at a time
It all begins with a story, so everything in a land has to make sense and you need to avoid contradiction. You wouldn't place fantasy land and NASCAR Days of Thunder racing simulator next to each other. You'd be telling two different stories and guests will know something's wrong.
Sweat the Details
This doesn’t mean you need busy visuals, this means that for every ounce of treatment provide a ton of fun – which is more about usability.
Sun, rain, wind, five year olds, they have more power than you think. And so you have to focus on designing for maintainability and also putting resources to keeping things up and working well.
Be mindful of safety
I had this idea with a golf club and the guests would come up and they hit a red golf ball and the golf ball would follow this our path and would always land in the hole. And I'm pitching this idea to the operations people and they’re like... So let me get this straight…You’re in a theme park. Thousands of people around. You're gonna give a five year old child a big metal club. ..Like, right yeah.
Every experience needs to be pick up and play
We have to be able to explain how to do this in like 30 seconds to anyone and they have to be able to get it. There’s no time or space for manuals because any longer and guets will immediately disconnect and stop playing.
Organize the flow
This is just basic good storytelling. You want to be clear. You want them to know your intention. You want to show them where they're going and why they're going there? At Disney we use what we call weenies. A weenie is a large visual object that draws your focus that really grounds and sets the stage for an area.
So Disneyland Castle is the first weenie that you see when you enter the park. It draws your eye so that you know you're there. When you turn right towards Tomorrowland. What do you see? You see the weenie down there. It's Space Mountain. So these things give people focus things to look at.
It's not a huge clutter, communicate with visual literacy. So this is just good artwork.
Think about it, plan it out. Avoid overload. Be sparing choose important visuals.
Manage space, time and numbers
Quests need to be modular, with non-linear components
e.g. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom: A walking tour through The Magic Kingdom…Guests given spell cards and were encouraged to search out magic portals where they might meet an animated character (friend, or foe) who would tell them more of a bit of a story. Every installation could support any story point – which meant that the individual story could also unfold linearly, according to cause and effect.
To encourage replayability (variation over time), accessibility (even 2 year olds could do it) and avoid technical costs they included 70 different paper trading cards in the game which guests could scan using on-site cell phone interfaces to trigger effects. Guests could choose spells to cast by holding a card out in front of them e.g. giving them the power to hit the animated villain in head with a bat. Each card has 3 different levels of strength to choose form.
-New arrivals automatically assigned to easy level and given a random deck of five (some basic/common, others more rare), with the option to upgrade and walk the route again. Guests could also collect and take cards home with them.
-Queues formed around the portals, potentially frustrating, but b/c that also gave crowds a chance to trade cards, swap tactics, it turned out that the longer the queue, the higher the satisfaction rating.
-“There's a large selection of guests who come to Magic Kingdom now who self-identify themselves as sorcerers. And because the overall story is to protect and enhance the kingdom, they go out and commit what they call random acts of kindness, where they take their extra cards and they find small, adorable children and they just give the cards away. They also do things like hide their cards in places inside the park and post clues on Facebook (creating) user generated games of hide and go seek in the park without any involvement from us.”
-We ended up making this line of T shirts, which via image recognition technology signal a master sorcerer, which automatically boosts any spell cast to the maximum power level…helpful for advanced, repeat players.
-We added a medium and a hard level. It takes about four, four and a half hours to complete the easy level, going through all the things and it took maybe eight to 10 hours to get through medium. I assumed that very few people would want to play all the way through….it turned out so many people went that far that we had to stop the game and re-engineer it to make it harder. In the end we made it harder, but also more winnable to help clear the crowds.
-This game has inspired over 1600 facebook groups now.
-Our fans developed their own systems for making it more convenient to carry the cards. A lot of people just have images of them on their phone. People have made apps that have them sorted and this is more magical than a real card. People enjoy collecting and also preserving their good cards at home. A virtual version saves them having to damage their cards, or bring in photocopied knock-offs.
The appeal of the hunt
Even if the combat is not particularly challenging on easy level, players can still enjoy finding their way to all these locations marked on the map of the entire park.
The importance of story
The story is engaging too. The overarching story of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is that Hades the evil god of the undead wants to make the Magic Kingdom his summer home, and to this end, he has sent pain and panic to steal Merlin's Ultimate Weapon the crystal of the Magic Kingdom because once that is out of Merlin's hands, Hades can invade. There's a scuffle over the crystal, the crystal is shattered and spread out across the entire theme park. So you have to prevent Hades from getting The Magic Kingdom’s crystal whilst Hades recruits other Disney villains to try and get the shark for him. It’s a nine-chapter saga. So, if you're an advanced player, you still experience all new stories.
Phone are pointers
The cell phone is a remote control for controlling the park, it causes people to look up and focus at areas of the park that they otherwise wouldn't have visited. When we ran the play test, a lot of annual pass holders played it and they wrote us letters: “I loved it because I've been to that park maybe a couple hundred times, but I never went to this part of the park.” So we actually use the mobile phone experiences to direct people away from the one and a half by two inch screen and back out into these wonderful worlds that the Imagineers have created over the years.
Timing is important
You have to know how long things take how long it takes people to get from A to B on average, how long they stand in a place, and you have to think about how and where to move them along. You have to know that you're not going to be in the parade route.
Every experience needs to be pick up and play
We have to be able to explain how to do this in like 30 seconds to anyone and they have to be able to get it. There’s no time or space for manuals because any longer and guets will immediately disconnect and stop playing.
Test – it may surprise you
Before we open each attraction, we mock it up close to full scale and test it for a few weeks.
-The play test proved the (unexpected) appeal of extended engagement outside if the seasons is right.
-It also showed that theme parks are generally safe from griefing behaviours. You don’t have online anonymity in a theme park.
-Also, even if people encountered spoilers from other players, they still wanted to do it themselves, and were just as satisfied.
-Players refused to push buttons simultaneously when in the same vicinity – instead they wanted to queue up and take it in turns to be the only one pressing the button
-People don’t like to backtrack – they prefer to maintain a forward flow through space
-Good game design is as important in a theme park, as a console video game. If we designed a fun game that lasted 200 hours, people will play it for 200 hours. This has implications.
-People love interacting with cast members. For example, we have a tea shop in England. And in one of the quests the guests go in and give somebody in the tea shop a secret pass phrase: “Danger is my cup of tea” after which the guest is handed a special tea bag that has a clue inside of it. That was one of the highest rated parts of the experience.
Ackley, Jonathan, and Chris Purvis. 2013. Location-Based Interactive Storytelling the Walt Disney Imagineering Way. In GDC Vault, edited by GDC. U.S.: YouTube.
The USW Audience of the Future research team is compiling a summary collection of recent research in the field of immersive, and enhanced reality media