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A different viewpoint on VR games development

Sharing our experiences as an early stage VR developer that was lucky enough to have our first VR game featured as a HTC Vive release title, and the challenges and controversy we faced along the way.

 

So I have a confession to make, I am one of those people that always has to invert the mouse when playing games. I think in some parts it’s a throwback to my early days playing a lot of flight simulators on the Amiga 500 with a joystick, and it just sort of became my default. It feels natural to me, and if I try to play any sort of fps or even a 3rd person camera it really disorientates and throws me off not having it inverted now. Wait a second I hear you thinking, aren’t you meant to be talking about VR development? So let me backtrack a little bit.

Lightning Rock is a keen VR developer and has been since our first Oculus DK arrived after having helped kickstart it. We have since been lucky enough to work with the Vive, OSVR and PSVR, played with add-ons like the LEAP and Neuron, and waited for a looong time for our Omni Walker to arrive only to hear they won't ship to Australia  crying

It was perhaps inevitable that our first major release would be a VR supported game. Marble Mountain is a combination of retro arcade gameplay with a modern cinematic adventure that supports the use of most VR headsets. One of the key design decisions we made very early was that we wanted Marble to use a third person camera with automatically adjusted camera transitions. This we felt was the best way to capture the feel of the classic arcade games like Marble Madness, and create a deeper sense of immersion. This decision was reached after a great deal of prototyping with varied methods of camera control and beta players feedback.

For the most part, the game has been very well received. Marble Mountain was shown at Pax Aus and Pax South where it received a great deal of media attention and was reported in multiple ‘top indie games’ reviews. This further allowed us the benefit of hundreds of playtesting opportunities and we were able to refine the games VR implementation based on that feedback.

However, since launch a few players expressed anger bordering on outrage at our design choices, citing that we breached the cardinal VR development rule of taking control away from the player. This and similar concepts, that locomotion should only be performed using teleportation, that only the player should ever control the camera, have been argued extensively over the last twelve months since commercial launch. There are a few VR developers that have rather blandly stated if a single player feels motion sickness your game has failed. We understand, and absolutely accept that due to the way our camera works, some of our players will feel motion sick.

But here is the problem, a lot of people love the game in its current version. When you have reviews along the continuum of:

My favourite sitting VR game so far!’ Steam Player Review

'This modernised version of Marble Madness absolutely works in VR. It's fantastic. It's well balanced, it controls well, the ability to move my head and explore where I'm about to go is invaluable. Best of all — absolutely no motion sickness. At all.’ - Kotaku

through to

'VR definitely makes me and most likely you motion sick.I guess if you keep in mind that VR isn’t optional, it’s fine.’ - Steam Player Review

'The camera moves induced and progressively worsened moron sickness for me. Took a refund. A real shame, because this is a game genre I generally enjoy.'‘- Steam Player Review

As a developer, you are faced with a difficult problem to address.

 

Motion sickness in VR is tricky, it is not caused by a physical sensation, but is rather a psychosomatic experience whereby your brain expects your vision to function in a particular way, and if that is disrupted your mind creates a sense of nausea. The difficulty is that everyone has extremely varied thresholds for what will and won’t trigger that sense of, and the severity, of that nausea.

 

So where did we have to go now? This is where I come back on track. I worry that broadly there is not enough acceptance of the fact that VR is going to cause some people motion sickness. I am old enough to remember back when the first 3D fps games like quake were coming out and a huge number of people were complaining about motion sickness. I accept there are some fundamental differences between VR and screen gameplay, but I feel the premise still has some merit in exploring.

So we are going to give players the option to invert the mouse so to speak.

The best way we felt to suit the largest number of players is to give them control over the primary variables that cause concern, without radically changing the game so that those that currently love it become disenfranchised. We have had discussions with a number of players who have been great with providing constructive feedback on what those factors are. So we implemented a VR options section. Providing players with the ability to change the way that camera angles and transitions operate, as well as implementing an option for vignetting.

Since that update (knock on wood) we haven't yet received any negative feedback since that update, so hopefully it has addressed the concerns.

No-one wants people to feel physically sick playing their game, and happy to take this opportunity to publicly apologise to anyone that played Marble Mountain and felt that way. My concern however, is that if in this early stage of an emergent technology like VR, developers feel like they are being pigeonholed into design choices, by trying to ensure of 100% motion sickness free game, any sense of diversity in titles must inevitably suffer. It is our humble opinion (and I know that many will disagree which is fine) that not every style will work for every player when it comes to VR. Perhaps the concept of ‘VR options’ will become more mainstream and allow for some more adventurous and varied design choices in this exciting field.

!!Shameless Plug warning!!

Please don't take my word for it, Marble Mountain is currently 50% off in the steam summer sale. So why don't you give it a try yourself and see what you think. 

http://store.steampowered.com/app/409390/Marble_Mountain/

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