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VR design lessons learned in the making of Temple Run VR

Imangi Studios cofounder Keith Shepherd speaks to Gamasutra about what the studio learned in making a VR-friendly version of its Temple Run games for Samsung's Gear VR headset.

More than a few mobile developers are scrambling to develop virtual reality games in the wake of the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition's recent debut.

But mobile VR game development is rife with fresh challenges, and game makers are still sorting out how to reliably overcome basic issues like player comfort -- even designing something as straightforward as an endless runner becomes remarkably intimidating when you know people are playing it with a potentially vomit-inducing headset strapped to their face.

Imangi Studios cofounder Keith Shepherd says this was a key concern as his studio worked to bring its highly successful Temple Run franchise to Gear VR. 

"Be keenly aware of people’s sensitivity to motion and avoid doing things in-game that might cause people to get motion sick," Shepherd cautioned fellow developers during a recent conversation with Gamasutra. "In general, anytime you cause camera movement that isn’t directly initiated by the player, you are asking for trouble."

That advice comes courtesy of Imangi's work developing Temple Run VR, which launched on the Oculus Store today. Since the storefront currently supports no payment options Imangi is effectively releasing Temple Run VR as a free download, and while it's based on the Temple Run 2 codebase, Shepherd says his studio had to make some meaningful additions to render the endless runner VR-friendly.

Most notably, Imangi had to approach art design in a new way while building fresh level assets to take advantage of the first-person perspective afforded by Gear VR. 

"When creating art for VR you really need to think about the perception of depth," says Shepherd. "Adding a bumpy looking texture to a flat surface isn’t going to work; you really have to create those bumps using geometry, or else it’s simply going to look and feel flat."

Unsurprisingly, Imangi also found that developing VR games requires designers to rely on minimal controller options. The Gear VR headset has its own integrated touchpad and tracking sensors, and Samsung ships an optional Gear VR bundle that includes a compatible wireless gamepad, but Shepperd says that, in his experience, they break the player's sense of immersion.

"Controls in VR still have a long way to come...and [can] be quite hard to use when you can’t see them in front of you," warns Shepherd. "Keep controls as simple as possible for now."

Of course, Imangi is one of many studios currently exploring the nascent field of mobile VR game design. For more insight on the topic, check out Darknet developer E McNeill's blog post offering Advice for New Gear VR Developers and our recent interview with Oculus VR's mobile chief Max Cohen on why Oculus went mobile in the first place.

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