Amidst the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, virtual reality hardware sales are soaring – and as a result, we’re seeing a TON of folks approach us with new VR projects for education and impact…exciting times!
(Image source: Giphy)
We’ve previously shared an in-depth look at our strategies for designing great learning games (check out part one and part two here!). However, designing great virtual reality games requires an extra layer of consideration – largely due to the wide array of VR hardware options available and the unique characteristics associated with each device.
Today, our goal is to unpack our methodology for designing immersive experiences across the whole spectrum of VR devices, highlighting examples of some of our most recent projects along the way. But first, let’s begin with a brief overview of how we compare the current landscape of devices in terms of commonalities and contrasts, using the three main axes of VR interaction that are most critical for structuring your content approach:
Is your target VR platform a console or PC-powered headset? If so, this allows us to focus much of our attention on creating complex environments, characters, and interactions. On the other hand, if you’re planning on deploying on a lower power device like mobile VR, we must instead prioritize squeezing as much performance as possible out of the hardware via simpler designs. Simpler doesn’t necessarily mean bad, though- it might also mean more universal, more usable, and more approachable experiences for new users!
Today, nearly all high-powered VR headsets are bundled with motion controllers that emulate, in differing ways, the element of touch and hand control. On the other hand (ha!), mobile platforms instead rely either on “gaze” mechanics (i.e. staring at objects in the environment to activate them) or a button on the headset/phone itself. This makes console and PC-powered headsets a better fit for haptic experiences (i.e. assembling a machine), and mobile VR more suited towards location-based experiences (i.e. touring an assembly line).
Expanding on our previous section, console and PC-powered VR devices also offer 6DoF positional tracking – allowing users to navigate virtual 3D spaces by simply moving their body. This is a steep contrast to mobile VR, which generally limits players to a more stationary set-up, allowing only for head movement so players can look around their “fixed” location. This location can of course move, but via in-game controls or controller-driven action, not by just moving your body around like with the Quest or Vive. Spatial capabilities really impact your sense of immersion, but you should think about your specific game features to see if spatial capabilities are necessary for your mechanics – for instance, games involving ducking, crawling, or bobbing and weaving might necessitate this, while other experiences might not.
Regardless of the contrasts between different VR platforms, they still have a lot in common! CEO Dan White shared a great article about how the overall platform of VR impacts gaming and learning – and these insights hold true across all devices. Simply put, no matter your target device(s), VR offers novelty, immersion, and deeply impactful learning experiences – which is probably why we’re seeing all sorts of organizations across business, healthcare, and education embrace immersive tech!
Now that we’ve briefly touched on the primary axes of VR interaction, let’s switch our attention over to our design strategies. No matter what device you are building for, you are going to need to spend time on environments, experiment with scale, and pick a style that matches your vision but can be built for VR. You can see all these fundamentals present in our suite of VR Explorations games created for client Publications International – running entirely on mobile VR!
Currently, our device-agnostic methodology is to conceive of each game on the simplest target device, and then consider how to add interactions past the core experience if you wind up working on a higher fidelity platform.
At first, it may seem like you won’t be working on a core mechanic that exclusively exploits a high fidelity feature, but the fact that all of these platforms share the core sensation of reality means that introducing an interactive mechanic on top of the assumed core shouldn’t be non-optimal- in fact it’s likely how you’d approach those mechanics anyway, with the team laying down the core environment features before focusing on the custom interactions!
If you decide to support a high-powered VR platform like the Oculus Quest 2 or HTC Vive, you can now think about how the touch controllers can allow for more tactile, hands-on interactions. For example, notice how the player is able to grab and manipulate in-game objects in this clip of our upcoming VR game RoboCo – a mechanic only possible on console and PC-powered VR hardware.
It’s an exciting time to be creating digital games for learning and impact – and our VR development efforts show no signs of slowing anytime soon. If you or your organization is interested in exploring the possibility of creating a custom VR experience, be sure to reach out to our team for a free consultation!
For more immersive learning insights, check out these recommended articles:
Why Virtual Reality May Be The Tech to Bridge Generations
5 Excellent Educational Games for Oculus Quest (and Quest 2!)
Virtual Reality in Corporate Training