Locomotion in VR with Leaning

There are several Virtual Reality (VR) locomotion techniques, such as teleportation, walking-in-place and reorientation. A method that is not so commonly seen is perhaps leaning, where the user physically leans or tilts in order to move the user forward in a VR space. It allows for moving in a large virtual environment without much physical exertion and not a lot of physical space is required. Furthermore, it could be relatively inexpensive with Nintendo Wii Fit Balance Boards (100 USD) [1].

Leaning in VR (Image credit)

Compared to the walking-in-place technique, users also have similar spatial awareness when using leaning to navigate a VR world [1]. As spatial awareness is our natural ability to maintain our body orientation and position relative to our surroundings, it is important in order for users to successfully navigate through a large VR environment.

Leaning to move around in VR may even be preferable to walking-in-place as it could enable the user to explore a large area in the virtual world a lot more quickly and effortlessly as compared to walking-in-place [1].

Personally, I feel that this would be quite an interesting way to navigate a VR environment, and it may feel natural as it could be somewhat similar to the leaning motion in sports like surfing and skiing. Expanding on this idea, I would suggest using the hand controllers to allow users to increase or decrease their movement speed while leaning. This may be a more accurate and effective method than determining the user’s speed based on how much they lean. Some users may also feel physically uncomfortable to tilt their body too much forward or backward or worry that they may fall over (especially because they are not able to view their physical environment with a VR headset on). Adjusting the movement speed using the input from the hand controller could be gradual and also tied with the leaning direction of the user. For instance, after the user had pressed the button to increase their speed, if they choose to lean backwards, the speed could slowly decrease as well, without another input from the user. This may also feel more natural for the user.

[1] Human joystick: Wii-leaning to translate in large virtual environments

XR Headsets Review & Thoughts

The cross-reality (XR) headset market has matured over the years. There are many big players in the industry with each offering headsets with their own set of pros and cons.

Virtual Reality Headsets

Regarding Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, I have shortlisted a few of the more notable headsets that have stood out to me in various ways and are headsets that I may personally use for media consumption and/or gaming purposes.

Oculus Quest 2Valve IndexSony PlayStation VR
Field of View (Horizontal, Vertical, Diagonal)92°, 90°, 129° 107°, 104°, 149°96°, 111°, 147°
Refresh Rate60/72/90 Hz144 Hz120 Hz
Resolution (per-eye)1832×19201440×1600960×1080
Retail Price (USD)299999299

Oculus Quest 2

Oculus Quest 2 (Source)

Oculus Quest 2 provides an all-in-one experience and can be used on its own without requiring a powerful PC or a console to play games with, which is a huge plus, making it easy for those without an expensive PC setup or console at home to be able to enjoy VR games as well. Being a battery-powered headset, it allows you to walk around freely in your physical room without being restricted by wires or tripping over them. It also has a high resolution, even higher than the Valve Index, considered to be one of the best high-end VR headsets in the market. On top of that, if you do have a PC suitable for VR gaming, the Oculus Quest 2 comes with the feature to connect to your PC via the Oculus Link cable (which costs an additional 79 USD), allowing you to play PC VR titles as well. 

Valve Index

Valve Index (Source)

Next, the Valve Index is one of the most expensive VR headsets in the industry but the higher price also brings with it some premium features that may not be found in other headsets. It comes with a larger field of view and a higher refresh rate of 144 Hz. More notably, the Valve Index Controllers offer a full individual finger tracking built into its grips, which can provide a more immersive experience.

However, one of its downsides is that with the use of external base stations for tracking purposes, setting up the Valve Index may be more troublesome and take a longer time than other VR headsets. Though this makes for better tracking capabilities, it could be difficult and frustrating for new VR users and may prevent them from quickly being able to start playing VR games.

Preferred Choice: Sony PlayStation VR

PlayStation VR (Source)

My personal preferred VR headset would be the best-selling PlayStation VR (PSVR) headset by Sony that is designed for use with its consoles, the PlayStation 4 and 5. As the headset requires only the console to run, an expensive PC setup is not needed. Given that I already have a PS4 at home, I would not need to worry about my desktop not being capable enough to run VR games. Another benefit that the PSVR has that the other headsets might not have would be that Sony already has a huge catalogue of games to choose from, providing a wider variety of games for users.

PSVR definitely comes with its disadvantages as well. It loses out to other headsets in terms of tracking. As it uses the PlayStation Camera for tracking, the tracking space becomes more restricted and does not provide true-room scale VR. The space the player can move freely within without venturing out of the boundaries is quite limited and thus, most PlayStation VR games recommend playing the game in a stationary position, either while standing up or sitting down.

PlayStation VR Aim Controller (Source)

Nonetheless, what really caught my attention about the PSVR and ultimately the reason for why I chose it as my preferred VR headset, is their PSVR aim controller. As a huge fan of first-person shooters (FPS), it looks like the aim controller could really elevate my experience of playing FPS games and create a more engaging experience. I never got used to playing FPS games using the PS4 DUALSHOCK 4 controllers as it never felt natural to me. But seeing the aim controller used with the PSVR made me feel excited to play FPS games on the PS4 again. Additionally, although not many games are currently supported on the aim controller, Borderlands 2 VR and Doom VFR are titles that I would be very interested to try playing in VR and would most likely to be sufficient enough for me to spend all of my free time on (which, in the first place, I do not get a lot of). That being said, I do hope to see more VR titles compatible with the aim controller.

Mixed Reality Headsets

As for Mixed Reality (MR) headsets, I will also cover a few options that seem more attractive to me personally.

Nreal LightZappar ZapBox
Field of View52°
Resolution1920 x 1080 px
Price (USD)49940

Nreal Light

Nreal Light (Source)

Made by a Chinese startup, the Nreal Light MR headset is probably the headset that looks and feels most like normal sunglasses, allowing users to wear it in various settings without standing out too much. Despite its ordinary design, it comes with a variety of features. The 52° field of view is larger than some other MR headsets, including the Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap One, which are notably much more expensive. It is also lightweight, which means users can wear it for prolonged periods of time without feeling too uncomfortable. Additionally, the headset offers built-in speakers with spatial sound, providing a seamless mixed reality experience.

Preferred Choice: Zappar ZapBox

ZapBox (Source)

Inspired by the Google Cardboard and fully funded on Kickstarter, ZapBox by Zappar is the most affordable MR head-mounted device to date, priced at just 40 USD. It works with Android and iOS smartphones compatible with Google Cardboard and has display sizes between 4.5 and 6 inches.

Due to its unbeatable price, this is definitely my preferred MR headset. As I personally do not see much use for MR in my life currently, I would not be willing to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on just to experience MR without it adding much value to my present lifestyle. However, if I ever wanted to try out MR for the fun of it, investing 40 USD into a MR headset for its basic features would not be a bad idea at all. Furthermore, as the headset is affordable, it could mean having your friends play the same games with you as well, allowing the experience to be more enjoyable.

Stardew Valley

Opening screen
(Picture taken from https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2019/12/stardew-valley-my-familys-2019-game-of-the-year/)

Stardew Valley is an open-ended country-life Role Playing Game. Player starts with a few basic tools and has to farm, mine and fish to obtain more resources while helping to restore the old town. The player is also able to talk to NPCs and maintain a friendship with them by giving them gifts and in turn, receives items and other benefits.

Website: https://www.stardewvalley.net/ 

Game trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ot7uXNQskhs 

What I do in one game day:

  • usual morning routine (watering crops, harvesting and/or planting, attending to animals, selling crops)
  • talk to NPCs, give gifts
  • mine/fish 

What I am focused on in the game:

  • the time, day of the week, date and season in top right-hand corner: different things occur at different times of the day and season
  • hotbar 
  • energy bar (and sometimes health bar) at the bottom right-hand corner: to monitor energy (and health) levels to decide what to do next

Elemental Tetrad 1 – Story:

  • Player may feel a sense of nostalgia or some kind of emotional attachment to the setting of the game as the plot of land is passed down from the player’s father where he used to live before moving to the city. The game maintains this “relationship” by the father continuing to send money to the player in the farm, and one of the NPCs sometimes mention the player’s father in his dialogue.
  • Different NPCs also have their own storylines, personalities and circumstances which adds to the depth of the game, makes the game more interesting as the player learns more about the stories of the different characters

Elemental Tetrad 2 – Mechanics:

  • Inventory management: player starts with only 12 slots in inventory, so the number of items the player can carry at any one time is very limited, forces the player to walk home to drop off stuff when player’s inventory is full
  • Goals: goals are set by the player himself and there are various ways the player can play the game thus allowing for many many hours of re-playable content
    • speed runs
    • complete “optional” main quests in the game
    • set own arbitrary goals
  • Time and energy management: each day has a limited period of time from 6am to 2am and player only has a limited amount of energy so time and energy is precious and player can only do so much in one day. Also, the player has to go to bed by 12am, otherwise there could be consequences (lose gold, wake up with less energy the next day thus hindering the player’s progress).
  • Other examples include health, weather, seasons

Elemental Tetrad 3 – Aesthetics:

(Picture taken from https://www.gamespedition.com/pc-games/indie-games/indie-role-playing-games/stardew-valley/stardew-valley-gameplay/gameplay-stardew-valley)
  • Game is very aesthetically pleasing. Made with pixel art and graphics look simple but detailed, with wide range of colours. When seasons pass, the scene/settings also change such as different coloured leaves.
  • Also very simple UI
  • Music is also quite well-done. Usually calming, relaxing and cheerful but can change when player is at different areas (at the town vs at the mines). There is also different soundtracks for different events that happen in the game. 

Elemental Tetrad 4 – Technology:

  • Not computationally or graphically intensive, able to play on various devices (PC/mac, console, mobile)

Lens 1: Essential Experience

  • Player can choose to do anything from a wide range of activities, endless gameplay
  • Limited time and energy forces players to think about what to do to conserve energy and make full use of the time and energy
  • “Social” (even in singleplayer) – NPCs are almost like real players as they move around the map, can be interacted with and have various different personalities, makes you feel connected to the characters and sympathise with them
  • Complete collections to rebuild the town to its former glory, instills a sense of achievement

Lens 2: The Lens of Surprise

  • Though some may find the lack of a tutorial to be a disadvantage of the game, I find that it adds on to the fun of it because sometimes the player can discover new areas, items as well as new ways of doing things, all on their own.
  • This encourages players to be curious and explore the game by themselves
  • Also encourages players to share tips and tricks with one another (via forums or YouTube videos), builds the community
One of the many in-game events that take place annually
(Picture taken from https://cheerfulghost.com/jdodson/posts/2055/stardew-valley-shaping-up-to-be-a-beautifully-unique-game)

Lens 39: The Lens of Time

  • Time is often of the essence in the game, having only a set and limited amount of time in each game day that feels short yet it is still long enough to complete a substantial number of activities and allows the user to feel accomplished. It still leaves the player wanting for more.
  • The current day and date that the player is in also affects certain aspects of the game such as farming and giving gifts.
    • If player plants the crops a day too late, it may result in one less harvest for those crops and player loses out on the opportunity to make more money
    • Players can take advantage of NPCs’ birthdays to give them gifts to gain many more friendship points than if gifted on a regular day, allowing player to more quickly max out the friendship points with NPCs

Lens 46: The Lens of Economy

  • In singleplayer, the player can buy and sell items to NPCs. Main source of income for players is from selling harvest and animal products.
  • As money is limited, players have to make mindful and meaningful decisions about buying items with the money that they have earned, such as:
    • buying seeds for the most profitable crops
    • buying seeds for less profitable crops but for other benefits
    • upgrading tools
    • equipment and armour
    • farm buildings, more animals
  • Items that players buy can go towards making more money and making more progress in the game or for aesthetic purposes
  • Crops or most of the items that the player can sell also have secondary uses and thus sometimes it may not be wise to sell all of them away and have to think through what they should sell and how much of it
  • As the player progresses, he/she will earn money more easily but items such as equipment and farm buildings will also progressively become more expensive to purchase, maintaining the difficulty of the game