Game Analysis – Subnautica (VR)

Written by Ian Hong

Look at those delicious acid mushrooms

I just bought Subnautica last night (thanks steam sale) and I will be offering my thoughts on its VR version. Three of my classmates have previously reviewed this game, but they were all based on the PC version. You can read their reviews here:

I seek to extend their insights through applying various analytical lenses and see whether the experience holds up in virtual reality. We begin our analysis by using the lens of essential experience as a succinct introduction to the game.

Lens 2 – Essential Experience

  • Exploring a dangerous and beautiful alien ocean in first person while trying to find materials to build a ship to escape the planet.
  • It’s like underwater single-player Minecraft with a more compelling plot and a pre-made world map

For those who understand things visually, take a one minute peek using this gameplay clip.

Watch from 4:20 to 6:20 at 2x speed

Now that we’re acquainted with what Subnautica is, let’s analyse why it is fun and what makes it fun. Why are we looking at this first? Because I am interested in how games drive intrinsic motivation, and I hope to apply some of these techniques to non-game contexts to make life easier. For example, imagine a system that lets you have fun while analysing your cashflow! (okay, I digress)

Lens 21 – Flow

What keeps the player engrossed in Subnautica?

The answer – it allows the player to enter a flow state, which can be described using the 8 major components of flow:

  1. A challenging activity requiring skill
  2. Concentration on the task at hand
  3. A sense of control
  4. A merging of action and awareness
  5. A loss of self-consciousness
  6. An altered sense of time
  7. Direct, immediate feedback
  8. Clear goals

For the aliens among us, this is what most people experience when they describe a game as ‘fun’.

How Subnautica aces this

According to Nicole Lazzaro’s 4 Keys to Fun (courtesy of NM4260 Game Design), Subnautica employs hard fun and easy fun to bring the player into a flow state.

Hard fun is derived when the player pursues a challenging goal and achieves it through their mastery of the game mechanics. They then go on to pursue even tougher goals. Eg. you beat level 10 of Tetris without using the ‘store’ mechanic.

Easy fun emerges when a player explores and discovers something that wows them, and is driven by curiosity to explore more. Eg. you discover a new cat after changing up your furniture in Neko Atsume

// I am still in the process of editing this blog post, and will finish it soon. the rest of the post is in a draft form.

// describe how the game gives the player these 2 types of fun

  • the player ‘chooses’ the difficulty by venturing into unexplored territory, thus matching the challenge to the player’s skill level
  • as other guy mentioned, i agree that some players are unwilling to take risks, making the game boring

Lens 7 – Elemental Tetrad





83 fantasy secret wishes, helps player escape boring life


amazing aesthetics


very nice story

is it related to 19 the player: what do they like, don’t like, expect to see in game, what would they wanna see in the game? what do they like or dislike about the game [definitely the feedback button and the support that the team provides, with the latest 2.0 update released just dec 14 2022, 6 years after game release date!! madness.]

  • what did the fav game guy say about being player centric? or the worth it guy (optimisation)
  • 73 story machine interest curves?
    • agree about story moving slow. way to identify what the user wants.


really good graphics, 3d, so many mobs, such big map, yet had good framerate. also, feedback button, game being improved as it was being played.

vr supported. that brings me to the main bit of this analysis – virtual interface control

Lens 59 – Control (or 61 virt interfaces)

the vr UI is really bad as compared to other vr games available in 2023. it really adds vr support and nothing more in terms of immersion or juciness.

2d hud, head cursor, pda opening too close to the face, awkward movement mappings out of the box, arms are not tracked, leading to loss of immersion (or the opportunity cost of not helping with immersion over the PC version, controls not that meaningfully mapped) quick access slots inaccessible, quitting the game inaccessible, had to press all buttons to finally give up and google and find out that i had to press the escape button on keyboard.

vr interface. 61 virtual interfaces? 63 feedback for telling player. affordances. ui. avatar got wetsuit

// compare with other games like those specifically made for vr

  • freediver: horizon zero
  • pales in comparison to bonelab
  • vrchat at least hands follow your controllers

that said, it brings me to my favourite part of the vr adaptation of this game

Lens 29 – Secrets

a big part of the game is the wildlife, art of making convincing alien animal behaviour that triggers all of your innate phobias of what is dangerous.

plot, is forward force

radio signals


sound design – the animal calls, breathing sounds on reaching the surface, bubble sounds were excellent.

also links to lens 1 – emotion.

most vr games do not have such a thoughtful story, this many creatures, and such a beautiful world and comprehensive sound design that this really blows the current competition out of the water in terms of content and hours of engaging gameplay.


like most things, the vr adaptation of subnautica wins in some areas and loses in others.

i dont think the devs will be improving the vr version, given its old release date. but this analysis has been very useful for my group’s underwater vr game, and i hope you have gotten something out of reading it.

Beat Saber – VR Experience Analysis

Written by Ian Hong

ArtemisBlue totally slaying Astronomia in Beat Saber while dancing

As someone who produces my own music, I really enjoy the first-person VR rhythm game Beat Saber. It allows players to visually and physically immerse themselves in the music. crudely describes the excitement of slashing along to songs akin to “shoot[ing] the maps you want straight into your bloodstream.” The player is given 2 sabers and they slice blocks to the rhythm. Players can play along with friends, challenge other online players, or strive to break their personal best scores for their songs. After reading the reviews by my classmates LimJunxue and DevATeo, I will take their posts into account and offer my own analysis of the game. Do note that I do not own a VR headset and will be judging the experience solely based on watching gameplay from YouTube.

Why Beat Saber is an Outstanding VR Experience

1. Immersive, focused gameplay

The first thing a new player will notice is that the game makes them feel like they are ‘in’ the song. Like what Junxue mentioned, Beat Saber draws the player in and lets them forget about their environment.

The player finds themself in a dark tunnel, and then notices red and blue blocks flying towards them. The simple and non-distracting background does not burden the player’s cognitive load, and lets them focus on slicing those blocks. Slashing the blocks makes the background light up, but it fades away quickly, giving the player satisfying feedback but also not being too distracting.

Additionally, the simple colour scheme (namely blues, reds and black) is used consistently throughout the game, giving it a polished look.

2. Easy to learn, rewarding to master

Next, Beat Saber speaks the player’s language when it comes to interaction. New players immediately know what to do with their sabers. The blocks resemble juicy fruit to be cut, which is similar to fruit ninja, a popular mobile game. The player’s instinct to duck occurs when they see a large wall flying towards their head. By applying the players’ existing mental models to the game, Beat Saber delivers an intuitive user experience without the need for much explaining.

The gameplay from Fruit Ninja is oddly similar to Beat Saber
The player has to duck so that the wall doesn’t hit their head. The physical action of ducking is what differentiates VR gaming from PC gaming.

The starting tutorial features bass-heavy electronic music with blocks being in sync with the strong beats. After slashing through these blocks, the player quickly feels badass, and also learns the rules of the game, eg. blue is right, red is left. This new power makes the player feel good about themselves and encourages them to keep playing.

After playing for a while, players seeking personal glory try to beat their best scores, or even training to obtain the highest score in the global leaderboards. This social element is a great way to encourage replayability.

A short snippet showing how skilled players can get. Was that a spin at 0:42??

However, the finesse doesn’t stop there. Content creators such as Artemisblue have honed their skills to the point that they are able to dance expressively, while slicing boxes to the beat. Please watch the 1-min video above.

By allowing experts to accomplish such impressive feats, while at the same time remaining easy and enjoyable for beginners makes Beat Saber a truly fantastic VR experience.

Nevertheless, there are still some aspects which can be worked on.

Areas in which Beat Saber can Improve

1. Legalising user-made content

Across all game review platforms, the most common complaint about the base game was the limited selection of songs and genres. Players got bored of the songs and maps quickly.

acloudyskye – Somewhere Out There mapped by Swifter, considered the most beautiful custom map

In response to this, a highly enthusiastic modding community has sprung up around the game, making mods which let users customise every aspect of the game, from loading custom songs with custom environments, to using custom avatars. It is relatively easy to mod the game, given the numerous guides and tutorials produced by this community. This has resulted in a cornucopia of user-generated content, richly enhancing the gameplay.

Although these mods bring the game (and its revenue) to the next level, the CEO of Beat Saber cannot support them because the producers of the new songs in the mods do not get paid for their work. The situation has reached a stalemate, with the dev team neither supporting nor hindering the modding community.

One possible solution Beat Saber can adopt is to partner with music distribution services such as CD Baby or Distrokid to give royalties to artists whenever their songs are played. These services already do so when their music is streamed on Spotify, YouTube, or even Tiktok. Surely something can be worked out with Beat Saber.

2. Menu selection method

If you’re like me and find it hard to keep still after an intense workout, then you may find this point relatable. To navigate the menus between songs, users have to point a ray from their controller to select small buttons on the menu in the distance. This fiddly job requires concentration and precision, both of which the player may not possess after a physically demanding song. It would be better if other selection methods were used, such as slicing a block placed near each option in the menu. That would be much easier to do while catching my breath.

3. Safety

The wall of text upon launching the game is not very effective at preventing mishaps.

Finally, Beat Saber doesn’t have its own safety system. Players have reported hitting tables with their hands and toppling furniture. Though the game does warn the player before the enter, a warning in a literal wall of text is likely to be overlooked. Guardian on the Oculus Quest 2 is a great example in terms of ensuring user safety.

Guardian informs users when they leave their boundary, protecting them, as well as their furniture.

Overall, Beat Saber is a VR experience that is easy to learn, fun to play, and rewarding to master. It sets the standard for VR experiences to come, and I can’t wait to try it out for myself.