VR Locomotion – Dreaming of new ways to address movement

Understandably, using VR requires quite a huge amount space if one wants to fully immerse themselves in the VR space. However, as VR becomes more and more accessible, perhaps we should start considering solving the problem of VR locomotion for the average consumer. Current solutions like the omni-directional threadmills can take up a lot of space, but for someone who wants to use VR by themselves at their own desks, they might not have that kind of space available. That is why I thought, what if we can move our feet while still in our seats?

Well, turns out there are already companies with that idea too. There is Roto VR with their chair that tracks the direction you are facing, and there is the Cyber Shoes, wearables that you can use to ‘walk ‘ while sitting down. However, I have in mind some other options that are, while similar to cyber shoes, work a bit differently.

What I propose is a mat that one can place surrounding their chair. By dragging their feet across this mat (much like the cyber shoes), some sort of tracking can be done and translated into locomotion in the virtual space. Ideally, users would only need the mat for this mechanic to work, but if more peripherals are needed, perhaps something light and accessible would be best.

Of course, this is just a theoretical solution to the locomotion problem. This is not consideration how implementation could work. Some ideas that I can throw out are as follows:

  • Using technology similar to touchscreen technology, except it would be able to detect feet.
  • Using rollers in 8 directions, essentially mimicking a 8-directional D-Pad.
  • With the use of extra peripherals on/near the feet, perhaps the use of eletromagnetic technology similar to what is used in Motion Capture technologies?
  • With socks, perhaps static can be used to measure the direction of movement.

These are just some ideas for solving locomotion in VR for the average consumers. Whether they work, I have no clue, but I guess everything starts with an idea?

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

VR Locomotion

Virtual reality (VR) is getting more popular by the year, and is often seen as the next step towards immersion in the gaming industry. However, based on a study from University of California “A User Experience Study of Locomotion Design in Virtual Reality Between Adult and Minor Users“, VR locomotion that mirrors real-world movement exclusively is the least preferred by all users. Unlike most games that we play on a screen/monitor, VR would require a new way for players to traverse in game before being widely accepted by the consumers.

One way to reduce the player’s discomfort in VR locomotion is to have the player move along with the character in the game, but such technology is still not widespread and can be too costly for most. Time is still needed for these devices to mature.

A much simpler and quick way is to use teleportation-based movement for the time being. The “Blink” mechanic has already been used in multiple VR games, such as Half Life: Alyx, to allow comfortable locomotion within. The drawback is the reduction of immersion when the game setting do not fit the mechanic.

Of course, all limitations can be utilised well with the right application. A game that revolves around teleporting the player character would easily turn the blink into a gameplay feature. The Dishonored series already has a teleportation skill, coincidentally known as “Blink” too, and such mechanics can be used in conjunction with the VR mechanic to create a much more immersive in-game environment. What’s more, the blink mechanic can be tweaked to suit the game setting too, such as the “Dash” shown below, which does the same thing with an added flair. With all these possibilities, current VR games need not fear to sacrifice too much immersion while waiting for a better solution to the VR locomotion problem.