VR Locomotion: Thoughts from someone who knows nothing about VR Locomotion

When considering the implementation of VR locomotion, there are two main obstacles to overcome: tracking movement and constraint of physical space.

To properly track movement, I feel that a system using cameras and predictive movements can be employed. We’ve had the Kinect and Wii for decades now, and detection of a player’s movements without the excessive use of wearables should be more than possible with today’s technology. Multiple cameras can be set up across a room to detect a player’s movements within a three-dimensional space. However, there still may be issues with over-detection or a disconnect between the player’s physical movements and that of the avatar. Sometimes a player may just be adjusting themselves slightly, but their movement may prompt the avatar to move forward as well. To reduce such issues, or to prevent ‘unnatural’ feeling movements, predictive analytics can be adapted to predict the player’s movements.

A larger issue with seamless VR locomotion would be the constraint of physical space. While the virtual environment can be as large as the developer wants, the player will be constrained by the size of the physical space they are in. I feel that VR treadmills are a good way to overcome this limitation. Though they may get in the way of how ‘realistic’ movement feels, keeping the player physically in the same spot may be the only way to overcome physical space constraints.

That being said, these are very niche and expensive ways of employing VR locomotion and it may need years of research and development before it can be accessible to the everyday consumer.

VR Locomotion: The workarounds

Locomotion is the medium that allows users to navigate through a virtual environment. When space is limited, games often rely on buttons or directional pads to displace the user from their original position within the 3-Dimensional area.

We see many games try to work around locomotion by NOT giving movement control to the player. Such games are “Beatsaber” and “VR the Diner”, not requiring user movement. Even for 3D painting, movement can be overcome by rotating the sculpture, rather than having to move around it. There are also some shooting games that focuses on the shooting action scenes in a car or in a building, automatically advancing players when they clear a stage. This reduces the need for the player to move.

There are definitely times where movement is necessary for an immersive experience. The main workaround we see nowadays are 360 degree threadmills that keep players in place. Just be careful to let players play in a safe manner in case things go south like this: https://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/pkuzli/vr_workout_with_added_heart_attack/

VR Locomotion Ideas

Locomotion based on In-Place Motion Sensing

When the user wants to move in the VR landscape, he or she will need to execute a specific physical action on the spot to do so. This could be something simple like a small movement of the right arm forward to move the right leg forward. This is pertaining to the Sensory Conflict Theory, where the aim is to try and minimize the conflict since now both the user’s mental model which knows that the arm moved, is matched by the movement in the VR landscape.

Reduce Motion Sickness using Sensory outputs

Since in the Sensory Conflict Theory, the user experiences motion sickness due to a mismatch in the senses and/ or mental model of the user, we could try to output some form of sensory feedback to the user when they walk, to try and fill in the gap.

For example, when the user moves a joystick to move the player in the VR landscape, whenever the player in the VR landscape steps on the ground, a small vibration could be sent to the user through the joystick, to simulate the feeling of actually stepping on the ground. This can be the attempt to bridge the gap in the sensory cues.

Reduce Motion Sickness using User Interface as a REST Frame

In usual 2D/ 3D games, the User Interface is usually fixed to the game screen.

In VR, we can try to do the same thing by having the User Interface fixed onto the user’s vision just like how it would usually be in a regular 2D/ 3D game. The User Interface can then act as a REST Frame for the user, since the User Interface elements can act as fixation points for the user during actual locomotion.

VR Locomotion by Pulling Handles

Assume that we have 2 handles attached to the ceiling in front. Each hand can reach a handle and pull it to you. When your left hand pull the handle your right foot will move forward a grid. If you release a handle it will go back to its origin position pending for the next operation. So by pulling a handle, release it while pulling the other, you can move forward. And if you pull the 2 handles together, you will jump for one grid.

An extension of VR Locomotion in Budget Cuts

Steam page: https://store.steampowered.com/app/400940/Budget_Cuts/

Locomotion in Budget Cuts

Teleportation is a very common form of locomotion in VR games that minimises motion sickness, but most of the time it is used solely for that purpose and as such may seem gimmicky, out of place, and takes away from immersion and gameplay. One game that avoids this common pitfall very well is Budget Cuts, in which you lob a physics projectile to a target location, get to preview that location through a small portal, and can choose exactly when you want to teleport to that location by the press of a button (see above trailer). This is especially apt in a stealth game as it allows you to scout the location before teleporting to it, and the physics projectile itself is very fun to play with as well.

Now you’re thinking with portals

To take this concept one step further, we can take inspiration from the classic first-person puzzle platformer Portal. Instead of just a small portal that you can peer through, we can create a portal that is large enough for the player to physically pass through. This opens up a world of possibilities, such as moving objects or even shooting/combat through the portal. The best part is, if done a certain way, we do not have to worry about the bounding box as this will only require the player to move back and forth between 2 points in real life! Although this might not be the aptest form of locomotion for Budget Cuts, this will be a very fun mechanic to see in other genres such as puzzle, platformer, and shooting games.

tldr

walk thru a portal 🌀

VR Locomotion ideas

Perhaps one way we can address the issue of Virtual Reality locomotion would be to implement a type of shoe that removes all forms of movement forward. As the player moves their legs forward, the shoes will automatically roll the player’s feet backwards, acting as a form of wearable treadmill. However, one possible disadvantage of using these shoes would be that the player might not be able to take fast steps.

2021 Best VR and MR Devices Review

TL; DR
Best Virtual Reality (VR) Device: Vive Pro
Best Mixed Reality (MR) Device: Microsoft Hololens 2

Personally, I have tried before multiple VR/MR/AR/XR devices in a previous recent internship experience. Here are my favorites as well as a quick survey of other devices.

VR: HTC Vive Pro

I have used a variety of VR devices like the Occulus Go, HTC Vive, HTC Vive Pro. The HTC Vive Pro has given me the best VR experience. Another main reason why I will choose the HTC Vive Pro is because of it’s versatility to run SteamVR games and other PC app.

The HTC Vive Pro kit comes with the headset, 2 controllers, 2 external sensors. In terms of technical specs, it has 6 DoF, 4k, and supports a 5mx5m area

The main drawback will be the space needed and the setup. The Vive Pro requires a good gaming PC to drive the Device. Multiple wires are required for power and data transfer. The 2 external sensors have to take up their own space and power supply. In comparison, a similar grade device like the Occulus Quest is standalone and does not require a PC wired connection nor the 2 external sensor devices.

Since it is PC powered, the HTC Vive enjoys higher performance, especially if you have a good graphics card. You will also be able to play AAA game titles

In conclusion, while there are some drawbacks regarding the setup, it should not be too much of an issue unless you are traveling around with the device a lot.

MR: Microsoft Hololens 2

The Hololens 2 has enough power to be a computer on it’s own.

I have used it before and the voice and gesture controls feels a little unstable; There is a 60-80% chance of me able to get it to recognize the command I was gesturing or saying, which makes it a little irritating.

The device itself is quite lightweight and comfortable to wear, coming in at 566g.

https://hololens.reality.news/news/microsofts-hololens-2-team-answers-more-questions-about-biometric-security-audio-hand-tracking-0194712/

Other devices

Smart Glasses

In my own personal experience, AR smart glasses like the RealWear HMT-1 and Google Glasses have made me nauseous, perhaps due to the fact that the screen is at the side of my vision, or the small FOV the screen offers.

One should note that due to these devices being smaller and more lightweight, they will also have a much lower battery capacity and battery life. The processing power on smart glasses are comparable to mid to high-end mobile phones, which depending on your use case, might be sufficient.

Smartphones/Tablets

Unsurprisingly, your mobile device has AR capabilities too. Common social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram, as well as the popular game, Pokemon Go are apps that can overlay animations on top of your phone camera video. Vendors like ScopeAR and Vuforia offer solutions for industrial partners such as AR remote calling for remote assistance and AR for work instructions. While many of us will not have considered our mobile phones a full fledged MR device, we must still acknowledge that everyone owns one in their pockets.

Pokemon Go on the IPhone


Game Analysis: Return of the Obra Dinn

Game Trailer

Return of the Obra Dinn is a first person puzzle game created by Lucas Pope, who is also well know for his other game Papers, Please. It is the winner of the IGF Seumas McNally Grand Prize award in 2019. I first learned of this game from a YouTuber two years ago and have since always wanted to play it fully myself. A few months ago, it was on 50% discount and I finally decided it was time to buy and play it. After 10 hours of constant head-scratching and googling of hints, I finished this masterpiece of a game and am safe to say that it is now one of my favourite games.

Game Screenshot

The game is set in 1807 with the player assuming the role of an insurance inspector. The player’s goal is to determine what happened to everyone who was on board the ship Obra Dinn, which went missing for 5 years.

Game Website: https://obradinn.com/

Lens 9: Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics: You are equipped with a thick journal (containing a list of all the names and artist’s sketches of the crew/passengers, and the blueprint of the ship) to record all your findings, including matching everyone’s names to their faces. You are also given a magical pocket watch that can be used on corpses, which then transports you to the moment of the corpse’s death frozen in time. You will also hear a short clip of dialogue/sound effects moments before that death. While exploring moments of deaths, you can use the pocket watch again to explore even more corpses captured in that moment. This game’s mechanics are not just unique, but also really engaging.

Story: The story plays a huge part in this game. It is ultimately the player’s goal to piece together the story, from each person’s death, so I won’t be spoiling it. The deaths also aren’t shown to you in order. The first few corpses you find were the last ones who died, and from their moments of death, you’ll find more corpses from the middle of the ship’s journey, or even the beginning of the ship’s journey. Even though the pieces of story aren’t given to you in order, after piecing them together, the well-crafted story flows in a linear way.

Aesthetics: The game graphics uses a 1-bit monochromatic graphical style mimicking games on early Macintosh computers. (You can also change the screen to mimic to other old computer monitor colors in the settings!) Everything from the soundtrack music, the sound effects, the voice acting, the dialogue, to the appearances of the passengers, come together to give players the feeling that they are really present on a ship in the 1800s.

Technology: Since the graphics of this game mimics that of really old Macintosh computers, it is not very graphics intensive. It is supported on both Windows and Macs, and multiple console devices. This game only requires simple controls, like walking/looking around and keys to turn the pages of the journal and selecting the names and fates of each passenger.

Lens 8: Problem Solving

This game is filled with all types of problems that players have to solve in order to correctly determine all identities and fates of the 60 people on board, sometimes from really subtle hints like who this person usually hang around, or which room of the ship this person has access to. You sometimes even need the process of elimination. There’s really nothing more satisfying than slowly but correctly filling up pages in the journal after working out each person’s fate.

Lens 6: Curiosity

The game hooks players in and keeps them hooked using its gameplay loop: you find a corpse and replay their death, causing you to wonder questions like why did that person kill them? why are these people fighting? The only way to satisfy your curiosity is to keep playing, uncovering even more deaths, and more questions.

Lens 87: Character Traits

Each of the 60 people is designed down to the minute detail. Each person has a unique face, name, dialogue, voice (accent), role on the ship (eg. captain, passenger, gunner), country of origin, all accurate to the time period they are in (1800s). This allows players to identify the identities of everyone accurately.

In conclusion, this game definitely deserves every praise it receives. I really look forward to more games from Lucas Pope.

Game Design Analysis: Samsara Room

Samsara Room is a point-and-click (and drag) mystery escape room game in the Cube Escape series. The player has woken up in a mysterious room and has to find a way to escape. The game encourages the player to explore the environment as much as possible to discover hidden secrets and ways that game objects may interact with each other.

Game: http://www.rustylake.com/room-escape-games/samsara-room.html

Elemental Tetrad:
Story:
Samsara, the title of the game, is a Sanskrit word that means “wandering” or “world”, with the connotation of cyclic, circuitous change (from Wikipedia). The game integrates this concept into the story well, with the player travelling between different interconnected worlds, while partly transforming into the creature that represents each world’s theme.

Mechanics:
The mechanics are quite simple: Point and click with dragging. Unlike most other escape-room games and other games in this series, this game allows the player to drag some items. Players are also able to click on some items to store them into their inventory to use them later.

Aesthetics:
The game has a simplistic but stylised art style which is reminiscent of paper cutouts. Each element of the scene feels like it belongs and the look of interactable items is well integrated.

Technology:
The game was created using Adobe Flash and is available on PC, iOS and Android. It doesn’t require other special technology.

Other Lenses: (Lens numbers are based on the app)
Lens 2: Essential Experience
The essential experience of the game is to explore the world and solve puzzles to unlock new areas. The player can understand the aim of the game through the image of the cycle of worlds that appears at the beginning of the game and at many times throughout the story. After solving the first room, the player can make the connection through the picture that the goal is to find the four items that unlocks the portals and allows you to explore the five other rooms and eventually escape.

Lens 8: Problem Solving
Each object in the scene can be interacted with in some way. If the way of interaction is not immediately obvious, the player is led to assume that it is a puzzle with an answer that can be found somewhere else. Most puzzles require interacting with the items in a realistic way. For instance, later in the game, there is a squirrel which is holding a feather, which the player needs to move on. However, clicking on the squirrel does nothing, so the player would just move on and solve other puzzles. Later, after collecting other feathers, I realised that I had a sunflower seed, and I could make the connection that I needed to give it to the squirrel to get the feather. This style of puzzles makes solving each one feel satisfying and in my experience, there are no puzzles where the player is confused about the solution or that could be solved by guessing.

I used the knife to open an envelope

Lens 62: Transparency
In my opinion, the game conveys its mechanics to the player well. At the start of the game, unobtrusive test boxes near the top of the screen tell you that you can click to move around, interact with objects, and use inventory objects, and drag certain objects. The first room contains both puzzles that need clicking and dragging, ensuring that the player does not forget about the dragging mechanic, which is uncommon in similar games. Later on, if one mechanic doesn’t work, the player is able to instinctively try the other in order to be able to progress.

Lens 94: Atmosphere
Like other games in this series, Samsara Room has a creepy atmosphere, but doesn’t have many overtly ‘horror’ elements. It creates a sense of suspense with moving or flickering elements, such as the player’s black reflection, and the music, which also contains ticking noises to create a sense of urgency and dread. At certain moments during the game, the player’s click or action may cause a shocking item to appear, such as an arm, or a moon with an eye. As I knew other games in this series had more shocking images and even jumpscares, I felt tense whenever I knew I was about to solve an important puzzle, so I was immersed in the atmosphere even when what actually happened was not that scary.

Game Design Analysis: Tekken 7

Introduction

Tekken 7 (鉄拳7) is a two-player fighting game developed and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment, and was released back in 2017. In this game, the player can choose to match against other players or AI opponents in various game modes, and try to best their adversaries with a character of their choice within one minute.

Gameplay Demo

Essential Experience (Lens# 2)

Tekken 7 offers its players a very thrilling experience.

Because of how players are competing against each other while racing against time, both players play pivotal roles in determining the flow of combat.

Players can either choose to play aggressively into their opponents by attacking relentlessly and not giving them a chance to strike back, or defensively such that they throw out big moves only when capitalizing on the opponent’s mistakes. Thus, by playing a combination of the two strategies, players are consistently kept on their toes so that they are better prepared to respond to their opponent’s actions and playstyles.

The nail-biting experience that Tekken 7 brings is especially evident when it comes down to the last few seconds where both players are critically low on health, where any one mistake would cost the player the game. The creators of Tekken 7 were very well-aware of this very experience that it wants to bring to its players. As such, in order to enhance that experience even further, they introduced the slow-mo mechanic (which does not exist in previous titles of the Tekken franchise) to really accentuate the thrill and exhilaration in that short tense moment.

Below is a video that demonstrates the slow-mo mechanic.

Elemental Tetrad (Lens #9)

Mechanics

Movement

Unlike some of the other popular fighting games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros, Tekken 7 sets its players in a 3D environment, where players can not only move horizontally and vertically through conventional movements such as walking, running and jumping, they can also move into the foreground or background by sidestepping. Sidestepping at the precise time will cause the opponent’s move to whiff, which leaves him vulnerable to follow-up attacks.

Combat

Every character has three broad types of attacks – Low, Mid, High. Each of them can Counter hit an opponent that is in the middle of an attack animation, which can inflict special behavioral properties on the opponent.

Each of these attacks can have different properties – Throw, Launcher, Power Crush, Screw Attack, Wall Bound.

Rage Mode becomes available when a character falls below a certain health level. Under this state, the character has damage amplification for all moves and gains access to Rage Art and Rage Drive.

Story

The development of Tekken’s lore occurs over Tekken 1-7. The video below summarizes what happened in Tekken’s lore.

The lore of Tekken 7 is largely irrelevant to the experience that the game wants to bring to its audience. A player can essentially not know anything relating to the story of the game to enjoy the experience that it intends to bring to the player.

Aesthetics

The game has amazing aesthetics as evident from the appealing 3D design of the unique character models and also the environment.

Character animations are also fluid and together with amazing particle effects, they make combos look impactful and visually appealing .

Technology

The game was developed using UE4, and are primarily designed for arcade joystick inputs.

Overall

Although the game design uses all 4 elements of the elemental tetrad, the story element is the element that I feel is largely lacking and definitely needs an improvement to further bring value to the Tekken 7 experience. Otherwise, the other elements of the game are very robust and bring a cohesive touch to the overall Tekken 7 experience.

Novelty (Lens #24)

This novelty aspect of this game is evident. Because as previously mentioned, today’s conventional fighting games usually restrict players to 2D movement, but Tekken 7 introduced the concept of ‘Sidestepping’, which allows players to move into the foreground and background, which gives players room for more creativity in their playstyle.

In addition to adding one more dimension of movement, different attacks have unique properties that make them well suited for different kinds of scenarios. This means that every action in Tekken 7 should be deliberate, and carelessly jumping or throwing out unsafe moves will result in a swift punishment by the opponent.

Because of these unique features, Tekken 7 is a novel addition to the fighting game genre.

Skill (Lens #34)

Everything that was mentioned so far is just barely scratching the surface of what Tekken 7 has to offer. There are still many aspects to the game that was not touched on simply because of the staggering complexity this game entails.

In order to really perform well in this game, players will have to be aware of the different tools that are available to every single character in the game, so that they are prepared for whatever comes their way. Not being familiar with the match-ups will lead to a player being hit by the same move over and over again, not knowing how to counter it.

In addition, players will also have to be familiar with something called the Frame Data, so that players can effectively capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes with moves of their own. This game is also exceptionally execution -heavy, which requires a combination of precise hand-eye coordination and button inputs.

Overall, I feel that the game demands the right level of skill from its players since it is designed to be a very technical game that requires lots of in-game knowledge to win.