The talk by designers of Lucky’s Tale at Oculus Connect 2014 is what I feel the most important VR talk of the past year. Yes, even more so than the John Carmack talk.
Unlike other talks which get all frothy talking about the wonderful future of VR, this one takes a brutal look at the harsh reality and talks about what actually works in VR today. Its findings may not be what you like to hear:
1. No FPS shooters or Matrix-like worlds
Half Life 2 and other first person experiences are out. Walking too fast or jumping simply doesn’t work in VR. You will get nauseous too soon. So no matrix for you yet.
2. No textures
Textures look like wallpaper. In fact, none of the traditional rendering tricks like normal or bump mapping work well in VR. Lucky’s tale had to use fully polygonal geometry. Every nook and cranny is modeled with real polygons instead of being textured.
3. Cockpit-like environments work well
This is evidenced by games like Elite Dangerous and Vox Machinae. Sitting inside a cockpit gives huge sense of immersion. This is attributed to the fact that human eyes are very good at discerning detail at small distances. You can easily tell how far a matchbox and coin are when placed close to you. Not so much when placed a mile apart.
4. Third person perspective on tabletop-like experiences works best
Lucky’s Tale and BlazeRush being great examples. This way you can have the character move at fast ‘video game speeds’ but your camera still moves at a slow speed following the character, so you don’t feel nauseas.
5. Camera movement is key to comfort
Fast moving cameras are a no-no. The Showdown demo of Crescent Bay is another great example of a slow moving camera experience that feels great. However, even for games like Lucky’s Tale its not as easy as attaching a 3rd person camera at an offset and just following the character. A lot of work was done as far as acceleration/deceleration and dynamic positioning of the camera. Entire level designs were changed to allow smooth movement of the camera.
Comfortable VR experiences may not be what we initially envisioned them to be. Its definitely not as simple as adding oculus support to Half Life 2. Video games and even game design techniques have to be completely rethought. The above video does a good first jab at those problems.