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DESIGN

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Games’ Influence on VR Design. How to Create Interactions?

Recently we’ve designed and developed an interactive VR game—it was created for our MCE 2018 Conference attendees. You can learn more about it here.

MCE is one of the biggest tech conferences for engineers and designers in Europe. This year we’re hosting speakers from—among others—Google, DeepMind Health, InVision, Airbnb, Zalando, Nvidia, IBM. It’s happening on the 5th - 6th of June in Warsaw. Check out the agenda here.

While working on the project we dove deep into the subject of interactions in VR. Interaction Design is an important part of UX—it’s all about the relation between a user and a product and covers anything from motion, sound, objects, general look and feel etc.

So, how to create VR games while taking those aspects into consideration? Does designing Virtual Reality and video games have the same rules as designing other VR applications? In this article, we go back to the beginnings of VR design to find the answers.

A person using a paper VR headset.

In the beginning there was… an image

The beginnings of VR actually reach 1838 when Charles Wheatstone discovered that the brain processes slightly different two-dimensional images from each eye and combines them into a single representation perceived in three dimensions. By applying this simple rule, Wheatstone invented a stereoscope, which years later influenced how Google Cardboard and Google Daydream display graphics in 3D (creating a 3D image by combining two separate pictures).

In 1962 Morton Heilig made a stereoscope called Sensorama—a multi-sensor theatre cabinet, that would stimulate all the senses, not only sight and sound. The machine had built-in smell generators, a vibrating chair, fans and a stereoscopic 3D display. It’s considered to be one of the earliest examples of immersive and multi-sensory technology.

Since Wheatstone’s discovery a lot of inventors had been curious about what possibilities a 3D headset could bring. From Sensorama, through Telesphere Mask, first motion-tracking HMD—the Sword of Damocles, to the failure of Sega VR and Nintendo Virtual Boy, we reached the 21st century. The modern world turned out to pay a lot of attention to the rapid growth of the development of virtual reality, driven mostly by the video games industry. Therefore at the moment VR applications are strongly influenced by video games, especially when it comes to interactions.

The first 3D device created by Wheatstone that influenced how VR works today.

Charles Wheatstone discovered that the brain processes slightly different two-dimensional images from each eye and combines them into a single representation perceived in 3D. He used that knowledge to build a stereoscope.

New interactions

2.6 million years ago humans have started using first stone tools. Over the years we’ve learned how to use them but also how to adjust them to our needs. We had been living in the tangible, non-digital environment longer than not. Our interaction with the world around us was pretty straightforward. Then, we’ve invented computers. We came across the problem of interacting with the digital world, displayed on glass screens. The beginnings were hard – we had to code information on punch cards! To make things easier (and again, to adjust the tools to our needs) we made keyboards and mouses. Using a computer with a mouse is pretty obvious for us now, but it wasn’t at the beginning. We had to create not only the tools but also the ways of interacting with them. It was hard to find an obvious equivalent for a computer mouse back then. That’s why the interactions with this new device had to be more abstract than those we knew from the real world. We’ve ended up with a double-click option or—later on—tapping a touchscreen.

Learning how to interact with a computer or a smartphone needs some cognitive effort. On the other hand, the fact that those interactions are abstract, enabled us to come up with quicker and more efficient ways of operating computers. When VR came along, it finally gave us the possibility to interact with the digital world in a less abstract way.

Literal interactions

There is a great presentation on that subject by Colin Northway, creator of the game Fantastic Contraption – Menus suck. Before he started working with VR, he was involved with video games. At first, he wanted to mirror the interface solutions he designed for 2D games. Soon he realized that the interaction in VR has to be different – closer to the reality we live in, but also more fun, giving us possibilities which we usually don’t have. As a result, in Fantastic Contraption instead of a traditional menu, a user takes the necessary tools from a cat, that follows him or her around.

A screen from the VR game Fantastic Contraption, showing a green cat with a backpack of tools.

Image source: Playstation

This type of a literal interaction requires more movement than simply selecting an item from a flat menu attached to one of the controllers. Literal interactions might be less comfortable to use and also slow down the user. However, Colin points out that people are used to moving around in the real world where they use different tools (even a toothbrush is considered a tool) – therefore they don’t need quick interactions in VR as they expect them in 2D interfaces. This applies especially to VR games, where having fun is more important than efficiency.

Quicker interactions

There are different ways and areas of using VR – healthcare, trainings, real estate and lots of others. In these cases, users expect less fancy, but quicker interactions. Holding on to bigger abstraction might be a better approach here. Good examples are VR operating systems like Oculus Home where a user interacts with a flat, abstract menu. For example, you scroll through the items on a list or turn on or off settings with a switch you recognize from web or mobile apps.

Designing VR games is a relatively new area of creating intuitive tech solutions. There are no strong interaction patterns established yet. That’s why it’s important to always remember about user’s needs while deciding on the best approach. This article is just a brief insight into this subject. Let us know what you think about the interaction design and the future of video games in virtual reality.

We have more info about our VR game coming up, so stay tuned!

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AgnieszkaDesign Lead
PrzemekUX/UI Designer

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