Develop's Top Tips: Designing for VR

Develop's Top Tips: Designing for VR
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

February 9th 2016 at 12:36PM

Devs well-versed in the evolving art of building for virtual reality share their insights on crafting games for HMD users

Ana Ribeiro, Game Designer & Creator, Pixel Ripped
Why not work to virtual reality’s advantages and use the best the tech has to offer instead of fighting against it by implementing techniques that used to work for monitors?

I see many developers forcing old designs to quickly get something working on VR, rather than moving out of their comfort zones. Instead of just trying to recreate real life, we should create what we can’t in reality – that is the beauty of VR.

Bojan Brbora, Director, 4PM Games
One of the most important aspects of designing for VR is spatial audio. ‘Sound is half the image’ becomes more relevant now than ever before. The player can look wherever they want, but sound comes from a precise position in 3D space; this triggers our curiosity while making the world feel alive. It is such a powerful tool for game design, especially with the current headphone setup for virtual reality.

Katie Goode, Games Designer, Triangular Pixels
It’s of utmost importance to have consistency, otherwise you are asking for player frustration. Players expect to interact with objects as they do in the real world; don’t make them non-interactable.

Keep tool interactions in the virtual world the same as the real world. Watch out for runaway complexity – for example, adding a knife means players expect it to slice organics in any direction, get stuck in wood and so on.

Sam Watts, Game Producer, Tammeka Games
Designing for VR means you have to forget pretty much everything known about traditional game design, especially UI and interaction types. The three main concepts to bear in mind are immersion, presence and comfort – always check against these with any changes. Let the user acclimatise before throwing them into the action; for most, it will be their first experience.

Patrick O’Luanaigh, CEO, nDreams
Don’t focus purely on first-person viewpoints. There are many other camera views and perspectives that work really well in virtual reality, particularly dioramas. Use your game environment to tell stories and surprise players – give them a reason to peer inside objects, look under desks and explore the world, making full use of positional tracking.

Brian Fetter, Co-founder, Steel Crate Games
Scale is very important for compelling VR experiences – it’s very easy to notice when things feel off. Keep a ruler or tape measure handy so that you can compare model objects to real world objects and validate the feel of your game environments regularly. 

Jed Ashworth, Senior Game Designer, PlayStation VR, SCEE
Design your game around the player, not the player character. In first-person VR, your player is the star of the experience. Gamers experience scenarios as if they were happening to them.

With VR you can’t say ‘your character isn’t afraid of sharks’ – players inhabit that avatar body but bring their own personality traits. That’s exciting. It needs a fundamental shift in outlook from developers; they need to tailor the design to what the player can and can’t do, not what a fictional character would do.

Dan Page, Marketing Manager and VR Consultant, Opposable Games
Gaze direction is an important factor; it’s essential to consider that your players can look anywhere they like, which can be problematic.

Visual and audio clues to direct a player’s gaze are absolutely essential, though some people are more responsive to these hints than others. Traditional gamers tend to respond to subtler cues much better than those that don’t play games, so do consider your audience.

Adam Kraver, Architect, CCP Games VR Labs
Focus on embodiment of the player. Bring as much of the player as possible into the VR experience  – head, hands and body, if possible. Players able to exercise natural and meaningful control over their avatar can lead to compelling shared social experiences, allowing for even non-verbal communication to be effective. Also, keeping the player physically active helps facilitate presence.

Byron Atkinson-Jones, Game Designer, Xiotex
Most people playing a VR game right now will be playing it mainly for the VR, so make sure that your game is a great VR experience as well as being a great game. Don’t leave them feeling sick or dizzy – make sure it’s an ambassador for VR.

Joe Stevens, CEO, Whispering Gibbon
Monetisation is something that has not been addressed fully yet but, as free-to-play trends move into VR, business models will become key in the design of the experiences themselves.

Being mindful of how advertising and merchandising can be leveraged in an experience that cannot just plaster a 2D ad on-screen is going to put forward-thinking companies at an advantage.