Virtual Reality. The promise of entering a new world, escaping the mundane reality we are forced to live, day in and day out. I remember the first time I tried Google Cardboard years ago, and I’ve been captivated ever since. The industry has come far in the technology we’ve developed: Now, instead of clicking through a selection of 360 scenes, we can actually use a controller to point and select where we want to move! Oh! And we can walk around in our games, just like real life.
Except...wait a second. Why can’t I keep walking forward? Ohhhhh right. I am still in a real room, with real walls. No worries, I can just walk backwards and then teleport forward to where I wanted to be.
...And this is where my personal beef with the current state of VR lies. It’s the reason I gathered my friends last year to start experimenting with new types of locomotion, and the reason we went on to found VRemedy Labs. When I put on a VR headset, I don’t feel like I am entering a new world. I feel as if I am merely peering through a set of goggles into world which has the potential to fulfill some of humanity's greatest fantasies, but developers are so busy looking in through the window they haven’t been able to build a door.
It is our duty, as content creators, to create experiences which are freeing and empowering, not isolated and limiting. Sure, the current state of VR tech limits what we can make, but waiting for new hardware isn’t a sustainable solution either. Prices will remain high on the newest tech, and if the only good experiences are dependent on more expensive hardware, the market will continue to struggle to grow.
So back to this whole teleportation thing…Why do we do it? Well, some people get nauseous when forced to “move” in VR. It turns out, however, that people avoid feeling sick when they use a “natural” form of movement, like walking. For developers, it sounds simple enough. The solution to nausea? Only let players walk. If they want to move further than 10 ft, let them teleport closer so they can walk there. That is, unless they are stuck on the edge of the room, trying to reach something just a few inches away.
This phenomenon was something I first called getting “stuck”. I honestly still don’t have a better name, but this kind of behavior is detrimental to the immersive qualities that VR developers aim to create in their games. The player is constantly reminded they are really just in a small box, and their position relative to that box matters MORE than the objects and spaces in the virtual world.
Now you may ask: “Okay, what other solutions exist?” Many developers tried the whole joystick thing, where you push a joystick on a traditional gamepad to move around. Then they tried walking in place. While these might be “solutions”, they still leave something to be desired when it comes to the types of immersive gameplay we can have.
Instead of trying to mimic reality, I’ve always wanted for VR to be able to exceed it. To free me from the physics which limit my body, turning me into a superhero. You might be thinking, “What about nausea?!”. As someone who knows the joy of soaring through the air in VR, twisting and turning without the slightest bit of sickness, I cannot relate. But I know then that it is my job to figure out a way to share this joy to those more prone to motion sickness. At VRemedy Labs, our mission is to thoughtfully design these motions so that there is a progression of difficulty as it pertains both to usability and nausea-tolerance. We believe that with this style of solution we will be able to empower all VR users with exciting locomotion.
But we also believe that there isn’t a single “solution” for locomotion in VR, or for the nausea many alternative types of locomotion practically offer as a feature. To us, creating a solution which is adaptable to each and every human is the only way we can succeed. Players need their locomotion mechanics to fit snugly, and make them comfortable, just like a good pair of shoes.
If a locomotion mechanic is a shoe, then we need to know our shoe size. At VRemedy Labs, we refer to this as locomotion intensity. All of our systems are designed to be flexible, offering many settings to comfort players who are more prone to sickness. These settings are the first step towards a solution for a better VR locomotion experience.
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