Adjustable Intensity: Our take on Motion Sickness

If you've been following us at VRemedy Labs, you know superheros are an inspiration to us.

They excite us because they fulfill a childhood fantasy, and we want to give ourselves, and everyone else, the opportunity to live out that fantasy.  VR gives us a new way to interpret what it might mean to fly like a superhero, and is way more financially viable than the alternatives.  But as we began to develop these badass, superhero movement systems, more subtle points of motion sickness became clear to us.  We looked at what other studios have implemented, but were not satisfied with the end user experience.  If you saw us in the press, you may be wondering exactly how we are planning on reducing motion sickness.

 

Our solution: The Adjustable Intensity System (AIS)

At it’s core, the idea is based on individuality.  We recognize that there are many differences between each person who might put on a VR headset, especially pertaining to their resilience to motion sickness.  Most other developers will implement systems into their locomotion mechanics with the intention of reducing nausea, and these systems create a single experience for all users.   Instead we give our players more flexibility: a knob to adjust the intensity of their locomotion.  By adjusting their intensity, they can tune their experience in a way that makes them comfortable, instead of the designer trying to guess or make a one-size fits all solution.

But what does it mean to give someone a "knob"? Well, maybe it's best to think of moving in VR like swimming. Some people, like Nish, like the deep end. They can play at the highest intensities without feeling sick. And some people, like Kate, like the kiddie pool. The lowest intensity levels offer comfort to everyone.  But most people are actually like Eric, and like to play somewhere in between the two. AIS is the ramp between the deep and shallow ends of the pool. We take a locomotion mechanic, like the grappling hooks shown in our demo, and break it down into a spectrum of intensities based on the best practices published by Google, Oculus, as well as research done by the Navy and NASA. This ramp lets you choose how intense the movement is, and gives players the ultimate freedom to choose their experience, moving up and down the ramp as they wish.

Let's give an example.  One factor that plays a role in the intensity of your experience is the motion in your peripheral vision.  Some games blur the edges of your vision, or reduce your field of view (FOV), to adjust the intensity of the experience.  One of our favorites is Eagle Flight, which adjusts FOV based on a variety of variables, including your speed, how you tilt your head, and objects in your peripheral vision.  But still, that implementation has effectively one intensity.  Sure, the FOV changes with those variables, but that mapping could have been such there was more or less vignetting with the same set of variables, resulting in a different intensity of experience.  We take factors like these and align them onto single axis of intensity, and give the player a knob to control the intensity.

While FOV changes can be applied almost universally to all locomotion types, we also work to identify factors which are more specific to each locomotion archetype.  For example, with grappling hooks, making the transition from forwards to backwards when swinging is an issue for many beginner players.  They lose their balance, and it makes them hard for them to keep playing.  So we built ways of reducing this, and have incorporated it into AIS as well.

You may ask, “Why would we do this at all? Is it not better to just make a low intensity experience?”  Well, perhaps.  But we believe that there is some fun in experiencing a slight bit of vertigo from a new locomotion mechanic.  By attempting to get rid of that feeling entirely, we lose a quality of that experience which is unique to VR, and to that movement type, (and it's just less fun sometimes).  We think it is impossible to tune an experience optimally for a diverse group of players, with different backgrounds in VR, and with different tolerances to motion sickness.  On the surface, this mindset is simple.  But implementing the intensity system for a variety of factors will take time, research, and special care to do correctly.  

We’ve been testing AIS for a few months now, and it's allowed many people who would not have been able to play our game feel comfortable. We hope you are excited for the potential of a system as we described, and we are looking forward to releasing a demo of this system in the coming months. Soon, you will be able to swing and fly like your favorite superheros! We look forward to a future where not only those with resilient stomachs can endure the joys of superhuman movement. A future where games can adjust to you instead of the other way around.

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