VR’s effects on game design

I’ve written at length (here, here, here, and here) about the challenges of properly supporting immersive displays such as CAVEs or HMDs such as the upcoming Oculus Rift, and the additional degrees of freedom introduced by 3D tracking.

I just found this interesting post by James Iliff, talking about the same general issue more from a game design than game implementation point of view.

Out of his three points, motion tracking, and the challenges posed by it, is the one most closely related to my own interests. The separation of viewing direction, aiming direction (as related to shooting games) and movement direction is something that falls naturally out of 3D tracking, and that needs to be implemented in VR applications or games at a fundamental level. Specifically, aiming using a tracked input device does, in my opinion, not work in the canonical architecture set up by existing desktop or console shooter games (see video below for an example).

My main concern with James’ post is the uncritical mention of the Razer Hydra controller. We are using those successfully ourselves (that’s a topic for another post), but it needs to be pointed out that we are using them differently than other tracked controllers. This is due to their lack of global precision: while the controllers are good at picking up relative motions (relative to their previous position, that is), they are not good at global positioning. What I mean is that the tracking coordinate system of the Hydra is non-linearly distorted, a very common effect with magnetic 3D trackers (also see Polhemus Fastrak or Ascension Flock of Birds for old-school examples). It is possible to correct for this non-linear distortion, but the problem we observed with the Hydra is that the distortion changes over relatively short time frames. What this means is that the Hydra is best not used as a 1:1 input device, where the position of the device in virtual space exactly corresponds to the position of the device in real space (see video below for how that works and looks like), but as an indirect device. Motions are still tracked more or less 1:1, but the device’s representation is offset from the physical device, and by a significant amount to prevent confusion. This has a direct impact on usability: instead of being able to use the physical device itself as an interaction cursor, embodying the “embodiment” principle (pun intended), the user has to work with an explicit virtual representation of the device instead. It still works (very well in fact), but it is a step down in immersion and effectiveness from globally-tracked input devices, such as the optically tracked Wiimote used in our low-cost VR system design.

And just because it’s topical and I’m a really big fan of Descent (after all, it is the highest form of patriotism!), here’s that old chestnut again:

Note how the CAVE wand is used as a “virtual gun,” and how the virtual gunsights are attached directly to the physical controller itself, not to a virtual representation of the physical controller. As far as the user is concerned, the CAVE wand is the gun. (The slight offset between controller and target reticle is primarily due to problems when setting up a CAVE for filming). This globally-precise tracking comes courtesy of the high-end Intersense IS-900 tracking system used in our CAVE, but we achieve the same thing with a (comparatively) low-cost NaturalPoint OptiTrack optical tracking system. The Hydra is a really good input device if treated properly, but it’s not the same thing.

3 thoughts on “VR’s effects on game design

  1. It would incur much processing, but have you considered using a gun/wand device with a built in camera, and using image registration to determine where the reticle should lie?

    i.e.: compare the image from the camera embedded in the gun/wand to the ‘ground truth’ image that’s originally projected to determine the 3D rigid motion (3D translation + 3D rotation).

    • There’s a similar tracking system, the InterSense IS-1200, that “inverts” the typical optical tracking approach. It places optical markers, looking very much like QR codes, throughout the tracked space, and has one or more small cameras on each tracked device.

      If I understand correctly, you’re suggesting to use the projected image itself as tracking marker. That could be possible, with some careful synchronization and powerful image processing. Someone who’s more on the tracking hardware side than I am needs to think about that.

  2. Pingback: The reality of head-mounted displays | Doc-Ok.org

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