We are pleased to present the third edition of the Games for Change Industry Circle, a program that acknowledges the achievements and opportunities in the impact games sector by highlighting leading studies that have made a significant contribution to our community. Following G4C’s recently announced VR for Change initiative, Industry Circle member Filament Games wrote an article sharing VR’s best practices to create an effective learning experience like no other. We hope you enjoy the following piece from the Filament Games Team, and that we will see you at our Youtube Live session and Q&A presented by Dan White, co-founder of Filament Games, and Jennifer Javornik, VP of Sales at Filament games, on Wednesday December 13 at 2 p.m. EST.
HOW TO DESIGN VIRTUAL REALITY FOR LEARNING
By Filament Games
Consumer-grade VR has been around long enough now that diverse use cases have started to solidify across the spectrum of available devices. Whether you’re entering another reality through the lens of the humble Google Cardboard (mobile VR) or tethering yourself into the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive ala The Matrix (PC VR). VR done properly can immerse you in a learning experience like no other medium.
That being said, like any creative medium, there are best practices to consider. We focus on four domains of VR design as we reconcile our approach to game development with the affordances of the target device(s): namely, computing power, input capabilities, spatial capabilities, and content.
This primarily depends on the device being used to facilitate your VR experience, ranging from a decked-out PC with a high-end graphics card to a single smartphone. On a PC, you can create more complex VR environments, characters, and interactions. You’ll still need to optimize for frame rate because, while PC VR does robust hardware, there is still a “low end” and a “high end” within the PC VR landscape.
Conversely, smartphone-enabled mobile VR is far more constrained in terms of the graphical juice that you can apply to a game. Textures, environments, and especially interaction need to be simplified, not only to accommodate the limited processor power, but also the input affordances, which we’ll discuss below. If you’re targeting mobile VR, don’t let this discourage you. Simpler doesn’t necessarily mean second-rate, as it can positively translate into approachability and universality in comparison to a more complex VR experience. Breaking Boundaries in Science, a game we developed for the Samsung Gear, serves as a nice example of mobile VR that toes the line of fidelity and simplicity:
In general, mobile VR lets you provide a singular type of input. Basically, you can click on things. Some of the premium mobile VR offerings like the Samsung Gear offer compatible peripherals which have a few more functions beyond a simple button, allowing for directional movement as well. This limited input paradigm has significant implications for user interaction: experiences must be streamlined so that the user feels agency and excitement in spite of the limitations of a singular, limited input vector.
PC VR is much more generous with interactivity. The Vive and Rift both have peripheral offerings that facilitate complex, layered interactions that bring the user much closer to the feeling of a real-world activity. Our in-development robotics VR game RoboEngineers is demonstrative of the more complex interactions of PC VR:
Another key difference among VR devices is space, with variance even among the high-end PC VR. In mobile VR, you are suspended at a single point, and your options for movement are limited to teleportation or directional movement on a peripheral. With the Rift, you are sort of stationary, and sort of not. Head-tracking allows you to occupy the space in situ, so you can duck down, look around, and so forth, but you can’t actually walk around. The Vive offers a bit more room, with walkable “room-scale” space up to 15 feet by 15 feet, but any movement beyond that requires teleporting your 15×15 square, which can be jarring and even disorienting. Fortunately, the VR horizon is crowded with solutions to these issues. Inside-out tracking, for instance, promises to revolutionize the way we handle space in VR. Learn more about the difference between inside-out and outside-in tracking here.
This consideration applies to any digital experience, but as you may have deduced by now, VR is rife with affordances and constraints that are wholly unique to its field. The immersion of VR allows you to adopt new identities that take you as close to a first-hand experience as you can get. This is ideal for changing mindsets and generating empathy, and that is why we chose VR as a medium to help players deeply understand and learn about the lives and achievements of famous women in science.
The physicality and complex input paradigms of PC VR create high-impact embodiment that’s ideal for immersing players in a real-world activity, which makes it a great setting to learn and practice robotics fundamentals. Indeed, there are many that ways that VR changes learning, and we’re only starting to scratch the surface of what this medium can do.
Do you want to learn more about VR for learning? Join us for the Games for Change webinar, December 13th at 2PM CST, where’ll dive deep into our two VR projects, Breaking Boundaries and RoboEngineers. We’ll discuss insights gained from developing across the full spectrum of VR, and would love to hear what you think about the future of this medium.
Feel free to submit your questions on Twitter with the hashtag #G4CIndustry or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org before the broadcast begins.