Game creators should put a premium on predicting the unpredictable when developing for virtual reality.
That’s the advice from Alex Schwartz, CEO of Owlchemy Labs, the studio behind HTC Vive and Oculus Rift launch title Job Simulator.
He told Develop that devs should focus on fully polishing experiences that account for the almost limitless possibilities of player behaviour, rather than sprawling epics with little gameplay flexibility.
“We think that with early VR, you don't need to have many, many, many tens of hours of gameplay and that people will also be passing the headset to friends and showing it off because it's such a social experience – people gather around and want to play,” Schwartz explained.
“There's going to be enough content in there and enough ability to replay it so that it doesn't get annoying. You'll have a ton of content for a launch title.”
Speaking to the design of Job Simulator specifically, Schwartz said that injecting the potential for comedy into the game’s recreation of mundane activities had been key.
“That's where we're aiming: at that mark where you feel like there's a ton of value with the humour,” he continued. “Every time we see someone play Job Simulator they do something crazy and different that we've never seen even though we've seen hundreds of play testers.
"It's like the infinite possibilities of where you put your hands or what you do or what you smash together, how you throw something... Someone wants to do the weirdest things ever and we take notes and say: 'Well, that's weird.' It's kind of infinite in how strange you want to get. That's kind of the joy of a physics-based game; it could go crazy at any time and funny things can arise from emergent gameplay.”
While the temptation may be to simply protect against actions previously not possible outside of VR, Schwartz advised devs to actively encourage players to explore the limits of in-game mechanics.
“We have a lot of – I don't want to necessarily call them all 'safeguards',” he explained. “But if you take all of the cups in the entire game – there's like eight of them in the scene – and throw them all away into the distance, we have a mechanism to make sure that you're never requiring a cup that you don't have. It would spawn you a new one. If you break all the bottles and then need wine, same thing.
“But we also want the opposite: not just preventing negative situations, but promoting positive ones. So when someone in the office job is in the cubicle and they try to photocopy their hand – because that's something people do – we react to that. We have a thing coded in there and it prints out another copy of their hands so they have two.
“We try to go down that rabbit hole of weirdness. We see someone do something funny and then we go: 'If our game doesn't take that into account, we've failed.' So we go nuts with depth in that regard."
This article is part of our month-long Virtual Reality Special. You can find more VR content here.