Why making a top-down game work in VR is more than a matter of degrees

Force Field VR used ‘tabletop diorama’ approach to camera to avoid sickness or lack of immersion
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Martin de Ronda, CCO and co-founder of Force Field VR, spoke of the studio’s experiences breaking into virtual reality during a talk entitled ‘Converting an Established Genre into VR: The pitfalls and opportunities’ at this year’s Develop: Brighton.

De Ronda explained that the developer’s decision to bring the top-down action genre – as it had previously explored in titles such as Gatling Gears, Halo: Spartan Assault and Halo: Spartan Strike – to virtual reality resulted in its need to overhaul the medium’s established rules.

Key among the changes in Project BGR was the alternation of the camera. De Ronda observed that most top-down titles traditionally use an in-game viewpoint angled at 80 to 90 degrees.

However, when translated directly into VR, the perspective results in the player “feeling as if they are staring at a wall,” he continued.

At the other end of the scale, a mere three-degree angle made many players feel as though they were “hovering” and led some users to feel sick.

“We needed to move away from top down and literally reorient ourselves into what we call tabletop diorama action,” De Ronda explained, describing the achieved feeling as similar to a “kid playing with model soldiers”.

But the camera wasn’t the only challenge, De Ronda added, revealing that the the “entire world needs to be fully active and present around you” in order to maintain immersion.

“It’s not enough to have characters move when the AI script recognises that the player is within a certain distance.”

Other new requirements included the need for a larger play area – both horizontally and vertically – and level design that expands around the player, rather than being just in front of them.

The player themselves is a variable in the game, too – De Ronda cautioned devs in the audience to remember that “the player is the camera” in VR, advising them to dynamically scale the game environment to each user’s height.

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