VR Design : Best Practices

At GDC 2015, I had some informal conversations with some of the best videogame designers and engineers in the world, and inevitably they all centered around: “we know all about videogames, what do we need to look out for when creating VR?”

chemistryAcross the course of the conference, I synthesized these key points, which together represent what we feel are the guiding principles of VR design, circa 2015.

From the trenches, to your eyes. Here’s your free guidance:

Best Practices in VR Design

1. Its got to be pure 3d
— 2d tricks no longer work. billboards, masks, overlays etc…
unless you want to make a stylistic choice
— even your UI is now 100% situated in 3space

2. your geometry, and physics, must be seamless, waterproof, and tight.
— when a player sees the world stereoscopically, small details stand out
— for instance, props that float 1cm above a surface
— and 2mm cracks at wall joins
— these were overlooked in frame games, but are unforgivable in VR

3. really consider detail in textures / normals
— VR has a way of inviting players to inspect objects, props, surfaces and characters…
— up close. really close.
— in a much more intimate level than traditional games
— so be prepared for close inspection
— and make sure that your textures are tight
— along with your collision hulls

4. your collisions for near field objects must be perfect
— fingers can’t penetrate walls
— create detailed high resolution collision shells
. . . for all near sets pieces, props, and characters

5. positional audio is paramount
— audio now has true perceptive 3d positioning, 360° sphere
— you can really effectively guide the users attention and direction with audio prompts
— they will generally turn and look at audio calls for attention.

6. locomotion is key. and hard.
— swivel chair seated experiences are currently optimal
— near-instant high velocity teleports are optimal
strafing is out, completely : generates total nausea
— 2 primary metaphors are
. . . a) cockpits — cars, planes, ships
. . . b) suited helmets — space suit, scuba mask, ski mask
— cockpits allow physical grounding and help support hard / fast movements
— helmets support HUDs for UI, maps, messaging

7. flying is fun
— a near optimal form of locomotion
— no concerns with ground contact, head bob
— good way to cover large geographies at moderate speed
— managing in-flight collisions:
— a whole ‘nother conversation : force fields and the skillful flying illusion
— speaking of collisions:

8. consider where to place UI
— fixed GUIs suggest a helmet
— local / natural GUIs are more optimal
— consider point of attachment : primaries are:
—— head attachment, which is like a helmet
—— abdomen attachment, which is something you can look down and view

9. graphics performance & frame rate is absolutely key
— the difference between 75fps and 30fps is night and day…
— you MUST deliver 75 fps at a minimum
— don’t ship until you hit this bar
— this isn’t an average, its a floor

10. consider the frustum / tracking volume
— generally, depending on the specific hardware, the positional tracking is in a limited volume
— design your game to optimize performance while in the volume
— and don’t do things that lead players outside the volume
— and gracefully handle what happens when they exit, and then re-enter, the tracking space
— this is similar to the “follow-cam” challenge in trad 3D videogames

11. pacing
— when designing the play experience, consider:
— VR currently favors exploratory experiences above fast paced combat
— this is an absolutely new medium, with its own conventions and rules
— this is a KEY design principle
— be considerate of a users comfort and joy

11+. test test test
— VR experiences are very subjective
— find out what works for your intended audience
— reward your players for their commitment


That’s your high level design direction.

There’s also some great, more detailed technical docs on the web regarding the dirty details of VR dev & design, from the creators themselves. Here they are:

Got experience with VR dev / design?
Think we missed something? Want a job?
Comment below:

We don’t always use hand control at dSky, but when we do… we choose Hydra

Madame Hydra

Yes, Marvel did have video long before the Avengers re-start. Oh, good ole G.I. Joe…

With Hydra, we get to use BOTH our hands in VR,
just like Madame Hydra here…

Keeping it simple... because the best part of the hydras is... you move your hands, and your VR hands... well, they move precisely where they should.

Keeping it simple… because the best part of the hydras is… you move your hands, and your VR hands… well, they move precisely where they should. Buttons not included.

and here are the hydras at play:


first flights : lessons learned

Flying : Major accomplishments, and major lessons learned.

dSky VR : under the GGB!

dSky VR : under the GGB!

The good news : we got Flying Adventure working in the Rift, and let me tell you : flying under the Golden Gate Bridge, through volumetric clouds, at 70mph about 3′ above deck… a total rush. I flew in and around the city for about 30 minutes, totally absorbed, free, in bliss. Further, there was a palpably sublime moment when, flying across the surface of the water at speed, I looked down and saw something on the face of the waves: it was my avatar’s reflection, distorted in real time. Spine tingling.

whats that on the face of the water? me, as avatar

whats that reflected on the face of the water? me, as avatar

The bad news : humans and birds are not at all built the same. We first modelled the simulation so that a human flyer would be belly down, in a sort of yoga cobra position, abs engaged. The challenge is : while a birds eyes are on the *sides* of its head, and its head is naturally aligned for the bird to view forward while prone… a human’s eyes are on the *front* of our heads; and while prone, we are naturally looking downward. thus, if we are using “natural” forward propulsion, as one might imagine superman or ironman doing, we humans are forced to *seriously* arc our necks back in order to see “forward” towards where we are headed, and to more naturally navigate our flying world.

Human neck : natural downward articulation while flying | avian neck : natural forward orientation

Human neck : natural downward articulation | avian neck : natural forward orientation

human v. eagle : very different animals.

human v. eagle : very different animals.

The consequence : after 30 minutes of flying, my neck really hurts… and that’s coming from a trained acrobat, supposedly used to such contortions.

Fast conclusion: we are fast coming full circle to Palmer Luckey’s assertion that “present-day VR is a seated experience”. Going to start exploring alternate methods of navigation metaphors, including:

  • levitating chair, a la Professor X
  • cockpit, a la an F-18
  • saddle riding, a la How to Train Your Dragon
quite possibly the best way to fly

quite possibly the best way to fly : on a saddle, atop a trained giant eagle.

  • we also might simply try rotating the camera 90° up
    relative to the avatar body :)

Until our next post, enjoy the screenshots.


Click here for downloadable demo.