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?
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