Devlog #1- The Importance of Physical Prototyping for Mixed Reality Games

Mixed reality. The future of interactions, a brand new world coexisting on our physical world. Working with mixed reality (MR) sounds cool right? On paper, sure it does!

“You’re trying to tell me, that I can look at my actual hand and actual fire will come out of my actual hands actually? That actually sounds neat!”

Yet how do you design for this? Ah, less intriguing now right? It’s kind of like me asking you if you want a hot fudge sundae and then showing you a cow and an ice cream maker and saying “well, get to it then!” This has been the constant state of mind I’ve been in since we took on the challenge of creating an asymmetrical multiplayer MR game for the past 6 weeks. Wait, what- now there’s asymmetrical multiplayer involved? That wasn’t part of the deal, I want my money back! To help visualize the problem, I’ve restated it to something less abstract and something a bit more concrete:

How do you design an engaging and immersive game world using the real world around you?

YOU PROTOTYPE

To quote Nicole Lazzaro from her Matrix vs Pokemon GO GDC talk,

“[With VR games] The world itself is a genre, and the interaction with the world is the game.”

What she means is that the world defines the actions and goals in which the player engages in within it. Take a look at Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality. In it, Owlchemy Labs recreated Rick’s lab in the show, and in their GDC talk, they mention that they aimed to be as accurate to the show as possible. Why? Because the genre is a simulation; the game is simulating what it would be like to be in the show, Rick and Morty, and the game is interacting with the world. This is why Owlchemy made sure that everything that looks interactable in the game is interactable. For example, there’s a door behind the player that would lead to the rest of the Smith household, but obviously creating a fully realized house would be a task. Yet having a doorknob that the player can’t actually interact with doesn’t feel right; it breaks immersion. So what did they do? They did this:

This kind of thinking is what I brought to the team when prototyping, but the issue being is, how does this kind of thinking translate into MR?

Okay so let me explain: with VR, you can create an environment the player can roam around in. With MR, you incorporate the game world into the real world the player can see. Early on, our team decided that if this game is going to be MR, then there has to be a reason, it can’t be arbitrary like being able to wave to your boyfriend while killing zombies (which might be the best Hallmark commercial ever conceived). So what would be the reason for MR? Well, let’s take a look at that Hallmark commercial again; what if you could play a game with someone who can’t see the world you can see? From there, we decided that we were going to develop an asymmetrical MR

“Get to the point, what did you do?”

Alright, so beforehand, we ran a few paper prototypes where we had one of our team members, Jen, don our makeshift MR headset to emulate what the setup would be like. We had her perform a few mechanics we wanted to test while recording it through the camera on her head. We found that while it was interesting to move around freely due to our equipment (essentially a computer backpack), but where we really started to find success was when another team member filled in as an “AI partner”. The consensus? Having someone work with/against you is a lot of fun

To test this out even further to isolate what we liked about the asymmetrical multiplayer, we came up with a concept for a red-light green-light game. For this, we had Jen try to steal an object while another team member, Justin, tried to catch her in the act. After some iterations involving spotlights, lasers, and our best alarm impressions, we solidified asymmetrical gameplay as one of our main pillars

Click here to view video

What did I learn?
VR/MR games need to be developed as VR/MR games, and not the other way around. What I mean is that you can’t just slap Mario into MR and call it a day. These games take advantage of depth, which is impossible on a 2D screen. In order for the design to work, the environment needs to facilitate the interactions of the player, and with that it involves depth. I also learned that there will never be enough Clorox wipes for the amount of sweat produced from 4 hours of extensive VR research.

So what now?
We have an abstract idea for a game, but nothing concrete. As of now, we seem to have a game concept we really like and want to finalize. The concept heavily borrows from Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes use of communication between players given different information. The team and I plan on prototyping this concept today to see if it’s something we want to pursue and move forward with, but I’m very excited to see where this goes!

 

References

‘Matrix’ vs. ‘Pokemon GO’: The Mixed Reality Battle for the Holodeck by Nicole Lazzoro

Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality‘ Postmortem: VR Lessons *Burrrp* Learneby Alex Schwartz and Deven Reimer