Human beings, like many other species, have been moving around on earth for hundreds of thousands of years. We have crossed rivers, forests, deserts and ice bergs in our quest for knowledge, survival, fame and pure adventure. Often started with a desire for something better, these ideas have been realised thanks to our ability to overcome obstacles using our physical bodies. This is a very hot topic in virtual reality games right now.
In this episode I will start to discuss the ways game developers are making it possible for gamers to move around in virtual reality games.I will reference some interesting games at the end that have been or will be released this year.
Example of physical movement in a simulation
As an example of using your body to steer the action in a game the Gameship simulation (Click for Video) uses a platform and a projection screen to steer the action on the dome. As you can see the player is able to maintain her balance on the platform thanks to the vestibular system. These big simulation systems are costly and not many people will be able to experience them in their own homes but will have to live with virtual reality headset being strapped on their heads. The low price of the launching consumer virtual reality systems compared to Gameship does not come without problems though.
The brain and the evolution
Our brain and body is by definition inseparabel. Throughout the years of evolution our nerve system has developed into a complex mechanism. We are equipped with advanced autonomous features that work without us having to think about them – things such as breathing. We can use our level of self awareness to reflect about our past and to envision our future – all thanks to our brain weighing in at about 1.4 kg.
Movement in imagination and physical space
With the emerging availability of Virtual Reality to a large audience there will be many different opinions on its pros and cons. No one can tell how you will react to your first experience of Virtual Reality beforehand, but it is clear that technology has taken huge leaps in the last decades and will hopefully give you a good introduction. However, there are thing that have not developed equally fast, such as our vestibular system. Generally, moving around in space using your own imagination is usually a fairly safe activity, rarely making you feel sick (unless you have some kind of condition or imagine yourself in a bad place from traumatic memories). In comparison, moving around with your body is a different issue since it requires that your “external” sensory system components are in balance with what your brain (your present self) is experiencing. Now, imagine that you are sitting on a stationary train and that you are looking out of the window onto another train (also stationary). Also imagine that the other train starts to move. Now, your visual senses will tell you that something is moving while your balance organs will not experience a change in motion (acceleration). This can feel awkward and lead to motion sickness.
Now, if you allow me to extrapolate this a bit I’d like to compare it to Virtual Reality and the different ways game developers are allowing us to move in various experiences. By putting on a virtual reality headset you block out everything that you previously saw around yourself. Your view is instead replaced by a “synthetic” representation (e.g. the game) which your brain over time interprets as being “real” – to a varying degree for us all. Research has shown that the most dominant sensory systems for humans is our vision, thus it is not too hard to understand why we tend to get caught up in the experience. This is unfortunately connected to issues with motion when the optical flow (what we see) does not match what we feel.
Experimenting with methods of movement
Recently you will find that developers have been experimenting with various movement and teleportation methods to allow for relocation in games. In early virtual reality first person games movement was done using a keyboard and mouse (see my article about hand interaction in virtual reality here). Our ordinary way of moving was controlled by (mainly) our fingers – which can be offsetting for our vestibular system. People have been found to become used to this sensation to varying degrees.
A more sofisticated device for performing movement in a simulation is the Pointman Input Device from the US Naval Research Laboratory (Pointman Input Device). It uses several devices to enable character movement of the game character as rendered on the Display.
The blend of traditional games with new interaction devices
Happening right now, game developers have started to blend traditional game concepts and viewpoints with the strengths provided by Virtual Reality headsets and fully tracked hand controllers. Games such as Chronos by Chronos VR and AirMech: Command by Carbon Games utilise a third person character control scheme which you observe from a first person view. In AirMech: Command you are able to zoom in and out on the gameplay to get a detailed view on the combat or a more tactical view by moving your body away from the tracking camera.
AirMech: Command by Carbon Games
Other games such as Lucid Trips targeting HTC Vive give you the ability to move around using virtual hands in an interestingly looking “flight mode”. How you move your hand determine how you will jump, fly and navigate the game.
Room Scale VR – A hybrid fusing physical and virtual movement
One solution for “hybrid one-to-one physical-virtual correlated movement” in first person view can be seen in games like Budget Cuts from Neat Corporation and The Gallery: Call of Starseed from Cloudhead Games. These use a point-and-click scheme letting you instantly teleport between places in the game while allowing you to physically move in the vicinity of your room.
Scratching the surface of movement in games
So far I have only scratched on the surface on some of the new ways we can navigate in upcoming virtual reality games. It is clear that the ways we use our body for entertainment is expanding thanks to the availability of virtual reality. We will continue in our quest for something better – for many this means escaping reality and to immerse themselves in wonderful worlds for brief of lengthy moments.
In the next part I will expand more on this topic. I will illustrate a visual cluster model of more games and discuss pros, cons and how innovative the control scheme is.
Hopefully this will give you some ideas on where there is a gap for types of locomotion in games.