If you haven't checked it out already, Ubisoft's zero-G, multiplayer shooter: Space Junkies is now available on the Oculus Rift. To add to this announcement, Part 4 of our 5-part collaborative series features Ubisoft Game Director Sebastien Morin, as he provides his insights into VR FPS game design.
There are many important elements to consider when designing a shooter, the main ones being balance, aim and pace. Obviously, the overall feeling is also incredibly important. You need to feel the impact of the weapons or equipment, and have a connection with them, so it’s essential to have a variety that allows for different expression and play-styles.
Uh, pretty much every shooter since the beginning of time! The issue is not so much having lots of shooter references, it is more about transposing those recognizable elements of a “flat shooter” into a VR space. This is really where it gets complicated and you have to design and iterate since it never works the first time!
The concept of situational awareness is often used in first responder/military environments. In VR, this type of awareness is critical since you are now immersed in this 360° + vertical battlespace, and of course, you have 6DOF. Other elements are obviously important in Space Junkies, such as spatialized audio that allows you to hear enemies flying by and to identify their position. We also created a featured we can Intel, outlining an enemy location with red/blue when they have been spotted and pushing a “detected” message and sound in your HUD. This feedback obviously plays an important role in terms of tension and awareness that you are in danger.
All of them work, but they have to be re-imagined for VR. For example, in a traditional FPS a Sniper works because of its animation and scope zoom. However, in VR we can’t impose an animation since you as the player are responsible for the actual loading. We used to play with animation times to help with balancing, but in Space Junkies we had to find other ways to do this. Also, skill-based precision shooting on PC doesn’t transpose as well: you are actually aiming and shooting, so the skill set is slightly different.
Two-handed weapons are particularly rewarding in VR. You have that performing aspect of shooting a slingshot or pumping a shotgun, which gives the player a lot of expression and a rewarding, immersive feeling. In addition, there is the Solar Saber, which is always pretty cool to play with!
They all work more or less, but the controls and design change, and there are new inputs and constraints. The power and freedom are comparable and in the player’s control, so we have to find new ways to balance these elements. The battle space is also quite interesting, in that for particular covers the player can actually peek around corners, or shoot around a cover, which is much closer to real life. But VR is still very new for developers and players, so we are constantly finding new things for the player to discover, or how they behave, which helps to create more fun for them.
The social aspect is one of the most amazing things in VR. In Space Junkies, it’s as if you are now a living emoticon. You have hand gestures and full embodiment that create a natural connection with others and allow you to communicate easily. This is very interesting and still in its infancy, but it has its pros and cons: the experience can be incredibly immersive and personal, but it is also intimate and you are very much in each other’s personal space which can be somewhat intimidating for some people. We try and keep everything light-hearted in Space Junkies since we just want people to have fun and to play around with this new experience!
You play in teams, so you necessarily work together tactically. The social aspect is simply part and parcel of any multiplayer, team-based game.
We have many different techniques that we have developed over the last couple of years. The trickiest part is that everyone is different and have different levels of sensitivity. It’s like a rollercoaster, or bungie jumping or scuba diving: the human body is really an individualized entity, so we do our best to include multiply ways to maximize comfort.
A few tricks I could mention are blinders, which essentially add a sort of “horse blinders” when the player is flying through corridors or making rotations. Framerate always has to be stable (this is just simply a must-have in VR), and one of the biggest challenges again is rotations. This is an ongoing debate between players and developers. A normal rotation on a 2D PC shooter or console is fine, it doesn’t impact you since players play with the sensitivity and choose the best config. In VR, we have to be very careful as there is an important learning and adaptation time. This comes back to things like vection within your internal ear. Your very own natural accelerometer that allows you to balance cannot be underestimated. We added the “Snap 45°” rotation purely to help new players adapt to VR, and still get full situational awareness as the snap is set to the position of the world itself. We do also have a grab rotation and, thanks to the community’s feedback we will be adding a full smooth, competitive rotation. We need to warn players, however, that if you are naturally sensitive, you should start with the snap and gradually move into your preference.
Regular balancing, regular players, speed, stamina and health… As explained earlier, there must be a balance between visual/interaction-based context, freedom, and the environment to ultimately ensure that everyone has fun. Players want full freedom, but we have to put certain rules in place or the competition just won’t work. It’s like changing the rules of soccer: if you had 6 soccer balls, two small goals and no offsides, the game would become a bit of a mess!
Working and designing for VR is a very new challenge. We are constantly discovering new ways to adapt to the hardware and to extend the experience further for the player. There are many things that we can learn from “flat” designs, but we are also very aware that we are changing player behavior and are re-teaching players how to play a shooter in VR.
From The Oculus Team:
We're excited to see what the Ubisoft will share for the last two parts of this series, especially now that Space Junkies is now available. In the mean time, feel free to check out the first three parts of this series below: