What Any VR Game Can Learn From the ‘Electronauts’ Interface – Inside XR Design


Our series Inside XR Design examines specific examples of great XR design. Today we’re looking at the interface of Electronauts to find out what makes it so excellently usable.

Editor’s Note: Now that we’ve rebooted our Inside XR Design series, we’re re-publishing them for those that missed our older entries.

You can find the complete video below, or continue reading for an adapted text version.

Electronauts is a music making game by developer Survivors that’s designed to make it easy to feel like a competent DJ, even if—like me—you don’t have much musical talent. It’s available on every major VR headset; check out our full review here.

And while it’s easy to think that the game’s interface has little relevance outside of music, nothing could be further from the truth. The Electronauts interface is smartly designed at the core, and for reasons that have nothing to do with music or rhythm games.

There’s three pillars to this interface that make it great: ease-of-use, hierarchy, and flexibility.


It’s clear to see why the designers would give the players drumsticks for a game with drum-like instruments, but what’s really smart is also making the drumsticks the tools for manipulating the interface. Humans are evolutionarily adept at manipulating tools—in fact studies have shown that with enough practice, we subconsciously and proprioceptively consider tools to be an extension of ourselves.

In the case of Electronauts, the extra reach provided by the drumsticks allows the interface to be comfortably large to overcome issues with precision, making the entire interface easier to use with less chance for mistakes.

We can see this clearly in the way that the game’s buttons work. While the intuitive idea would be to have buttons that are pressed as they are touched, Electronauts does things differently for the sake of precision and reliability. Instead of simply touching a button to activate it, you actually insert your drumstick into the button and then pull the trigger.

This is a very smart solution to the issue of missing physical feedback in VR. Real life buttons are deeply designed around physical feedback, and this feedback helps you press them reliably. Because there’s nothing to push back on the drumstick in VR, it’s harder to confidently target and activate a physically simulated button.

Asking the user to intersect the button with their drumstick and then pull the trigger to confirm their selection greatly increases the precision of the game’s buttons compared to a physical button simulation.


Hierarchy is an essential part of any interface. It’s the way in which you organize the functions of the interface so that it’s logical, easy to remember, and easy to access.

Electronauts has a very smart hierarchy where all of the game’s functions are contained within tools, and all of the tools are represented as cubes. To access the functions of any tool, you simply place a cube into a pedestal.

You can think of each cube as it’s own little mini-app, just like the way that smartphone apps are shown as icons on a screen, each containing specific functionality. This makes it really easy to remember where to access certain functions without the interface needing to overwhelm the user by displaying all the functions at once.

With a limit of three cubes active at any one time, Electronauts does a good job of having a clearly organized hierarchy that’s not too deep. A hierarchy that’s too deep—like having folders inside of folders inside of folders—can mean too much time spent digging to reach the function you’re looking for, even if it means everything is clearly organized.

Continued on Page 2: Flexibility »


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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Happy Sandwich

    Loved the analysis! Please do more of this kind of content.

    I’m specifically interesting in the “golden rules” and “cardinal sins” of VR design, and how to create really immersive experiences.

  • Great idea on the VR design series, loved it! And Electronauts was definitely a great way to kickstarting it. Keep ’em coming Ben

  • This is why I love Road To VR… cool technical articles that teach me something. Please keep this series going

  • Would love to see an analysis of the movement systems used in the abandoned PCVR game “In Death”.

    The sheer physicality of moving and firing using the virtual bow generates rich proprioception giving a really grounded feel in the game world, easily the best implementation of teleportation I’ve used. You have to work your upper body to move, its very smart.

    Whether creeping slowly with the slow stick locomotion, throwing a short range teleport shard or shooting teleport and combat arrows, pushing enemies back with shield bash, the physicality is simply fantastic.

  • D

    From my point of view, this type of attention to space is as fundamental as it is underrepresented, and is one of the biggest first steps to recognizing its potential. I’m glad I’ve found this site.

  • Corey Reynolds

    “Humans are evolutionarily adept at manipulating tools…”

    The Victorian Era called and wanted you to know they even they are ashamed of their garbage theory. You can do better.

  • foamreality

    You missed one the best design features of electronaughts: The drums (bell balls) themselves. When you hit them they move down with the stick. Without tactile feedback this allows you to see how hard you are hitting. If gives a sense of feeling/feedback that no other VR drum games have managed. I’ve played many, and electronaughts way works. I also like the ball shapes as drums too. A great game, great design, and this was an OLD game now and I remember thinking at the time the future looks amazing for VR, but almost nobody copied these great immersive designs that were extremely focused and tested for VR specificity.

    • Ben Lang

      Good point, that’s a great detail

  • ameba#23234 mdrea

    Without physical feedback such programs are merely a gimmick