VR-centric Open World Design
Open world VR games are very challenging to make because filling a huge map with interesting things to do is extremely resource intensive for developers—not to mention that slowly walking long distances in VR is rarely that much fun. But feeling like you’re exploring a large environment is a key part of the open-world genre.
Stormland came up with a genius compromise which gives players the feeling of exploration without expecting them to walk for minutes at a time with nothing to do. The game achieves this by representing its points-of-interest as literal islands, and then spreading them far apart while giving players a fast and fun way to navigate between them. Throughout the game players are given upgrades that make their traversal experience even more fun, like the ability to create a ramp in the clouds to launch themselves onto an island.
Most VR games never move the player as fast as Stormland’s cloud gliding. Upon first seeing it you might understanbly assume there’s no way it would be comfortable. But it turns out to be very comfortable, and that’s thanks to a few clever tricks. First, let’s talk about vection.
Vection is the sense of motion implied by what’s in your visual field. Normally when we’re moving through the world we visually see things moving past us and this aligns with the rest of our body’s senses of motion. In VR, if you have lots of motion in your visual field but your body’s other senses think you are static, the conflict between those sensations can lead to dizziness.
That’s why VR games where you exclusively stand still tend to be perfectly comfortable, while games with lots of motion can be dizzying.
In order to maintain comfort, Stormland is careful to avoid excessive vection when using high-speed locomotion. It does this by minimizing the amount of fast moving imagery across your visual field.
The game’s fast movement is only accessible on the clouds; this means that only the lower part of your visual field is moving quickly, and even then, the flat, low contrast texture of the clouds reduces the sense of vection. On the other hand, having trees whizzing past the player’s head for too long would lead to significant vection and potentially dizziness.
Another key comfort trick is that the high-speed gliding is controlled not with the thumbstick, but with your arms. Stormland’s Lead Designer, Mike Daly, told me that this was a very intentional choice. Physically involving the player’s body in locomotion has been consistently demonstrated to be more comfortable than the same locomotion with less physical involvement. Both speed and direction while gliding are controlled by how far the player outstretches their arms and which direction they point them.
– – — – –
There’s plenty more great VR design to be found in Stormland, but that’s all for today—maybe we’ll revisit the game in the future. Thanks for reading! What did you think? Please leave us a comment with any feedback.
If you enjoyed this analysis, be sure to check out our behind-the-scenes interview with the developers of Stormland.