Discovering Locomotion

Khronos II concept art | Image courtesy Ready At Dawn

The thorny subject of locomotion in VR experiences crops up with every major release. On the Road to VR team there are people who have cast-iron VR legs and people who can’t handle more intense sessions. Both groups seem to have weathered Lone Echo without much discomfort or complaint, which is interesting for a movement scheme which, not more than a year ago in VR’s rapidly developing timeline, would have inspired thoughts of instant nausea. Whilst the game defaults to a more comfortable setting, there are options to allow full freedom of movement and rotation for people that want a no compromise experience.

Was the Lone Echo movement system and its defaults a reaction to community feedback, we wondered, or perhaps a reflection of lessons learned from other experiences such as Adr1ft (2016)? Weerasuriya doesn’t hesitate to answer. “We went our own way from day one. That locomotion system was what started the project in 2015, so we hadn’t seen anything in VR yet and we didn’t know what would work and what wouldn’t.”

From my conversation with Weerasuriya, it seems that Ready At Dawn are taking the long view.

“I remember people being nauseous just playing a 3D game for the first time on a TV. But now, 20 years later, we don’t even think twice. So for us, we saw Adr1ft come out, but we didn’t try that locomotion. I don’t want to say that we knew better than them, but just theoretically we already knew that was gonna be a problem. We’d thought about the different kinds of movement model. What we found out was that there was potentially a future for that, but we need years of people being comfortable in VR to get there. So as a first step, we decided that we would [do it differently].”

Space suit concepts | Image courtesy Ready At Dawn

This isn’t to say that they avoided complete freedom of movement, in fact, Lone Echo has the player covering lots of ground space, with the ability to move very fast.

“We did it in a way where we’ve added more extreme options, but they still feel comfortable to people. Surprisingly so. Even the last few days showing at the event in San Francisco, we had some people saying ‘I’m not very comfortable in VR’ and these same people jumped into their first game of [Lone Echo’s multiplayer spinoff] and were immediately moving around at speeds they couldn’t imagine. If I had told them how fast they were going they’d be like ‘are you kidding me?!’ but they were comfortable. Even after the headset came off, there was no moment of feeling nauseous.” A conclusion echoed by us here at Road to VR.

“I think the movement model helps the brain lie to itself. Because of the fact that we emulate the distance from the hand to the eye, we do things that people expect and that the brain expects to work correctly. I put my hand out, I pull, and my body moves in that direction.” A feat matched by Crytek’s The Climb with equal success albeit in more relatable surroundings. “Although in reality I don’t [move], my brain tells me that’s exactly what should happen. The velocity of pushing off of something feels right. As soon as the brain can lie to itself almost, I feel right. Your brain’s lying to your inner ear, that’s how we look at it.”

That the game largely succeeds in making 3D spaces in zero-G navigable—and more than that, fun to navigate—is no easy feat; locomotion that’s comfortable, immersive, and still offers such freedom is a big step forward for VR.

The Future of VR and Echo Arena

Echo Arena concept art | Image courtesy Ready At Dawn

With Lone Echo and Echo Arena (the game’s multiplayer spinoff) completed and launched, thoughts inevitably turn to the future and what directions technology might take. Weerasuriya warms instantly to the subject.

“It would be awesome to get more sensory feeling in your fingers. Fingers have an unbelievable way of detecting anything. The cold, the hot, a breeze blowing by. Things with a different kind of texture, whether it’s a hard surface or soft. Imagine that if you’re in our game and walking around and you touch metal and it’s a little colder than if you put your hand on Liv’s shoulder. Wow! That actually feels like a human being. Those things are things that we take for granted in the real world. How amazing would it be if you got that much sensory input coming from [a VR controller like Touch], and your brain is completely fooled into thinking these things are real. That would be awesome. I wanna get there.”

A nice, easy target to set for the guys and gals building the next generation VR platforms then! For Weerasuriya, however, the future is only indirectly to be decided by developers. It’s the players first and foremost who will steer the industry’s direction.

“They are the people who will define what VR is going to be. For us that came when people started playing Toybox. People playing in a social environment, passing each other toys and all that. And that came not even one year through the project.”

Anyone that has played in a social VR space couldn’t help but agree. From Toybox to Rec Room to Pool Nation to Racket: Nx, there are examples of feeling an uncanny closeness to a person often represented in extremely abstract visual forms. With impressive levels of virtual embodiment and some great looking IK, Echo Arena manages the same.

“That’s what started Echo Arena,” Weerasuriya said. “It came out of a full five day game jam that we had at work that basically ended up spawning a different path to the game, and building Echo Arena and Lone Echo at the same time with a split team.”

Now that both paths have been travelled, and the games are out in the wild, how does it feel?

“The true measure of VR for me personally has been since we started the beta. I sat in the lobbies of the beta, just watching people and their interactions. The amazing thing that actually happened is that you realise that VR is about community. It’s unbelievable to see a community of people that are now emoting as avatars… avatars, but closer to who they really are,” said Weerasuriya. “We saw people helping each other in the community. Right now we’re building experiences, but the best thing is what the community is going to communicate back to developers what they think should happen with VR. And that’s the cool thing about just being in the second year of VR, I’m looking forward to a few years time with more games out, more experiences out. New things that we haven’t even thought of right now.”

Continued on Page 4: Playing a Cybernetic AI »

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  • CURTROCK

    A great read and a treat to get a peek inside what is arguably the best VR experience, so far.

  • Wednaud Ronelus

    This is an excellent article! It’s so well written and so touching. I am looking forward to try this experience and share my thoughts and ideas with you guys via this platform.

    W.J.R

  • Even if I spend the most time in the Vive, while owning both headsets, the sheer scale of this and the evident pedigree of the team, makes me want to absolutely not miss this. I need to either fix up my Rift machine/ space or I guess install Revive :P Hmm…

  • ShiftyInc

    Great article. This game made me feel excited again for the future of VR. Not sure if it’s because we have seen so many bog standard vr games lately that this was so good. Or this game is just that epic. Either way a must have for all VR owners.

  • YmpulsiV

    Great article. Like the fact that the team, unphased by the hurdles of the new VR medium, worked it all out. Kudos!!
    The result… I’ve already logged so many hours “inside” Lone Echo’s environment and I’ve only had it a few days. The game has a lot to offer and there’s also a lot to take in.
    I’ve experienced only a few minor glitches when playing where the game froze. I just re-started.

    • Lucidfeuer

      Where is it possible to try the experience?

  • Ninjai71

    It is an great idea to let the player be an AI. But some little things, I would like to have in Lone Echo too: if you wake up the first time as an AI, this should look and feel more like the grandios awakening scene from the good old Robocop 1 movie. Later on the vision could be also a little more robatic, if know what I mean. Just a very little point so.

  • Lucidfeuer

    I hope there is no tutorials.

    • Ninjai71

      There is a tutorial, but short and not annoyingly. In fact it’s very good integrated in the game.

      • Lucidfeuer

        It was more a way of saying that I hope it works so naturally well that you don’t need a tutorial. I will to try it out.

        • Ninjai71

          Controlling the game is very easy and immersive. Reviews say it’s a masterpiece. I’m very looking forward to play it finally :D

  • beestee

    I just finished playing this game.

    It is the best VR experience I have tried to date, even toppling my previous favorite Robo Recall.

  • Ninjai71

    I finished it too and I am amazed. For me it’s the best vr game ever, too. This should be a blueprint for other VR-Game Developers ;)

  • benz145

    *MASTER THREAD:*

    Key finders, AFTER you claim your key, please comment the key that you found as a reply to this comment. I will compile them here so that other readers don’t waste their time trying to redeem keys that have already been found. There are five keys total.

    • Benoit Djerigian

      Key Found: F933H-GMPNX-QFXEK-9NM37-FGMF4
      Thanks a lot for the update!

      • Newbee

        XKC9C-3MHXX-AEQK3-MF9H4-9TTGW
        Thanks!

    • Oak

      Thanks a lot for the key ! Found Olivia’s one :
      NP94X-XRT63-TEYQC-76TAE-7KPK6

    • Keimator

      Found Key: TNMKK-MRW3F-4XQMH-4R6GM-W4TKX
      Thank you, I’m excited to play it!

    • Leeloyd

      Found a KEY there : 497QR-NERNP-J4GY7-YKXRC-F4693