Virtual Reality 101

Multiplayer Gaming in VR

One of our best features is the ability for players to enjoy a multiplayer experience, like Trickster VR or Loco Dojo. However, it can be a little complex for players to understand how exactly this works, especially if they’re not used to playing console or PC multiplayer games at home. Here, we’ll answer a few of the most common questions about multiplayer VR gaming with us.

Setup

 The Vive's Deluxe Audio Strap is comfortable, easily adjustable, and has quality headphones built-in.

The Vive's Deluxe Audio Strap is comfortable, easily adjustable, and has quality headphones built-in.

The HTC Vive (with Deluxe Audio Strap attachment), which is the virtual reality system that we use, comes with a built-in microphone and easily adjustable headphones. This means that as soon as you are linked together in a multiplayer lobby, you will be able to hear each other and see each other’s in-game avatars. Of course, our staff are there to assist you with that multiplayer setup.

Most multiplayer games do run online, meaning that you could connect with a player anywhere else in the world. However, we specifically select only games that allow for private multiplayer lobbies, meaning that you won’t have a random person jump into your game unless you choose to open it up. We understand that if you’re out having a date night or a family outing, you might not want anyone external to the group to join in.

Co-op vs. Competitive Gaming

 BAAM Squad is our newest co-op multiplayer game: a 1-4 player zombie defense scenario.

BAAM Squad is our newest co-op multiplayer game: a 1-4 player zombie defense scenario.

When it comes to selecting a game, one of the best places to start is by deciding if you’d like to compete or cooperate against a common enemy. We maintain a list that includes both options, because this really is a personal preference. However, we tend to recommend the cooperative games to groups who are mixed between self-identified gamers and non-gamers. This helps to ensure that everyone has a chance to participate without getting frustrated, because everyone can work together as they learn the controls and adjust to VR at their own pace.

Game Choices

 These players are enjoying multiplayer gaming in Rec Room, which is for 2-6 players.

These players are enjoying multiplayer gaming in Rec Room, which is for 2-6 players.

In order to play multiplayer games with us, players do need to reserve at least 2 simultaneous stations. Only 1 person can use a station at any given time, though players are welcome to swap in and out of a station during their reserved time. Multiplayer games support different numbers of players: for example, Hell Dimension holds 1-2 players, while Loco Dojo is 1-4 players. Some games, like Protonwar, can hold more than 6 players. However, we note it as 1-6 players because we only have 6 stations in our venue, so you'll only be able to have 6 players from your group play at once.

On our games page, we break our list down by multiplayer and single player, so you’ll always be able to tell what your options are. We’re happy to make recommendations when you arrive, but many players like to decide ahead of time.

Game Selection, Part 2: Immersion

For part 1 of how we choose games, head here. This is a continued discussion of our game selection process.

Use the hardware

 The HTC Vive

The HTC Vive

Our 6 stations all use the HTC Vive. This hardware has the ability to be tracked with 6 degrees of freedom (6DOF). Without getting too technical, this means that you can move in the 3 dimensions (left-right, backwards-forwards, up-down) and that you can rotate around each of those directions. For a more thorough explanation of this, head here. In our space, we have 10’x10’ spaces set up that take advantage of the Vive’s room-scale capability. While the Vive can be used in a seated or standing mode if a player requires that, room-scale VR allows free movement within the designated space, and helps players forget where they are as they get fully immersed into the game.

 This "dog" greets many of our players in The Lab.

This "dog" greets many of our players in The Lab.

Essentially, the Vive allows for a lot of detail to be placed within a small space along all dimensions.  A game or experience that takes advantage of this capability will generally be more immersive than one that doesn’t. We want to get people fully engaged within their space, whether they’re playing fetch with a robot dog on a mountaintop or spinning around wildly to blast monsters.

 

Interactivity

 In Space Pirate Trainer, you use your guns to interact with the menu.

In Space Pirate Trainer, you use your guns to interact with the menu.

A game that provides a distinctly-VR experience, beyond that of PC and console gaming, will rank more highly for us. Something as simple as a welcome menu screen where you actually have to reach out and grab levers or push buttons to select options rather than “clicking” on them really makes a VR experience unique from the beginning.

Picture a cutscene in your average PC or console game. It may have tried to implement interactivity using a quick time event: something like “press A to take the sword” or “press X to dodge the punch” pops up on screen partway through the scene. In VR, that can be taken to the next level. We don’t want to see games that say “press trigger to take the scroll.” We want to actually reach out and take the scroll. Or, a game can combine the full use of space and tracking with this - dodge the incoming punch by literally ducking down to dodge it.

 A player casts this spell in The Wizards by thrusting their hands forward with the triggers held.

A player casts this spell in The Wizards by thrusting their hands forward with the triggers held.

Another great way to make a game interactive is to include the use of actual hand gestures to trigger certain events. The Wizards is our best example of this: to cast certain spells, it requires you to move your hands in a particular way in relation to each other, and it feels incredible the first time you find yourself holding a fireball or launching frost arrows just from moving your body and hands. This is a particularly powerful VR-specific mechanism.

Full immersion

 Having that plank under your feet makes you feel like you're actually there.

Having that plank under your feet makes you feel like you're actually there.

Small ties to reality really do make a huge difference in VR. Plank not Included is one of our most popular experiences because it is extremely immersive. When we put out that actual wooden plank, and you can both feel it under your toes and see it in-game supporting you over the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s very hard to convince your brain that you’re not actually there.

Or take a first-person shooter game. If a developer integrates a realistic ability to crouch behind cover to protect yourself from incoming fire, that’s going to make the game stronger. Or perhaps certain weapons have scopes that you can actually hold up to your eye to use, rather than hitting a button to zoom into scope view. These small touches really serve to increase the immersion of the game.

Finally, one thing that we find occasionally breaking immersion for players is an inability to match the in-game character to race and gender. Games may have users play characters that are genderless, like robots, or they may not show hands and arms in-game. However, if you look down from a first-person view in a game and see hands that don't match yours, this can cause a disconnect in the immersion. Games that offer even the slightest of customization options that are easy to modify are likely to allow greater immersion for a wider audience.

Part 3 of game selection: how we decide if games are arcade-ready.

Game Selection, Part 1: Access beyond reality

We often get questions on how we select our games. Of course, what makes a game great is highly subjective and debatable. However, as we choose games, we tend to evaluate certain key areas, which we’ll cover across a few posts starting with this one.

Game topics

 Rec Room uses a wrist watch to access all game settings and selections.

Rec Room uses a wrist watch to access all game settings and selections.

Many games fit into existing game genres and concepts, but modify details in a particular way that suits them for VR. For example, a game that would typically use a heads-up display or a menu on a PC/console version might switch to a wristwatch in VR. We generally aren’t going to offer a game that hasn’t received any modification to become VR-appropriate (which is the case for several racing games - a common request we get).  

 

A great VR game should provide access beyond reality in one of 3 ways, and we do our best to balance these so that everyone can find something they’re interested in.

 VR Furballs: Demolition is a ridiculous, fantastical concept that's a lot of fun.

VR Furballs: Demolition is a ridiculous, fantastical concept that's a lot of fun.

Fantasy

Perhaps the most obvious way to access something beyond reality is to actually become part of a fantasy world - something that otherwise requires imagination and storytelling. Want some classic fantasy, like casting magic spells? Something silly, like launching little furballs to destroy giant towers? How about horror, such as blasting away zombies and monstrous creatures? All of these things can be created and experienced with VR.

heli.jpg

Based on Reality

VR can transport you into a real experience that you are unlikely to have otherwise.  This could be used to build empathy, as in the “I Am A Man” experience that we’re featuring tomorrow night at Seeing is Believing: An Immersive Media Festival. It’s based on portions of the Civil Rights Movement. It can be used for humor: people love getting into Drunkn Bar Fight with us, but hopefully most of them aren’t going out for real bar fights afterwards. Maybe you can’t afford a helicopter tour over NYC, or you just aren’t physically built like a quarterback. With VR, you can step into any of these experiences or many others.

Social

rec room paintball.jpg

Finally, VR has the power to put you right next to someone that could be hundreds or thousands of miles away. Sure, online gaming has allowed you to play with distant friends for years, but in VR you can stand right next to them. Some games mimic real life, but allow you to do it with an avatar that can high five or make facial expressions at other players. For example, in parts of Rec Room, you can play paintball, dodgeball, or laser tag. Sure, you can go out and play those things in real life, but not with your friend who lives across the country. Some games are also adding spectator modes, where everyone gets a front row seat to watch the action from a great vantage point after they are “out.”

Part 2 covers immersion and interactivity in VR games and Part 3 discusses how we decide if a game is arcade-ready.

Will VR make me feel sick?

With any new technology, it’s easy to have concerns about the repercussions. Just to clarify: at Augmentality Labs, we’ve observed that it has been rare for customers to get motion sickness on our HTC Vive setups.

That being said, it can take people 5-10 minutes to get their “sea legs” as they get acclimated to a VR experience. We also tend to recommend different games with less motion while people who are prone to motion sickness get adjusted.

What is virtual reality sickness?

VR sickness is what happens when you’re exposed to a VR environment and it causes symptoms similar to motion sickness.

It’s different from motion sickness because real motion isn’t needed - it’s caused just by feeling like you’re moving in a simulator. VR sickness is also different than what’s been called simulator sickness, as simulator sickness is what pilots can get in flight simulators and can be more intense than just the disorienting feelings from VR.

The changing hardware

Things are significantly better now due to the HTC Vive and other high-end pieces of equipment.

There’s better optics, better tracking sensors, and more importantly - better response time/frame rates and resolution that help a majority of users. Framerate is typically tied to VR sickness so the better framerate a system can handle, the better off you’ll be.

The changing software

 Plank Not Included has no in-game locomotion and doesn't include visualization of any of the player's body, which prevents VR sickness. Yet it's still one of our most engaging experiences!

Plank Not Included has no in-game locomotion and doesn't include visualization of any of the player's body, which prevents VR sickness. Yet it's still one of our most engaging experiences!

Developers are also doing their part when it comes to minimizing VR sickness. The slower and more predictable the camera is, the less sick people will feel. And there have been a few good tricks generated along the way. Putting a user in a static environment, like putting them in a cabin or a capsule or a cockpit, helps people feel more stationary. Teleportation is also a locomotion concept that helps get rid of movement visualization which therefore helps people get rid of motion sickness.

Not creating a full visual of the body also helps with perception and disorientation - developers not visualizing or animating parts of the body that can’t be tracked helps reduce cognitive dissonance.

To read more, check out this overview by Oculus for some techniques that developers are using to minimize VR sickness, or this great post from ARVI Lab.

Give it a chance!

Virtual reality systems have come a long way since the 90’s and even in the past 2-3 years, advancements have been massive. And the more you experience VR, the less likely you are to experience VR sickness.

If you’re going to try VR for the first time, make sure you’re doing it with a very high-end system like an HTC Vive. This will help minimize the chances of you feeling VR sickness and overall guarantee a better experience.