August 14, 2013 2:30 PM | John Polson
The Oculus Rift VR head set can not only change how people see games, it also can change how people interact with them, shares KO-OP Mode developer Saleem (Seemo) Dabbous. One of KO-OP's latest prototypes is an Oculus + MIDI mash-up called Please Don't, Spacedog! which plays like Warioware crossed with Spaceteam. "You're a space truck driving instructor teaching Spacedog how to pilot a truck. Spacedog is not a very attentive student, however, and often causes wormholes, engine failures, and other shenanigans that you have to fix in a panic," Seemo described.
KO-OP connected an Akai LPD8 to Unity, and then modelled the actual controller in the game so that players can see it with the Oculus on. "The fun and comedy comes in from the fact that you can't actually see your hands as you hurriedly try to twiddle knobs and press buttons in sequence," shared Seemo. Given the hardware requirements, the team is aiming for Please Don't, Spacedog! to be played in public settings at festivals/events.
Two of the things KO-OP is most excited about the Oculus are fixed point with only head movement and indirect character movement, which should help avoid the motion sickness traditional FPS controls could cause while wearing the Oculus. "[These have] interesting implications with relation to the player/avatar dichotomy that we're still trying to parse within the context of our games. Much like touch paved a new way of thinking (and punished those who used virtual controllers) I think the Oculus will reveal FPS controls as less interesting than the potential of new design and movement."
Seemo continued, "I think in terms of the player/avatar dichotomy, it's interesting to me to think about the player as a temporary visitor in another body, rather than feeling like they're fully in control. So since you're in the head of this character in Spacedog, and you can't actively control the body movement, there's a sense of separation from player intent and what the developer chooses to show you, and the developer has to be aware of this when designing the game.
"Another way to explain this is if you're in a first person game, and you try to lean forward, or raise your hand to touch something, the illusion of you being in the game is broken. This is both a testament to how immersive the Oculus can be, and its shortcomings of accounting for this embodied experience. In Spacedog, we're designing with that immersion breaker as a main element for comedic play."
Seemo said that one game that does a great job at solving this is the Spacewalk demo. "[It] gives you full control, but since you're in space and you're propelling yourself with jets, the movement is super slow and deliberate, and just really fantastic in making you forget you're wearing a VR headset. I remember Robert Yang tweeting about the fact that most first person games will have to be slowed down to account for the Oculus, and I think he's totally right."
Seemo is also interested in using real-world objects that don't plug-in as part of the experience. "For one of our prototypes I think having a chair that can swivel in 360 degrees is going to factor into this somehow. The reason for the swivel chair is currently most Oculus games we've tried let you turn the camera a full 360 degrees even if the body is facing forwards, causing another sense of disconnection from the fiction of the game. Since we know the display is strapped onto the players heads and no matter what they do they're always looking at it, what new interactions can we design with that in mind?"
It's this kind of thinking that leads him to believe the Oculus presents a new design paradigm, which he and his KO-OP brethren Bronson Zgeb, G.P. Lackey, and Ramsey Kharroubi want to explore.