At Codeate, not everything is all about games. Fundamentally, more than anything else, we want to advance the state-of-the-art in virtual reality, to bring to the vanguard new ways for users to interact with virtual worlds and elevate the level of immersion they feel when doing so. Our current project, The Torus Syndicate, could be simply described as a shoot-‘em-up game. However, we also like to think of it as a platform through which we can introduce novel ideas about VR and the experiences it makes possible. In a way, The Torus Syndicate started with a reflection on the difficulties in locomotion — that is, the system that makes it possible for a user to move through a large virtual world even when their physical play space is substantially smaller. That reflection turned into a conversation and, ultimately, a new locomotion system called Curated Locomotion, and I’d like to give you an introduction into how it works and what inspired its development.
Free-form teleportation is the most common locomotion scheme I’ve seen used by room-scale VR experiences. When the user wants to move to a point that’s outside of their play area (or when they are otherwise unwilling or unable to move physically), they indicate to the system where they want to go and, voilà, they’re there. Games vary in how the user indicates their desired destination and in how specifically they are moved there, but the key characteristic of this mechanism is that the user’s in nearly total control of where they can go in the game.
That total control, though, often presents a problem. In my early experience with room-scale VR, I often found myself constantly up against a physical wall. I’d walk towards something but run out of space before reaching my goal. Teleporting forward would work, but I’d run into the same problem if I wanted to continue going forward. This locomotion mechanic requires the player to maintain both their virtual and their physical location, centering and re-teleporting themselves periodically to ensure maximal room in all directions. That might be a simple thing to ask of users in a calm game. However, in a shooter like The Torus Syndicate, having to worry about one’s place in the physical world is frustrating when the virtual world is full of danger. There’s perhaps nothing more immersion-breaking than trying to dodge a virtual bullet only to slam into your painfully real bedroom door.
Before The Torus Syndicate was even a concept, we knew we wanted to address that frustration; we wanted our game to make the user’s motion through the world seamless. Unfortunately, free-form teleportation stymied us: if the user can go anywhere and do whatever, how could we even start to mold the world such that the user always finds his or herself in the right physical place? It seemed that the answer was some kind of constraint on the user’s movement. If we could somehow prescribe the path the user took as they progressed through the game — if we curate the places they could go — we could ensure an optimal mapping between the physical play space and the virtual world. That would prove to be a bit easier said than done, though. VR’s all about immersing the user, and artificial constraints easily jeopardize that immersion. We’ve spent the better part of our development time iterating over the mechanism, fine tuning every detail, until we arrived at what we think is a novel, seamless, and all-around awesome way to travel through a virtual world. The details of that process, of what we tried, and of what ultimately stuck will, however, have to wait until another update. Stay tuned!