A couple of weeks ago, I introduced our new method for traveling through a virtual word: Curated Locomotion. I gave you reasons for what inspired us to build it; let’s take some time now to talk about the process we went through to arrive at the system we’re proud of today.
The key to Curated Locomotion is constraining (or curating) the choices the player can make as they jump through the world. If we know where the player will be, we can design the game so that they won’t (or won’t often) run into the physical limits of their play space. It goes in reverse too; because we can control where the player goes, we have more flexibility in building the world, knowing that the Curated Locomotion system will be there to guide them along.
When we began building out the system, our thoughts centered around the teleportation pad. We would strew — carefully, of course — these discs throughout the world, following the plot’s flow and at any points of interest. The user would point their hand controller at the pad and be warped there. Simple enough, right? We now know exactly where the user would be in the virtual world: on the pad. However, that’s not enough. We have no idea where the user would be in the physical world; they would be in whatever arbitrary place they were before teleportation, and we can’t generally predict that as we are designing the game. The pad on its own doesn’t help us maintain the user’s physical position. In fact, the pad is almost a strictly worse solution. We’ve constrained the user’s ability to interact with the world but gained very little in return.
With a small addition, however, we could extract some gain from these pads. The simplest way to tie the player’s physical position to their virtual one is to force the user to go to a particular spot as part of the teleportation process. A teleportation pad wouldn’t have just a virtual location; it’d have a physical one too. If we, for example, wanted the player to have all of their physical space ahead of them, we could locate the pad at the back of the play area.
Of course, there’s the matter of getting the player to that spot before we virtually teleport them to their destination. Thus marked the start of what we called “phase space.” When the user selects a destination, we teleport them first to a void. Only one thing occupies this void: the teleportation pad. It’s positioned such that, if the user were to be standing on it, they’d be in exactly the physical location at which we want them to be. The user then simply has to walk over to the pad and push a button; the system would then warp them back to their destination. We can now design our world knowing exactly where the player will be both physically and virtually, all thanks to the phase space.
The phase space, however, was a controversial idea. Play testers found it jarring to warp into a void. They found it jarring to warp out of a void. If our original intention was to increase immersion in the virtual world, yanking the player out of it every time they wanted to take more than a few steps was the wrong idea. Fortunately, we realized that we could simply forego the phase space. We could, in fact, just place the phase space’s teleportation pad near the player’s original location using the same computations. The user would select a destination pad, and a new pad would appear near them. Just as with the phase-space pad, they’d walk onto it and push a button, except this time there’s no void.
The loss of the void, though, introduces a couple of issues. The biggest is that the new pad (the one the user stands on before teleporting) could end up anywhere. It could end up under or inside of other objects. Or behind objects, obscured from the user’s view. Careful game design could mitigate that, but we couldn’t get rid of the pad appearing behind the user. That happened a lot, and our play testers didn’t like it. Sometimes they didn’t realize that the pad had appeared and thought the game had gotten stuck. All times, though, they found it frustrating. With the void, at least there were no distractions. Without the void, we turned our locomotion system into a Where’s Waldo mini-game. As we continued to test out Curated Locomotion, one thing became clear to us: teleportation pads just wouldn’t work. You can probably guess that we figured out a better way, but that will have to wait until yet another update. Stay tuned!