I’ve spent the past few weeks talking about Curated Locomotion, our novel method for moving through a large virtual world. We’ve discussed its inspiration and its early days; now, it’s time to talk about what it actually is (or, rather, has become).
When we last left off, Curated Locomotion was stuck on the concept of the teleportation pad. At appropriate times, the player would see curated destinations, each one represented by a disc on the ground: the teleportation pad. In order to best use the player’s physical play area, we would also project another pad near them in the physical location we determined to be most optimal. After selecting the destination pad, the user would stand on the projected pad and complete the teleport. Unfortunately, the pads — especially the projected pad — confused users. We ultimately determined they had to go.
The pads served an important purpose that we couldn’t give up, though: they anchored the player’s position, both in the virtual world and in their play space. The key to removing them was realizing that, at a fundamental level, our real concern was all about that play space. What we were trying to achieve was to place the user’s play space most optimally in the virtual world. We didn’t need the pads so long we could tie the play area to specific virtual locations.
Our solution is similar to the way the pads worked, but sort of in reverse. Instead of projecting the destination pad into the player’s original space, we project the player’s play area into the destination. Each destination is represented by a translucent box showing what the bounds of the play space would be if the player teleported to it. In a way, these teleportation boxes are better than the pads in that players can easily see what they’ll be able to interact with should they choose a particular site.
In another way, though, these plain teleportation boxes miss something that the pads had: they don’t show precisely where the user will end up, which depends on where the player is physically standing. In the best case scenario, that’s disorienting to the user. In the worst case scenario, the user could accidentally teleport into a solid object. Consequently, the Curated Locomotion system projects an avatar into the box that mimics the player’s relative position.
To help guide the user, the avatar changes from its normal green color to red when it is obstructed and teleportation is blocked. Furthermore, the avatar shines through all objects so that, in the event that it is obscured, the player can tell which way to move to unblock it. The user is in control here; they can teleport from any open space in their play area to any unobstructed spot in the curated destinations. Ultimately, we were glad to give some of that control back to the player. While it’s true that losing the pads meant we lost fine-tuned command over the user’s starting position in each teleportation destination, we still are able to keep the user ideally situated in their physical play space in a fairly seamless fashion.
We can do better, though, than just fairly seamless. Instantaneous teleportation is definitionally not smooth; there’s a harsh seam when the player warps in the blink of an eye. We wanted the players to fully experience the world, not feel like they were just jumping through it. We were concerned that Curated Teleportation would only heighten that sensation because the destination sites are often far apart. Fortunately, we noticed that the community solved this problem for us with the “blur sprint.” When players select their target site, the game doesn’t move them there instantly. Instead, the player rapidly moves through the intervening space. We have to severely blur the display to prevent motion sickness, yes, but the players see enough to get a sense that they are traveling through the world and not skipping through it.
That immersion, from blur sprinting and especially from Curated Locomotion, is precisely what started us on this journey in the first place. The end result is a snappy, riveting game. We’re hard at work developing The Torus Syndicate, and we couldn’t be more excited to unveil it in the coming weeks. Stay tuned; it will be worth it!