Stupid Big Hands
Learnings from B-Reel’s foray into VR gaming
It all started with an idea for a simple VR mechanic —
“Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if you had stupid big hands you can’t control?”
The story developed quickly thereafter and got us really excited to turn it into a playable prototype. Everything fell into place around a central character, George, the clumsy giant trying to get by in a tiny world.
The playable prototype shown above was built in about a week using Unity. Here are some things we learned along the way in both technical skills and techniques for storytelling in VR.
Things we wanted to share
Connecting to the World
In early prototypes only George’s virtual giant arms were visible, which was fun, but adding the full body was a literal game-changer. Seeing feet grounds players in the world and helps a lot with the sense of scale when looking down.
Kicking cars (or roller skating on them) is something that everyone enjoys within moments of firing up the game and really pulls you into the world. It was tricky to get the view right, but it was time well spent to have that connection.
George’s hands are a crucial part of the physics-based gameplay — the player has to feel the weight and scale, while retaining skin and soft physics properties. To achieve the arm movements we modelled, rigged and animated the arm in Cinema 4D then used the rig to apply custom configurable joints to the elbows, wrists and fingers directly in Unity. Surgeon Simulator was definitely an inspiration but we needed even more chaos!
We made use of the Shatter Toolkit to create a city that can be accidentally-on-purpose smashed. This worked well as it allowed us to prototype quickly without needing to write a lot of custom code. Fortunately, it’s optimized for mobile too, although, something we will need to tweak in the future is removing some fragments so you don’t end up with huge amounts of objects in the scene.
Nobody Wants to Read in VR
We put some short text at the beginning and end of the prototype, but nobody reads it. Having to re-focus your vision close to camera, with the limited resolution of Cardboard, proved one barrier too many for almost everyone who played the prototype. If you can avoid text, do it.
Gaze control worked well but definitely puts some constraints on level design when compared to a mouse-driven game. As discussed by Philippe Dionne, forcing the player to turn too much is disorientating and feels unnatural. We found it best to keep the player on a path that didn’t require them to turn more than 90 degrees at a corner.
We aimed high — constructing a 3D textured city that can be rendered at 60fps stereoscopic on mobile was always going to be a challenge. In fact, we haven’t really gotten all the way there in the current prototype.
There are no big surprises here to anyone who’s worked on mobile games, but we definitely struggled to keep the number of draw calls down and our ‘everything is textured’ art direction was an approach we might adjust moving forward.
Where to Tell a Story
Our story isn’t deep but developing a character that was relatable and likeable was essential. In Stupid Big Hands we’ve tried to build this character through how he acts in-game, and most importantly, through his (your) voice as you cause chaos. This felt more natural than adding cut-scenes or a lot of setup.
Adding George’s voice completely changed the tone from crazed building-destroyer to clumsy friendly giant.
Smaller touches — like the way his hands close up and recoil when he hits something — also help to build George’s personality.
We had a few aims working on this, partly to see if the idea we had would make for a fun game, but also to learn about interacting in Cardboard. The input methods for Cardboard are a unique combination (gaze and a single, often confusing, button) and designing for them really informed the gameplay. We do think there’s plenty of opportunity to make fun games with these controls though, it’s definitely proven that you don’t need a huge amount of buttons to feel like you’re interacting deeply with a world.
As to Stupid Big Hands itself, we’d love to develop it further and take George on many more clumsy adventures!