Ryan’s VR Puzzler App

This article is meant as a demonstration of the developer’s competence & creativity using Unity & Android SDK to create a mobile VR game application for Cardboard. The app consists of: a start interface; a play room, where the user may solve a familiar puzzle; and, a restart interface that congratulates the user’s success & prompts another round of play. The article will also give the reader an idea of the relative ease of the process with which one can create from scratch & deploy a mobile VR app. Hopefully, the reader & user will be excited & inspired by the simplicity yet potential of mobile VR.

Contents

Unity skills employed in creating this app include graphic user interface design, motion mechanics, addition of audio for ambiance, sound/lighting feedback & the deployment to Android-based mobile. As a precursor to Unity workflow, the article demonstrates the developer’s low-fidelity sketching. And following the low-fi sketching & Unity work, user testing is likewise documented.

Puzzler

Below is an end-to-end walkthrough of the completed Puzzler app.

Click here to go to Puzzler Walkthrough video
The Play Screen

Process Section

Statement of Purpose: Puzzler is a mobile VR application to introduce “presence” to new VR users & educators which challenges them to solve a familiar type of puzzle in a new way.

Persona

attribution

Crystal, 35 — Librarian

“I want to find an exciting way to engage my teenagers so that they can learn and stay out of trouble during the afternoons.”

Crystal is a librarian at the local library. She’s seen many teenagers getting in trouble, lately, or simply loitering around the library with nothing to do. She’d like to have a way to engage teenagers with the emerging VR educational technology. But she’s not sure how to do that. She wants to test VR out first and become competent with it (even learn how to create content) before she recommends it to her teenagers. She’s very excited about VR for her after-school programs.

VR Experience: Only hands off and word-of-mouth recommendations — Crystal’s never put on a headset.

Sketches

Initial sketches include a very rudimentary interface in a simple yet very clear way to get the user immediately engaged in the puzzle game. Once the basic idea was in mind, the developer used color & style to enhance the potential design of the app interfaces & set the theme for the overall app.

Initial Low-fi Sketch
Iterated Low-fi Sketch

User Testing

User Test 1: Graphic User Interfaces

Initial GUIs

During the first test, the user was asked to a) identify the start/restart interfaces; b) comment on the scale of those GUIs; and, c) determine the use of each GUI.

The user was able to identify the purpose of each GUI. The user suggested that the start panel was about the right size, but might be a bit too close.

Based on user feedback, the developer backed off the camera a bit to allow the user a better, more comfortable vantage point.

Link to User Test 1 video

User Test 2: Motion Mechanics

Early Iteration of Play Room

During the second test, the user was a) cautioned about potential simulator motion sickness & what to do at possible onset; b) asked about the speed & feeling of the movement (“Do you feel sick, at all?”) from the start GUI through the puzzle room to the restart GUI; and, c) questioned on the feeling of user height changes through the motion mechanics.

The user responded that the speed felt correct & that no feeling of sim sickness occurred.

Based on user feedback, no changes to motion mechanics were made.

Link to User Test 2 video

User Test 3: Audio & End-to-end Game Play

Satisfied User of Puzzler

During the third & final test, the user was asked to walkthrough the Puzzler game end-to-end. While playing, the user was asked a) if sound was identifiable & how the volume was; b) how the sound made the user feel; c) what the user’s overall impression of the app was; d) about the distance placement of game objects (orbs); and, e) for any further comments or questions.

The user responded that opening sound was identifiable (“crickets”), at a good volume & that in-dungeon play sound gave the app a “spooky” ambiance, as well as, made the user feel “anxious.” The user also commented that, though there was no explanation at the play waypoint in the game room, the purpose of the game was discoverable quickly, easily mastered & would be a “fun little time-waster” (with several giggles).

Based on user feedback, very minor adjustments were made to movement speed, sound volume & lighting to tighten up the game for final draft.

Link to User Test 3 video

Breakdown of the Final Puzzler

Start

Start Interface

The opening interface gives the user the prompt to “Enter” the dungeon play room, if the user dares. This is meant to create a sense of apprehension & excite the user for what is to come in this VR experience. The user clicks on the “Enter” button & is “railed” into the dungeon play room.

Play

Play Waypoint

In the dungeon play room, there are five different colored orbs at differing distances & heights that give light & sound feedback if the user hovers their gaze over them. The five orbs give light & sound signals to the user in a random pattern that the user must match with clicks in order to win the game.

Success

Success & Restart Interface

When the user is able to click on the orbs in the correct order in which the orbs signaled, the user is moved forward to the success/restart interface & prompted to begin again with the “Once Again?” button.

Conclusion

The developer’s intuition & coaching (Udacity.com) on developing this simple game app served to produce an app that, after user testing, required only minor adjustments. While this app certainly does not show the scope & potential of VR, it can give new VR users a rudimentary idea of what is possible within Google Cardboard virtual worlds in regards to interfaces, motion mechanics, ambient & feedback sound, & overall VR presence. The reader may now have some idea of the developer’s skills at creating a VR game using Unity & Android’s deployment tools.

What’s next?

After user testing & ad nauseam (pun intended) review of the product, it is clear that the app could be beautified to increase aesthetic appeal. Foliage will be added surrounding the dungeon room to create a better sense of immersed presence. Also, the developer will take advantage of the assets available to dress up the interior of the game room. Custom sounds will also be added to differentiate the app from the undoubted hundreds of other very similar apps.

Link to additional work

The developer is also at work building a VR EdTech startup. Current offerings & future developments will be available at: www.VReedomVentures.com

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