VR Puzzler (Udacity VR Nanodegree project)

Introduction

As part of the “VR Design” subject in the Udacity VR Nanodegree program, students were asked to iterate through an entire design process from initial personas, sketching, user testing and final polish while creating a Google Cardboard mini-game called VR Puzzler.

VR Puzzler is a Google Cardboard VR game that challenges players to solve a pattern based puzzle similar to ‘Simon’.

This document will cover the design process we used to complete the project. See below for a screenshot of the puzzle room:

The Puzzle Dungeon!

Process

Statement of Purpose: To create a basic puzzle game in VR for Google
Cardboard with Unity. The game will require the player to memorize a
sequence and then repeat that sequence to complete the game.

Persona

“Jonah”

Name: Jonah
Age: Late 30’s
Occupation: Senior Consultant — Mobile
Quote: “Its all about cool new technology for me”
What motivates them: Finding new and innovative ways to solve common problems is what Jonah is all about. New technology like VR excites him but he has little experience with it.

Sketches

Sketches were created to plan out the layout of the game environment and to evaluate possible UI designs:

The external environment with isolated dungeon on a barren world
The puzzle room inside the dungeon

For readability, the UI used bold fonts and a comfortable reading distance from the camera.

The Start Game and End Game UI world canvas panels

User Testing

User Test: Scale and Interface

The first user test was to evaluate how the user felt about the scale of the scene. The main camera was situated in the middle of the dungeon and the user was asked to look around and tell me how big or small they felt in the virtual world compared to real life (in particular to look at the barrels and gate as a frame of reference).

The user said she felt a little big, so the scale of the dungeon and all associated objects was slightly increased.

The second user test was focused on the scale and readability of the UI elements. The user reported that the UI panels were too close to read and that she felt a bit uncomfortable. As a result, I moved the UI panels a few units back from where the camera would be located at each waypoint. Following this, the user reported that it was now much better and comfortable to read at this further distance.

User Test: Locomotion

The third user test evaluated if the user was comfortable with the speed used to move through the game scene. The game moves the user from the start location, into the puzzle room, and out of the room if the puzzle is completed. The user felt that the movement speed was fine and it did not give them simulator sickness. Since the main objective of acceptable motion received positive feedback, no further changes to the motion system were made at this time.

Breakdown of the Final Piece

The user begins the game standing outside an isolated dungeon in a barren world at night. A sign in front of the dungeon entrance instructs them to press the start button to begin the puzzle. Once the button is pressed, the player is moved into the puzzle room. Lighting and a change of audio cues sets the ominous mood of the dungeon. The orbs in front of the player begin to light up and play a sound one by one in a pattern that the player must repeat in order to exit the room. The player uses the gaze recticle to select each orb in the order they were presented previously. If the sequence is incorrect, a familiar ‘false’ audio cue is played and the puzzle restarts. If the sequence is correct, the player is moved outside and presented with a congratulations UI panel with the option to restart the game.

Walk-through of final VR Puzzler product

Conclusion

The Puzzler VR game is a good basic Google Cardboard demo for those new to VR. As a developer I have previously focused more on the programming side of VR development, so personally it was a good exercise in design by making iterative changes based on user feedback. I learned that user feedback was particularly important for VR products because different users have different reactions to aspects of VR experiences, such as scale and motion, that can actually make them physically uncomfortable. As VR developers we often become desensitized to simulator sickness as well as already knowing what to expect from most VR experiences in terms of visual cues and locomotion strategies. Getting a non VR developers feedback helps make our experiences more accessible and enjoyable for everyone.

Next Steps

This is a pretty basic demo so if I was going to expand it, adding multiples scenes with different challenges would be the first step. Gamifying the experience with time based scoring would be an obvious upgrade. Furthermore, I think porting this from Cardboard to Daydream (making use of the controller to point at the various puzzles) would improve the user experience enormously.

Link to Additional Work

More of my VR work can be found on my GitHub and I will be posting future projects here on Medium.