Udacity VR Developer: Magic Puzzler Dungeon

Introduction

I’ve been taking the Udacity VR Developer Nanodegree program since it came out and am glad to say that I’m nearing the end of the course. The subject of the fourth chapter in the course is design, emphasizing an iterative approach based on user testing and feedback. The video below gives a short overview of the game I designed for this section of the class, using the Unity game engine and Google VR SDK:

Game Description

Magic Puzzler Dungeon begins with the player facing a User Interface inviting them to play the game. Upon clicking ‘Start’ the player is taken into the dungeon, a purported place of power and intrigue. Floating in the middle of the dungeon is a triangular arrangement of five violet spheres. These spheres light up and chime in a sequential order. The puzzle is solved when the player points their cursor at the appropriate spheres in the order they lit up. When the puzzle is solved, the player moves through the opposing dungeon door. Once outside they are met with another User Interface congratulating them for successfully solving the puzzle and offering them another try with a button labeled ‘Restart’.

Process

Statement of Purpose:

Magic Puzzler Dungeon is a simple game for novice virtual reality users, giving them a sense of wonder in a magical environment and providing a small challenge through gameplay.

Persona of Player:

Steel-Eye Willie-Jakeem (Bung Dilly)

Age: 24

Occupation: Special Education Counselor/Aspiring Rock Star

Name: Zaine Jakeem

Quote: “Whoa man this is crazy. The possibilities are endless.”

Motivations: Zaine seeks to uncover the secrets that lie just beneath the surface of our meat-space reality, engaging with them through a self-constructed system of multi-semiotic glyphs with his partner Candra. He communes with machine elves, skates, and chops. By way of these rhythms that give him meaning, he looks to the future with the intention of meeting it with creative style and a compassionate ear.

Experience level with VR: Tried a couple very simple apps

Sketches:

Several sketches as I began to think about the gameplay

User Testing

User Test 1 (Alexis):

Jacob: Can you tell me how big you think you are in this virtual environment?

Alexis: I feel shorter than I actually am. Almost like I’m sitting with my knees to my chest, kind of curled up in the center of the room. The room itself feels a bit smaller than average, almost like a small garage or shed.

Jacob: What would you say the mood or atmosphere is in the room?

Alexis: The room feels imprisoning. Based on the structures and lighting in the room, there is a ‘Medieval’ atmosphere; older and aged, like ruins. But it also feels sort of modernized, although the building itself seems quite old.

Jacob: Is there anything you’d like to see but can’t? Is anything obstructed from view or too ‘fuzzy’ to see?

Alexis: I’d like to see more of the outside. Is there an ocean? I feel like I can see an ocean far off, but the dungeon is blocking my view. Otherwise I feel like I can see pretty clearly.

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Alexis liked the atmosphere of the experience, both inside of the dungeon and out. She thought the mountain and Sun gave a twilight ambiance, which was nice. However she thought the camera was too low, making her feel shorter than she actually was. The inside of the dungeon also felt a bit too dark.

In response to Alexis’s observations, I raised the camera and applied lighting to the room that would give it a lighter mood. I wasn’t really trying to make the dungeon feel medieval, but was trying to give it a mystical vibe. The dungeon was also scaled up to give it a larger feel, because I didn’t want it to feel like a shed.

User Test 2 (Jorge):

Jacob: Can you tell me how big you think you are in this virtual environment?

Jorge: I feel about human scale. And the room feels like a comfortable size, relative to my eyesight. I do feel like I was too close to the sign asking me to start and restart the game, though.

Jacob: What would you say the mood or atmosphere is in the room?

Jorge: The room feels somber and dark. There seems to be a beach outside, but the room is dark.

Jacob: Is there anything you’d like to see but can’t? Is anything obstructed from view or too ‘fuzzy’ to see?

Jorge: The horizon I see outside of the dungeon implies that there isn’t much to see, besides the mountain. I feel like I can make out some sort of landmark beside the mountain, but it isn’t clear so I’m not sure if there’s anything there. It would be nice to see some of myself, like my body or feet.

Jorge thought the environment gave a positive yet mysterious vibe, but agreed with Alexis that the lighting was too dark. He thought that more space between the player and the user interface would make the space feel a bit more comfortable.

In response, I turned up the violet lighting I had added after the post User Test 1 adjustments and turned up the orange lighting surrounding the torches in the dungeon.

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User Test 3 (Danielle):

Jacob: Can you tell me how big you think you are in this virtual environment?

Danielle: I feel like I’m a relatively normal size. Maybe slightly shorter than I feel in real-life, but not that much smaller.

Jacob: What would you say the mood or atmosphere is in the room?

Danielle: It’s pleasant. I feel very calm in this room, like it’s a temple or meditation room. The violet and orange lighting is nice as well.

Jacob: Is there anything you’d like to see but can’t? Is anything obstructed from view or too ‘fuzzy’ to see?

Danielle: I feel like I can see everything pretty clearly, but would like to explore outside of the dungeon a bit more. I like the sun and the mountain in the background, that’s a nice touch.

Danielle thought the environment was calming and peaceful. She particularly enjoyed the updated lighting to the interior of the dungeon (violet with subtle tangerine shades). While the game wasn’t intuitive at first, once she understood the premise she was able to play it with ease.

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Screenshots

In-Game Play

Conclusion

I’m proud of the way the game turned out, although I know there are things I can do to immediately improve it. Among those things: texture the environment further, add a description of the game and its rules prior to play, and perhaps add a small animation when the player succeeds. Expanding on these things won’t be too difficult considering I’ve learned the basics of all these techniques in other parts of the course.

Getting user feedback throughout the development process was also fun and helpful. You can’t always predict what people are going to like and what will bother them, so user testing is always the optimal way to test your hypotheses. Plus, having someone try an in-progress game is a great way to spur new ideas.

And finally, performing this documentation has been helpful as well. I’m sure it will seem elementary when I look back on it, but this is the best way I can give people insight into the kinds of creative projects I’m up to on my free time.