Case Study: VR Puzzler

Welcome to the Dungeon

This case study will be a retrospective on a prototype for a VR app built for the Google Cardboard as a part of my Udacity Nanodegree coursework. The prompt was to build a game called Puzzler which uses a simon-says like mechanic to challenge users in an immersive experience.

Creating a VR Game

Coming into this with a background in design, the most difficult part of this project was creating what was in my head from the technical side. The coding and performance optimization for mobile are the two biggest challenges I faced. But I found the use of a careful iterative approach to the design and development of this project has helped create the best experience in game and been a valuable way of learning the nuances of creating in VR.

Process

While completing my Udacity VR Developer Nanodegree coursework I designed, built, and tested a mobile VR game called Puzzler. The game has players enter a dungeon where they must solve a Simon Says-eque puzzle to exit the dungeon.

Persona

To give direction for who I would be designing for, the persona was created of a person with relatively high tech exposure that is curious about VR as a platform and sees games as a good entry point.

Sketches

The Puzzle was made up of three stages; intro scene, the structure the player will enter and solve the puzzle, the finishing sign.

I also used a sketching technique that allows for 360 video from Volodymyr Kurbatov post on Medium where he describes the process of using a warped grid template and the GoPro VR Player. Here is an example of one of those 360 sketches:

With the help of the grid system, it was fairly easy to sketch out ideas and get them quickly loaded into a 360 viewer. It is a bit crude but it is a quick, cheap, and mobile way to test in a more immersive setting. Using something like Tilt Brush is also an option but requires a more expensive headset, potentially more time to sketch, as well as not being on the go friendly.

User Testing

With the foundations of the app in place it was time to start building and getting validation along the way by putting people the experience!

User Test 1 — Environment

After setting up the basic environment I tested the ambience and scale with users. From the initial setup I gathered that most people felt the doorways were relatively close to a standard doorway by todays standards but the overall feel was a bit barren and not necessarily as gloomy as was intended.

I decided to keep the scale of the dungeon itself but moving forward I modified the lighting as well as adding elements to the environment outside the structure itself to create a sense of place.

User Test 2 — The UI

This test didn’t shed a ton of insight other than the general scale of the panel, button and type were legible for users. There was some confusion during the testing when the start and reset panels would switch locations upon clicking them, but this won’t be a problem moving forward as the location will be the same relative to camera location.

User Test 3 — VR Locomotion

Finally, I did a final test to see what people thought of the experience focusing on the locomotion and interaction with puzzle. A common response was that the movement speed was a bit slow and that the chosen orb colors should have a more varied hue.

The Final Product

A few changes were made before finishing up this project:

1 : Added a stronger contrast to the spheres, making the active orb more obvious to the user.
2 : Modified the sound between the puzzle playing and the user selecting the orb to solve the puzzle.

The puzzle starts with the player outside a dungeon with a sign welcoming the user and giving them a button to start the game. Once the button it pressed the user is moved into the dungeon with 5 orbs inside of it. The player is then shown a sequence, with the orbs changing color, and then they must use the reticle to click the orbs in that same sequence to exit the dungeon. If they fail, a sound is cued to signal a that they were incorrect and must try again. When the player enters the correct sequence, they are moved outside where they are met with a sign congratulating them for completing the puzzle with the option to restart the game.

Conclusion

The VR Puzzler game was a good challenge for me as a designer to build up my Unity development skills. I found it to be the most challenging part of the project, but also the most rewarding when I could have the app behave as I had hoped. Getting user feedback as I iterated was also a good learning experience since VR is a unique medium with new reactions and concerns coming from users than what my initial assumptions may have been.

Next Steps

If I were to continue developing this project I would like to do two things to the puzzle itself; add more levels of increasing difficulty and build easter eggs into the environment for a more interesting and engaging surrounding environment that gets the user to explore.

Another interesting direction to take it would be porting the game to Daydream and see how a user would interact with the space with the addition of a controller.


Tom has a home on the web at tommccormack.design and will occasionally retweet things related to VR/AR and design.