Making A Multiplayer VR Game with One Headset

Amber Liu
Dartmouth CS98
Published in
6 min readJun 9, 2020

The year is 2087. Society is in shambles, dominated by corporate greed and the insatiable craving for innovation. You are an anonymous operative from an underground rebel organization. Your mission is to get in, find what you need, shut down the facility, and get out. Once you’re in, you and your computer-genius sidekick will uncover the dark secrets hiding behind this chrome-plated facade. Now, all your partner needs to do is to use the map to help you navigate past the guards and through the building undetected…

Adrenaline is pumping.

Your palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy.

Your senses are on high alert… Oh, and you’re standing in the comfort of your living room wearing a VR headset.

View in Operation Cooperative: staying out of sight of the guard

The great thing about virtual reality is that you can experience something without having any qualifications. You can be Alex Honnold and free solo climb, with all the views and none of the danger. You can be the next boxing champion, standing in a space smaller than an actual boxing ring, unbothered by concussions or physical pain.

However, despite the novelty of VR opening up a world of experiences and possibilities, wearing a headset can be isolating. You can only interact with other people in headsets; thus, more often than not, the VR journey is one that you experience alone.

For our capstone Computer Science project, our team came together wanting to create a new kind of VR game: a two-player game (inspired by Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes) using different media for each player. We wanted players to feel like Lucius Fox and Batman in “The Dark Knight,” with the former guiding the latter through difficult scenarios. Success had to hinge on the mutual trust and communication between both partners. From this game-making primordial ooze, Operation Cooperative was born.

Game Design and Development

Designing and developing Operation Cooperative from scratch, we started from the ideation stage and created prototypes from card and paper, play-testing long before programming aspects of the game. We also used Agile tactics to user test and iterate on different features and mechanisms of our game.

Crafts for physical playtesting
Play-testing guard “alertness” mechanism

The core mechanic of Operation Cooperative is evading guards. The guards become more difficult to evade due to a variety of conditions. For example, getting too close to one could make a guard suspicious, causing the guard to go out of their way to look for you. We initially play-tested this with sewing buttons on a handmade paper map. You can read a summary of our findings here, but the biggest takeaways were understanding the “awareness” levels that correspond to guard movement and the importance of having a “good map.”

Evading guards — alertness meter spikes if the guards see you.

We also decided to incorporate mini-games into Operation Cooperative for the VR and mobile player to solve together. The goal of these mini-games were to facilitate communication and to make the overall game more “fun.” We hid these mini-games in different places in the facility, and tested making them mandatory or just helpful for completing the mission. Eventually, we decided on making them mandatory — we wanted to up the stakes in order to create a sense of motivated frustration and excitement that would prompt the player to want to play again. We decided that if a player wanted to play our game again after losing (or winning), then that would be considered a successful metric for measuring “fun.”

About the Mini-games

We implemented two mini-games. These mini-games were designed with two parameters in mind: (A) the games take advantage of the 3D space of VR, and (B) the games uniquely involve a disconnect in information, encouraging high levels of interaction and communication between the two players. The mini-games are also relatively straightforward so that the players can intuitively problem-solve what they are expected to accomplish.

Mastermind Mini-game on the VR player side

We created a two-sided Mastermind mini-game (also known as Bulls and Cows), where each player gets the results for the other player’s guesses.

We also created a 3D maze mini-game where the VR player can see the entire maze (which is on the six faces of a cube), and the mobile player navigates from a first person POV to “hack” into a safe. This mini-game is a role reversal of the main gameplay relationship: for most of the main game, the mobile player guides the VR player through the facility, but in this instance, the VR player is guiding the mobile player through the maze.

Maze Mini-game: VR player side
Maze Mini-game: Mobile player side

Wrapping It Up

Operation Cooperative served primarily as a proof of concept of the game idea and was a teaching tool for our team to experience the whole game design and development process from start to finish.

We chose to create our game using Unity, and run it on the Oculus Quest. Fortunately, with the support of the CS department, our professor for our capstone project was able to provide each of us with a headset for development purposes, even once it became clear that the latter half of the project would be done entirely remotely. The mobile side of Operation Cooperative runs on both Android and iOS, and we used Photon for multiplayer networking. It seems that the field of VR is still young, constantly being updated, often lacking documentation (*cough* Photon *cough*), and still needing a vast amount of attention towards research (we ended up doing some of our own research, as well, for mechanisms such as navigation).

After delving deep into the game design and development process, we’ve learned a couple of things…

Here’s a few of our takeaways:

  • Start off with knowing what’s most important to the team. It will make discussions on individual features much shorter in the long run.
  • A game has a lot of moving parts, so plan smart and start integrating early.
  • User testing a VR game during a global pandemic while adhering to social distancing is hard… (limited to people who already own headsets)
  • The novelty of VR helps a lot in making something fun — don’t discount it.
Game Over: getting caught by the guards (pretty terrifying)

Virtual reality does not have to be isolating. In fact, especially during these times of quarantine, Operation Cooperative makes it possible to share adrenaline and virtual experiences. As long as one person has a headset, anyone with a phone can play along as the partner. Having created a collaborative VR game, we’re excited to see more multiplayer games get developed as VR becomes more ubiquitous and (hopefully) more accessible.

Big thank you to our professor, Tim Tregubov, and to CS98 and the TAs for constant feedback and support!

The code for our project can be found here:

Main: https://github.com/dartmouth-cs98/op-co-op

VR: https://github.com/dartmouth-cs98/op-co-op-VR

Mobile: https://github.com/dartmouth-cs98/op-co-op-mobile

If you want to try out Operation Cooperative, find a buddy and check out our code. If you have any comments or feedback, let us know in the comments below or email operationcooperative@gmail.com. Thanks!

Here’s a full demo of our game.

About The Team:

Zeke Baker: Creator, Lead Game Developer, Game Design Team, Story Team, UX Researcher

Sedat Ceyhan: Senior Game Developer

Amber E. Liu: Product Manager, Developer, Designer

Kala Goyal: Lead Game Designer, Onboarding Lead, Audio and Lighting, Story Team, UX Researcher

Lauren Gray: Story Producer, Designer, UX Researcher

John Brady: Lead AI Developer

Zoooooom
Virtual term sprint planning vibes

Don’t forget to leave us your 👏!

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