Only Warm and Fuzzy Feelings for SuperHot VR

Written by Katja Rogers, Visiting PhD Student at the HCI Games Group.

Modern virtual reality is still going through growing pains. Its main issue is motion sickness. Often, it does not quite feel right when your put your head-mounted display (or VR headset) on. Your eyes see you moving around and now your brain wants to process locomotion but you are standing still in the real world. The motion sickness phenomenon is subjective — whether it occurs at all and how it presents itself seems to be based on many factors, some of them game-related, and others based on VR users’ personal characteristics, such as gender, or experience (whether they have their “VR legs” yet).

During my time as a visiting graduate student researcher with the HCI Games Group, I researched, examined, and tested different VR games and closely observed many of my fellow lab members and study participants play VR games that resulted in motion sickness symptoms of varying degrees. Based on my experiences this summer (of 2017), I’ve come to some conclusions about what things work or do not work for the implementation of VR games. Based on my observations, I want to present some arguments for why I believe the video game SuperHot VR is doing many things right in the space of VR game development.

SuperHot VR skillfully avoids many issues that are present in other contemporary VR games in 2017. Like a number of VR games, SuperHot was not originally designed for VR; rather, it was retroactively adapted to VR technology (for Oculus Rift at the end of 2016, then for the Vive earlier this year). In my opinion, the result is frankly one of the best VR games out there.

Our colleague Alex from the Games Institute plays SuperHot in VR. Thanks, Alex. :)

Level Design & Navigation

The levels are built in room-scale-sized units. This sounds simple, but many other games in VR involve forced camera movements, joystick-based camera movement, or user-controlled teleportation. The first two options are an easy way to increase motion sickness; the second less so, but involves greater challenges for the level designers of some genres. For example, we are currently designing a VR horror game — when users can teleport anywhere at any time, it complicates the design of jump scares.

SuperHot VR also only gives the player flat floors — there are no virtual stone piles to move over, another easy way to trigger motion sickness. Instead, SuperHot presents players with unique levels that consist of self-contained scenes. Each scene has to be solved by defeating all present enemies before the scene fades out, and the player fades in to a different scene in that same level.

Motion Control

Time in SuperHot VR only moves when the player moves (or shoots a gun). This is not only a great game mechanic, it also conveniently puts the player in full control over the world and the gameplay speed. Nothing happens unless the player explicitly wants it to.

Physicality

This is not necessarily a fast-paced game, but it can definitely make players sweat. I’ve ended multiple scenes sitting on the floor (but victoriously so!), and when avoiding bullets you feel like you’re in the Matrix movies. I’ve seen players end up lying down while playing, or hiding under a virtual desk in endless mode. I have some issues with motion sickness (mainly because fo first-person camera perspectives rather than VR in general), but I can easily play SuperHot VR for more than 30 minutes. (Any readers dubious about trying out VR because of a history of motion sickness issues — I highly recommend you give this one a try.) With the physicality involved it is a great game to both play yourself, and watch others play. You won’t get bored taking turns.

Overall, SuperHot is an exhilarating VR experience, and possibly the best one out there for players new to VR.


Katja Rogers visited the HCI Games Group in the summer of 2017 and is a PhD student at the University of Ulm in Germany. She is working with us on developing a VR horror game.