VR user experience: How Rez Infinite creates immersive locomotion

rez source - gamespot
Source: Gamespot

The most interesting part of Rez Infinite, a modern port of the classic Dreamcast rail shooter, is Area X, a built-for VR reinterpretation that removes the guard rails.

You help your free-floating, free-roaming avatar, who goes where you look as slow or fast as you want to go, zap psychedelic robots and turn them into pulsating sounds and melodies. Some might even say that you’ll see sounds and hear colors, without having to strap into a full-body synesthesia suit.

As you explore and observe the colorful abstract designs appearing and floating around you, you’ll notice that this weird, charming world is reacting to you. Maybe it starts to feel familiar, and perhaps you get used to quirky robots following your avatar around. If you felt like a stranger in this weird, wonderful place, maybe you’ll start to feel like you belong.


Why Area X is immersive

In most VR experiences, you move your head to look and press a button on your controller to move. Camera control and locomotion typically solve unique user experience needs. Camera control helps you see the environment, and locomotion helps you move around in it.

In Area X, they’re fused together into one concept: Your avatar always floats and moves toward where you’re looking. It sounds simple, but it’s revolutionary. In VR today, most forms of locomotion cause motion sickness. That’s why we’re stuck with strange, unsatisfying locomotion paradigms like teleportation, which is safe and nausea friendly, but feels stilted, hurts immersion, and limits gameplay potential.

Area X’s “look where you’re going” locomotion technique is revolutionary. By combining camera control with movement, you can seamlessly explore immersive open worlds at length without feeling motion sickness. You get to enjoy the journey without worrying about how you’re getting there.


You can also press a button and experience the immersion of speed. When you accelerate, Area X activates tunneling, a user experience technique that typically temporarily crops your screen, almost like you’re watching from a TV screen. This grounds the user, prevents motion sickness, and creates a thrilling experience. Area X performs a version of this:


Exploring with friends

What if you could fly and experience new worlds with friends in social VR apps like AltspaceSansar, or Facebook Spaces? It’s impossible to walk alongside friends in VR without feeling motion sick. If you flew seamlessly with friends instead, social interactions would feel realer. Imagine sitting alongside a good friend in real life with a portable Oculus Go headset on flying exploring a new world together.

Area X combines camera control with movement and creates a new user experience technique that makes it easy to explore immersive open worlds without inducing motion sickness. The sooner that we can apply this user experience technique to experiences like social VR apps, the more immersive and intimate those experiences can become. Until then, over and out.


Getting started understanding virtual reality user experience

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, let’s say you google virtual reality user experience. You’d get results like these: Not one but two sets of core principles that don’t quite agree with each other, an article that doesn’t tell you what’s right but tells you what’s wrong with user experience, guides that describe storytelling really well but are not the ones you’re looking for, and a few “behind the VR goggles” technical guides.

What may happen next is that you feel disappointed. Things spiral out of control, like this: Google’s poor results flood your hippocampus with cortisol. Your dopamine-seeking instincts make you check Twitter, remembering too late the drudge of negativity and Russian bots that it’s become. Cortisol strikes again. You spiral into despair and find yourself splayed on the couch, curled up in horror staring at an XFINITY ad landing page. You must have clicked on a banner ad from a Yahoo | Popsugar page in a daze.

If you’re trying to use Google to figure out what virtual reality user experience (VR UX) really is, chances are you might get so disoriented that you end up looking for Ryan Gosling on Popsugar, and end up in a lonely place: A Comcast ad landing page selling you essentially the same thing at more and more expensive prices. Lesson learned: Google’s not the best place to start with researching VR UX.

Instead, check out these links

Google’s Daydream Elements and Oculus have their principles on paper. If you want to get started learning about virtual reality user experience, just click those links and start exploring.

Google’s Daydream Elements provides an overview of the core principles that deepen immersion: Object interaction gives users a feeling of agency, rendering and lighting creates atmosphere, and good locomotion means good navigation. Oculus’ research is cutting-edge and quite technical. It’s really big on locomotion.

If you understand locomotion, and you will truly begin to understand immersion. When people put that VR headset on, it has to convince them that they have been transported to new worlds.

We’re going to examine locomotion today through Aircar, which nails the fundamentals of locomotion for seated VR experiences. We’ll also analyze how Aircar’s cockpit, defined by Oculus VR UX principles as the foreground, accentuates the living, breathing world outside and allows for comfortable locomotion. And finally we will explore how Aircar pushes conventional VR UX principles to its bounds by using discomfort from acceleration to increase immersion, the holy grail of a seated VR UX experience.

A believable foreground leads to comfortable locomotion

When you load up Aircar, you’re looking out from the cockpit of your flying car at a living breathing city. A cockpit, or the foreground, has to be believable to be immersive, and Aircar’s is very real. You feel like you could touch the knobs and dials in front of you if you reach out. You hear the rain splattering and see the raindrops trickling down your windshield. You can turn the music on and off with the press of a button.

The environment outside also reinforces the believability of your cockpit. The raindrops shift when you steer your vehicle. You hear the atmosphere outside. The outside world is changing, and your cockpit is a totem: a stable, safe space that grounds you. When you steer and accelerate your vehicle, instead of feeling motion sick from twists and turns, you’re instead immersed by the living, breathing neon-lit city outside. The world flies by you as explore the streets, perch on top of buildings, stay suspended in the air checking out the city from up high, and do so much more.

Aircar also pairs its stable foreground with a stable horizon – the line that separates the ocean and the sky – creating extra stability and eliminating motion sickness. There’s no mismatch between what your eyes see and what your brain senses: They agree that the environment outside is moving relative to your cockpit. This reinforces to your brain you’re not actually moving in real life either, which prevents motion sickness.

Acceleration intensifies immersion

Acceleration in VR apps can only increase immersion successfully if, at most, it only leads to a little bit of motion sickness. However, Aircar bucks this principle: Aircar creates discomfort during acceleration, but it’s not motion sickness. It’s a sort of minor discomfort that actually enhances immersion.

When you accelerate forward in Aircar, it mimics the free-fall, addictive feeling of plummeting down a roller coaster. When you accelerate, your body does not feel the velocity itself, which would lead to genuine motion sickness, but only feels the change in velocity, defined as acceleration. In exchange for some discomfort, you get increased immersion without motion sickness. What’s interesting is that you get this feeling even when accelerating forward. And if you aim your car down and accelerate, naturally you would feel this effect even more.

In VR, if an app can mimic the sinking feeling of a roller coaster drop during acceleration, discomfort increases immersion. It almost sounds too simple, right? Speeding up in VR should only feel like speeding up with no strings attached. But it’s really hard to get right executionally and Aircar nails it.

When you’re starting off researching VR UX, start by reading Daydream Elements and Oculus. They’re great places to start for learning about the building blocks of immersion, such as locomotion. Do this, and instead of ending up on a Comcast ad landing page like I did on my first foray, you’ll begin to understand what truly makes a great virtual reality user experience.

Two virtual reality apps you should try

The experience of being immersed in virtual reality can feel quite wonderful. And it’s something that can be accessible in your own home. Some apps do it well on rails, and others do it well with a great open world experience. How VR gets you to that sense of immersion and delight doesn’t matter. What matters is that it gets you there.

If you’re going to put on an uncomfortable, front-heavy VR headset on your face, alone in your room on a Saturday afternoon instead of going out to see friends, VR really needs to be worth your time. Nothing will ever replace how happy I felt as a kid when I first played Super Mario Bros. 3, but if VR can convince me that I’m somewhere new, perhaps it can for you too.

Two apps immerse and delight well: Coco VR, where you roam around a Pixar-created world in a theme park like experience and Aircar, an open world experience that lets you drive a flying car similar to Deckard’s Spinner vehicle from Blade Runner. Think Grand Theft Auto without the guns.

You feel like you’re visiting unique, enormous new worlds with Coco VR and Aircar. Both have entrancing environments. Coco immerses with its pastel skylines and almost steampunk-like backgrounds. Aircar makes you feel like you’re driving around in Blade Runner’s neon-lit dystopian Los Angeles. Both immerse with great music and sound.

Sometimes-clunky VR technology also won’t get in your way. Both apps have interfaces that work seamlessly. You can figure out how to move around and interact with objects in a few quick minutes. Coco gives you a quick, guided tutorial and Aircar just shows you the controls up front. When you’ve figured out how to move around and fiddle with the controls, you’re free to just enjoy the experience.

If you’re like me and really enjoy being engrossed in new worlds, Coco VR and Aircar could be very good introductory apps for you. Perhaps you’ll be able access that sense of childlike delight and wonder too.