What we learned using room-scale as a design constraint

I read some posts and comments regarding locomotion in VR. Most games choose to use teleportation, which is really well used in some cases but can break the suspension of disbelief in others. It can also disorientate players since they can lose track of where they really are in the room, augmenting the risk for accident and injuries. Some games use trackpad locomotion to alleviate this issue, but it rarely feels comfortable, especially if the level design has ground elevation.

We thought: "well, why don’t we make a game that diegetically only takes place in the room allowed by the hardware and only use the user’s legs as a locomotion system?" So we made a game about being in a jail cell and it became a crafting and trading game in prison. The room scale became a core design element that contributed to determine numerous aspects of the game.

To ensure the game works in every room configuration (bigger than 2 square meters), we made adaptive walls that resize according to your room setup like this:

 The boundaries of the roomscale are used to set the jail cell dimensions.

The boundaries of the roomscale are used to set the jail cell dimensions.

What we found through playtests is that it feels very natural to be in a closed space and not having to use a movement input. As it is a crafting game where you sometimes end up with a good amount of materials, we added the possibility to customize your cell by placing furniture. It helps the gameplay, because you need room to hide your things and it gives you some ways to optimize your process, but it also helps with physical comfort.

We recently worked on porting the game to Oculus and we did not not encounter any major issues with the room-scale aspect except that the game needs the three sensors to feel like playing it with the Vive.

Focusing the design on the room-scale aspect also generated some unexpected, but very positive results. While we designed the game with a casual gameplay in mind, the use of room scale as a diegetic playground enhanced player comfort in their gaming space, allowing them to "try-hard" and sweat a lot. Players quickly appropriated the space and were less hesitant when moving inside VR since they knew that everything within reach is in their safe zone. What resulted of this a more intense play experience than what we thought would happen since the player can play the game at his own pace. While not being an action game, some players chose to play it as one. In the end, we ourselves play the game with a more relaxed approach but we saw that the use of room-scale as a sandbox area leave the player more control regarding the desired game experience.

Thanks for reading and comment if you have opinions on roomscale design!