Building a true free roaming VR experience

Staff Writer By: Elaine Tan, Unity Blog


Building a true free roaming VR experience | Unity, VR, Zero Latency

You move carefully, scanning each window for signs of activity as you make your way through the abandoned city. There's a sudden movement in the doorway ahead. You quickly level your rifle to cover it, mindful of the ammo counter flashing low as you move closer to it, your objective just past it. With a deep breath, you make your move.

This is the dream of many players-- to explore their virtual surroundings; however, developers are facing issues when creating these worlds, from physical limitations of their play area to the feel of the controllers used for interacting with the VR world.

But Zero Latency, an Australian VR gaming company, has found ways around these constraints to achieve near perfection in creating the free-roam virtual gaming experience. Here are three tips they'd like to share with all developers looking to build their very own virtual worlds.

Paving a road that goes on and on

One of the most straightforward methods to create the illusion of a virtual environment larger than what is physically available is the use of perceptual tricks such as "Change Blindness Redirection." It shifts the virtual environment according to the player's position subtly through objectives, which act as a distraction. More importantly, it does this without disorienting the player.
Scott Vandonkelaar, Chief Technology Officer at Zero Latency shared that while employing these neat perceptual tricks does require large amounts of data and details and multiple iterations to get right, the payoffs are great.

"(These tricks) really help overcome physical constraints. Players are free to explore large environments even in small play areas, like in their very own living rooms, which can now be used as a decrypt town," said Vandonkelar.

Getting a grip on things

To further help get players into the feel of the game, physical objects can be used as alternative controllers to help set the stage. The idea, first made iconic by Nintendo SNES Super Scope, is nothing new nor groundbreaking. But simply holding on to something--even if it's just a plastic toy--can add a whole new level of depth to a free roam VR experience just through having a physical object players can hold on to.
"When we first started developing our world, we strapped the PlayStation's Move motion controllers to nerf guns to mimic our virtual weapons to help get our testers comfortable," Vandonkelar added. "It also served as a prototype to develop our dream of functional VR controllers in the shape of blasters and more!"

Pedal to the metal

One other tip shared by Zero Latency is for developers to not feel restricted in having to churn out realistic visuals and surroundings, but instead focus on the tracking and refinement of the perceptual tricks mentioned before. Whenever it makes financial sense, developers should not be afraid to turn to assets available online to help speed development along.

While Zero Latency did develop their very own assets for their final product, they initially used some of the exportable assets in Unity to act as placeholders to test players interaction with the VR world.

"For prototypes throughout our entire development journey even from conception, the Asset Store has been a life-saver. Assets like a 360-recorder, gave us means to monitor and record movement and videos of our players to better refine our game," said Vandonkelar.

Best step forward

Creating a free roam VR experience is certainly no simple task; however, simply by leveraging resources and tricks that others have developed and using them as a basis, you may find that creating a whole new world for your players to get lost inside much simpler than you think.