Playstation VR: A 3D Artist’s Perspective
Working in interactive media is a bold endeavor. Much like advertising, film, and fine arts, it relies heavily on visual storytelling to convey the message to the user. But what separates it from those fields is the user’s direct line of control over their experience. Such control comes in the form of user interfaces, which will go almost unnoticed if done properly. If not, it can very quickly become a burden.
I believe this is what makes virtual reality such an appealing challenge, because now there are even more layers of immersion layered onto that experience, and with that added potential comes the mounting risk of losing the audience if the new capabilities are not properly handled. As a 3D artist, I think about the visual side of things, like spatial composition, art style, navigation, and how virtual reality introduces new horizons to each.
When it comes to Playstation’s VR, the experience is wholly gaming-based, building off the solid foundation of its industry design principles. I thought it would be fun to take note of how games based around the new tech have been doing it. What follows is a rundown of the things that caught my attention in the hours I messed around with the device. I decided to base these impressions off of the various demos from the official Playstation VR Disc, as well as Sony Japan’s “Playroom VR”.
One of the things I found that was used consistently well in both products was the general use of bright, friendly colors, which is not only appealing and beautiful to look at, but I think makes a lot of pragmatic sense. Right now, VR is trying to introduce itself to a world that has largely never used it before, and the colorful, cartoonish visuals are very approachable to those newcomers.
When the games dipped their toe into the more photorealistic graphics that the PS4 is capable of, I thought the tech suffered for it. There is a tendency for the image to blur and the color to aberrate on parts of the screen that aren’t dead-center, and while this can go unnoticed when the style is minimalistic, it can be very distracting and even headache-inducing with so much muddled information.
It’s unfortunate, because other than the lens distortion issues, the potential is all there, and hopefully this artistic barrier will be removed soon.
Another thing that pleased me was how the game environments felt specifically designed with the headset in mind. For the most part, the designers understood that the standard PS VR user does not want to turn their head left or right more than about fifteen degrees when they’re (a) likely sitting on a couch, and (b) have an attached cord snaking around to the back of their headset. The Playroom VR games in particular featured clean, straight paths forward in almost every instance, containing their whole level within a single field of view.
Other games took advantage of the other, less-encumbered axis of vision: verticality. I think this is especially innovative because in VR, the user has far more peripheral vision in any direction, This allows for easier visual cues to look up or down, something that any level designer knows can be notoriously difficult in games.
There are a couple of tricks that I think deserve special mention for their creativity. The demo for “Thumper”, a rhythm game in which you glide a metallic beetle down a beat-based track at breakneck speeds, fades its particle effects to black the further they get from the center, directing the user’s attention straight ahead at times.
Wayward Sky, and point-and-click adventure game, combined third-person movement with first-person object interaction. I thought this was a cool idea specifically because the switch would feel arbitrary if it were simply on a television screen.
Finally, I thought the integration of controller-tracking into the games was handled very effectively, on both a functional and aesthetic level. Every minigame has a clever interpretation of the controller with 1:1 tracking. In other scenarios, this feature might have been redundant, but it works brilliantly here to help the user feel directly engaged in the world, especially since the controller’s touchpad is used to interact with the environment, such as launching proton beams and grappling hooks.
That about wraps up my first impressions of the Playstation VR. I think it’s safe to say that there is a tremendous amount of artistic talent and effort going into this technology, and I look forward to seeing it move forward alongside the technology.