Paul Bettner is the founder and CEO of Playful Corp, and he’s best known for creating the iPhone game Words with Friends. Dan Hurd is studio design lead at Playful and led an epic 3-4 month jam that produced 38 VR game prototypes exploring various VR game mechanics.
I had a chance to play Lucky’s tale for the first time at GDC, and I have to say that I was blown away. I had a half hour for the interview, and I had the best intentions to get a brief feel for the game and then do the interview. Once I got into the Lucky’s Tale world, I was so compelled that I couldn’t stop playing. Playful has discovered something really key about what they call the “sweet spot” of VR, which is optimizing all of the gameplay to be about arms length away by increasing the IPD and using a set of finely tuned 3rd person camera controls.
Bettner has been an early adopter of new technologies, and he talks about discovering VR through a friendship with John Carmack and then the process that Playful went through in order to discover what works and what doesn’t work in the VR medium. They couldn’t fall back on their old tricks, and they had to find the rules where there are no rules yet.
Paul talks about how developers have decades of expectations and fantasies of what VR should be, and that we have to be willing to let go of some of the things that don’t work as well within VR. At GDC, Paul was starting to see some experiences that go beyond what our fantasies of VR might be. Dan suggests that developers have to be candid with themselves when experiencing something that they expect to be amazing in VR, but isn’t — such as flying because of the lack of depth cues of objects at far distances.
Dan & Paul talk about their iterative process of trying to discover the fun mechanics within VR. Like Job Simulator, they also found that doing mundane tasks with your hands is fun, especially if they’re physics-based.
Paul talks about discovering the “sweet spot” of VR, which ends up being about arms length away. They found research that backs up that we have more neurons in our brains to process information at higher fidelity when all of the game mechanics are happening within the length of our arms. Lucky’s tale was created in order to optimize the gameplay to happen within this VR sweet spot. They ended up increasing the IPD in order to give a giant’s perspective with a third person perspective. They also found that the diorama mode of an entire level looks really amazing in VR.
They broke some of the best practices guidelines from Oculus in order to discover this table mode of placing all of the action with the sweet spot of VR. Paul says that the parameters that control the third person camera operate in a very narrow band of comfort that are not very forgiving.
Finally, Dan talks about how light can bring a sense of reality to these virtual worlds and being in a magical place that causes surprise and delight in a way that’s the most comfortable and impactful. Paul says that virtual reality is the ultimate expression of being able to create your dreams, and that we’ve actually been able to create a technology that can directly interface with your brain in a way that’s indistinguishable from reality.
Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio