VR on exercise bikes like VirZOOM is going to be AMAZING… for some people, and I may not be one of those people. Movement within virtual environments is a hard problem, and while VirZOOM addresses some of the challenges of VR locomotion, people who are sensitive to simulator sickness will likely still have issues with some of the games developed by VirZOOM.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the physical action of moving my legs was enough activity to trick my mind into making some types of VR locomotion a more comfortable experience. However, there were still a number of other game design decisions that triggered motion sickness in me including tilting the horizon line, lots of vection and optical flow, accelerating and decelerating, and moving up and down hills.
I had a chance to up with founder Eric Janszen at GDC after going through their different game prototype demos to hear more about their design intention, how they were integrating interval training within their gameplay design, and some of their future plans of integrating more mobile VR headsets.
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While I don’t think that VirZOOM can claim to have completely solved the VR locomotion problem, I was pleased to see that some VR locomotion schemes were indeed more comfortable than using a Xbox controller alone. Flying through the air on a Pegasus was one of the most comfortable experiences because there wasn’t a lot of optical flow. I believe that I did feel some improvements from being able to peddle, and I think that there’s more that can done from a VR design perspective to make it a more comfortable experience. I’ll be covering more of those specifics in an upcoming interview with Jason Jerald about motion sickness research and VR design principles to minimize it.
But it’s also possible that VR enthusiasts will have to self select into two different groups: those who can enjoy experiences with intense movement, and those who can’t.
Eric Janszen says that if you get motion sickness while reading in a car, then there’s a good chance that you’ll be susceptible to motion sickness in VR. He’s also sick of hearing about VR sickness as evidenced by a recent tweet to an article by Jon Peddie titled “I’m sick of hearing about VR sickness.”
Peddie argues that VR designers shouldn’t worry about compromising their designs in order to accommodate what may end up being a minority of people who experience simulator sickness. He says:
So now our current anxiety is all about VR sickness. VR will never succeed because it makes people sick. Really. I guess air travel, roller-coasters, and sailboats will never catch on, either, because they make people sick.
The point is that there is a distribution. Some percentage of the population can’t see 3D or color, gets fatigued by low refresh rates, has weak carpals, and gets motion sickness. Some, not everyone, just a small percentage.
Motion sickness can in some people be overcome, and so can VR sickness.
This is a big reason why Oculus implemented Comfort Ratings as a part of titles sold through Oculus Home so that users susceptible to simulator sickness could make an informed decision about what titles they would be able to enjoy. I’m not convinced that everyone will be able to overcome simulator sickness through brute force repetitions, and I don’t think that we should expect that people should have to suffer through developing their VR “sea legs” (if they even really exist for some people).
Because VR is in it’s early development stages, then Oculus has been super cautious about promoting too many VR experiences that they know will make a number of different people sick. At E3 this year, there was a lot of negative press about AAA games like Resident Evil 7 for the Sony PlayStation VR that were making people sick.
Some of these specific issues can be solved with good VR design, but there’s also a wide spectrum of different VR locomotion solutions. Some people will find all of the locomotion solutions comfortable, but some other people will find only some of them comfortable. I imagine a time in the future where these different VR locomotion options will be pretty standardized, and we’ll get to pick whatever system that works best for us.
Teleporting around can break presence, and it often becomes a quick cheat that discourages physical movement within a VR scene. In the end, teleportation kills your sense of place in part because it disrupts our sense of how much time should pass when moving from one point to another. There are ways to restore that by watching an out-of-body ghost walk towards your teleport waypoint to let that time pass, but it’s still not the same as the feeling you get when you’re actually moving around within an environment. So there are clear tradeoffs between immersion and comfort when looking at different VR locomotion schemes.
But overall, I think that VirZOOM is clearly going to be a popular incentive and motivator for some people to get more exercise. The blending of gameplay with interval training is something that makes a lot of sense, and there’s may ways to explore how to blend these two together. Aside from gaming, the feeling of exploration and taking virtual rides through the equivalent a fully immersive Google Streetview or Google Earth VR is what gets me the most excited about using VR to combine exercise with virtual tourism. I just hope that someone will figure out how to design the experience so that I don’t get sick doing it.
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