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  • A Student Experience: Making A Serious Game In VRChat

    [01.26.21]
    - Nathan Hahn

  • 4. Cross-platform play does not mean cross-platform capabilities

    The VRChat platform allows people to log in with multiple different types of devices, which theoretically makes it easier to develop an experience for multiple platforms at once without burdening developers on the minutiae of cross-platform development. However, when creating a serious game, developers need to appreciate the key differences among the experiences of these platforms to ensure the experience works on all these platforms. For mouse-and-keyboard PC and PC-enabled VR, minor design details may require creative thinking by developers to solve design problems. For example, a key part of Art Sort is the ability to pick up artworks and look at them while they are carried to a category location. In VR, users can rotate and manipulate artworks as they are held, but mouse-and-keyboard users do not have this capability. Therefore, the game was designed to have a default hold location for the artworks that is more suitable for mouse-and-keyboard but gives VR users less flexibility in how artworks are held.


    Figure 8 - Artworks needed to be held at a distance for mouse-and-keyboard users to ensure visibility while holding them. VR users can move artworks closer or further away while holding them, but mouse-and-keyboard users cannot.

    For Oculus Quest users, developers need to consider even more platform differences. Firstly, uploading a world to make it accessible to Oculus Quest users requires a separate build process, so developers need to upload their world twice every time they make changes. Secondly, a world must be less than 50 MB large to be playable on the Oculus Quest, if the world is larger than 50 MB the SDK will upload the world, but it will fail to open inside of VRChat. The Oculus Quest also has more limitations on user avatars and does not allow embedded videos inside of worlds, a functionality used in Art Sort to provide an introductory video to players. If developers plan to enable their worlds for the Oculus Quest, they need to plan out the content of the world before development begins to ensure Quest users will be able to receive an experience comparable to PC and PC-enabled VR users.


    Figure 9 - Two worlds in VRChat: "The Black Cat" supports Oculus Quest, "The Great Pug" does not.

    5. Facilitator tools need to be baked into the world design

    In a conventionally developed serious game, configuration of the world settings for players usually happens outside of the play experience. However, for games uploaded to VRChat, facilitators will need settings inside of the world that enable them to control the game play for participants in a similar way to how a facilitator in a real-life testing setting would control when participants begin and end a serious game play session.

    The way that we enabled this for Art Sort was to use a community-created keypad tool with a secret code. If any user types in the secret code, they gain access to the administrator panel which no other players can see. This panel allows users to prevent anyone from starting the game by hiding the start button, starting the world from the admin panel, or completely resetting all the puzzles. This way, a facilitator can prevent participants from starting the game until they receive an introduction or can restart the experience completely for all participants if additional participants arrive later after the game has begun.


    Figure 10 - Admin panel with keypad

    Conclusions

    There are countless other lessons learned while building this game, but hopefully these five takeaways can give developers an appreciation of the capabilities and drawbacks of using VRChat for serious game development. While the VRChat platform offers ease-of-publishing for cross-platform multiplayer synchronous VR serious games, some designers may find the restrictions imposed by the platform too limiting to satisfy their clients' visions of their serious game experiences.

    When developing serious games outside of these platforms, developers can code their way out of issues related to implementing clients' visions, but by choosing to use a social VR platform, developers are locked into many of the restrictions imposed by that platform. Therefore, while development of serious games in the platform can be done by developers with a broad level of expertise, designers must be well-versed VR game design and able to inform serious game clients of the important cost and capability trade-offs from using social VR platforms like VRChat for their serious games.


    Figure 11 - Selfie taken during a playtest session using the VRChat platform camera system

    In a future blog post, my teammate will post more details about the game that we made and how we adapted art history curricula into a serious game.

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