Puzzler

A "Simon" game developed as part of the Udacity VR Nanodegree. Set in the middle of a desloate desert landscape, players stumble across a mysterious building in the otherwise vast nothingness. Those brave enough to venture inside must solve the puzzle of the mysterious orbs, or else risk an uncertain fate.

 

Outcomes

Building Puzzler was a rewarding experience because it brought target users into the development process early on as testers. The iterative development process allowed me to deploy and test builds early and often, exposing bugs and design flaws when they were still easy to fix. The end result is a VR gaming experience that is fun and comfortable for everyone.

A complete playthrough of Puzzler, a mobile VR game for iOS and Android.

The Process

Before sitting down to make Puzzler I first had to figure out the audience for the game.

Introducing Mark.

Photo of Mark

Mark

23, Retail Clerk/Student

Man I love video games! Well, what I mean is I love to play them as long as I don't need to dedicate more than 5-minutes at a time. But I'm always looking for my next distraction.

Mark works long hours helping demanding customers and stocking shelves. When he's not working, Mark is usually in class or doing homework. Because Mark is so busy his phone is often his only escape - texting friends, checking in on social media and playing casual games whenever he gets a chance.

Experience in VR: None

Mark served as a reference subject for the development of the game. Whenever I had an idea, or a question about implementation I would think about Mark. I wanted to create a game that Mark might play when he was on break at work, in-between classes, or at home with some free time. So I began drawing how I imagined the game. I wanted to include the setting of the game as well as the motion mechanics.

Puzzler concept sketch

After settling on a basic concept I worked on assembling the scene in Unity.

Environment before lighting

Once I was satisfied with the basic layout of the scene I started adding lights and additional props and details to enhance the environment.

Environment after lighting

After laying out the scene and adding in the lighting I then needed to turn my attention to the UI. Rather than dive right in and create a UI in Unity, I instead pulled out my notebook and began drawing.

UI Sketches

I experimented with several ideas. I chose to keep the UI as simple as possible because I wanted players like Mark, someone with no VR experience, to feel comfortable.

User Testing & Iteration

At several points during the game's development I invited two test users to try the game and provide feedback. Each test focused on a different aspect of the game's design: scale and the environment; the user interface; and motion mechanics.

Scale and the Environment

User Testing the Environment

Both users responded positively on the lighting with one mentioning that it reminded them of an old-school RPG. Before the gameplay mechanics were in place the orbs caused some confusion, and both users expressed interest in seeing what was outside the room -- at this stage in development, the camera was in a fixed-position inside the room and the outside environment consisted only of a skybox.

The User Interface

User Testing the UI

After implementing a simple UI I invited the test users back into the experience. The UI design was simple enough that both users were able to correctly predict what would happen when each button was pressed.

Motion Mechanics and the Threat of Simulator Sickness

Having spent a significant amount of time in VR experiences, motion does not have the same effect on me as it once did. Fortunately, both of the users that I had test Puzzler were VR novices. The particular build I tested had the camera moving from the start position to the gameplay position in two seconds, and then again to the restart position in an additional two seconds. This proved to be too fast for both test users. While the first user suggested the speed should be slower because it felt unnatural, the second user exclaimed that it made them feel dizzy. Slowing the motion down to three seconds was met with positive feedback from both users.

Final Product

When the player first enters the experience they are greeted with a UI panel instructing them to "Press Start to Begin". This accomplishes two things:

  1. The button is not centered on the screen, requiring the player to move their gaze down to the button - this introduces new VR users to the idea that their gaze shifts along with their head position.
  2. The gaze reticle changes when they can interact with something.

After pressing the start button the player is moved into the dungeon with lighting and spatial audio setting the mood. Directly in front of the player a series of orbs begin blinking in a pattern the player must memorize and repeat by clicking on the orbs with the gaze reticle. If the player selects the orbs in the correct order the orbs disappear and the player is swept out of the dungeon where they are presented with a congratulations UI and the option to restart the game. If the player makes a mistake by selecting the wrong orb the puzzle repeats and the player must try again.

Conclusion

Puzzler was designed from the ground up as a short introduction to VR for casual gamers. The design and development process relied heavily on iterative design and user feedback. In VR, simple motion mechanics and scale can easily break the experience for some users, causing nausea or disorientation, so it is very important to test the experience early and often.

Next Steps

This game could easily be expanded with multiple difficulty levels that increase the speed of the game and the number of orbs in each puzzle. Another possiblity is the addition of multiple rooms, each with unique puzzle arrangements.