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Develop Conference 2015: Designing a User Interface for Virtual Reality

VRFocus is down on the south coast of England for the final day of the Develop Conference, held in it’s traditional setting of Brighton.  In this talk Dan Gilmore of Atomhawk talks about the challenges and opportunities faced by designers when designing for VR, including the limitations of current hardware and his thoughts on the future of VR. VRFocus Editor Kevin Joyce is in attendance and his overview of the subjects covered can be found below.

  • The speaker session begins with a video showcasing Atomhawk’s previous works, notably the UI design in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Kinect Sports: Season 2 and Resogun.
  • The team at Atomhawk have also helped with the UI design in EVE Valkyrie, Gilmore reveals.
  • Play Sage: Gateshead and RIGS; Mechanised Combat League are two other VR titles Atomhawk have assisted the UI design on.
  • Gilmore highlights the modding that allows Left 4 Dead to be played in VR as a bad example of UI in VR and instead suggests that the player should ‘feel like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, with all this information at their fingertips’.
  • “In VR we’re not just looking at a screen of equal density,” states Gilmore, suggesting that HMDs expand the field of view immensely, but it’s not equally as dense. “There are areas which aren’t as clear as they are in the middle.”
  • Gilmore suggests that a HUD similar to that of Metroid Prime would not work well in VR, however he cites Alien: Isolation‘s motion-tracker as a good example of an interpretation of real-world information delivery.
  • In addition to low resolutions the UI designer must also take into account player fatigue, as the HMD ‘weighs more than your head’.
  • Gilmore suggests that diegetic UI is important in VR, despite the fact that it’s not commonplace in traditional videogame design.
  • He cites Metro 2033 and Dead Space as good examples of diegetic UI design, but highlights the fact that simply incorporating diegetic design does not automatically result in believability.
  • “My biggest piece of advice is that you need to start work on VRUI very early on. Not just at the start of development, but before you begin developing,” states Gilmore.
  • “We tend to favour icons over text,” states Gilmore, offering the example of Tiltbrush‘s tool palette.
  • He also suggests that using animation is powerful due to the player’s peripheral vision being ‘very, very sensitive to animation’.
  • Making UI contextual allows designers to free-up some of the field of view, according to Gilmore, offering more room for ‘important’ visual assets.
  • Gilmore states that it’s important to test with ‘VRgins’, people who have never tried VR before.
  • “Testing with people who have never tried VR before can open your eyes to a lot of things.”
  • Summarising, Gilmore states that ‘VRUI is quite different from traditional UI’.
  • “Good VRUI makes use of the advantages that VR offers,” states Gilmore. “Successful VRUI blurs the lines of responsibility between UI and game design.”
  • The session now turns to Q&A. The first question asks about rotational based UI which relies on hand presence. Gilmore states that all his work has been based on controller-led experiences.
  • The next question addresses prototyping, to which Gilmore states that even before building in-engine it’s useful to map out UI design in different ways. Once building in-engine it’s a good idea to prototype fast and learn what doesn’t work.
  • Another question asks about player health, for which Gilmore states that his work has been an abstract version of health – ship or mech integrity opposed to that of the human body.
  • Next up is a question about texture resolutions to allow for reading of text. Gilmore states this has been difficult, and that minimising text is important. Further to this, there is no guideline for discovering the optimal resolution for text.
  • The next questions asks about the number of iterations of UI that EVE Valkyrie has been through, to which Gilmore suggests that ‘there have been 3 or 4 major reiterations’ of the UI, but every single element has individually been through ’15 or so’ iterations.
  • The session comes to an end at this point.

VRFocus will continue to bring you news and details from everything VR related at this year’s Develop Conference.