Designing a Comfortable 3rd person VR MMO

21 February 2020

How can a third-person VR game work?

Don’t you get sick?

Isn’t the first person view more immersive?

Aren’t you losing the main selling point of the VR – the ability to move your body and interact with the environment?!

We get asked these questions a lot. Naturally, comfort and immersion are first to come to mind when you hear third-person in combination with VR. This post argues that third-person VR is perfectly doable without discomfort. Moreover, this combination can work exceptionally well for specific genres and experiences. Last but not least, it has the potential to enrich the whole VR ecosystem and attract users from a non-VR space. Think of people with limited mobility or restricted playspace or those who, after a hard day at work, want to enjoy VR on a couch or in their comfortable gaming chair. Ok, let’s dive deeper and address these issues one by one.

Motion sickness is solved

Scaling down the in-game world offers the possibility to follow the avatar smoothly. From the avatar’s point of view, it’s movement can be erratic – running amok or jumping up and down. Nevertheless, the player’s head drifts slowly and smoothly. As a result, the artificial acceleration is but a mere fraction of what it would otherwise be in normal scale. Turning around is a story on its own. Unfortunately, the scaling down does not work in this case as it would not reduce the angular velocity. Instead, we use snap-turning by 30 degrees. When you make a turn, we conserve the amplitude of the camera velocity vector, so it feels much more comfortable after the transition. You don’t need to use snap-turning so often though, as your neck is free for quick glances in all directions. All these locomotion principles mean that the vast majority of players consider the control scheme super-comfortable. We further reinforce the comfort by opting for a slower, more methodical combat.

Optical comfort

Combat happens in the focal optimum of the headset (approximately 2 meters in front of your eyes). Therefore, vergence versus accommodation discrepancy is not an issue. The area around your hero is where the brain deploys most of the neural cells specializing in spatial orientation. Thank you, evolution! Using flat shading further enhances your comfort. Stereo and light are aligned perfectly with what the brain expects to receive. Techniques that work decently on a flat-screen, such as normal smoothing or bump mapping, may look well in a screenshot. However, in VR, the eye sees right through the illusion or at least knows that something doesn’t add up. We try to stick to pure geometry for maximum comfort. The resolution of headsets is already adequate and will only get better with time. Also, high-quality anti-aliasing is a must.

Immersion tradeoff

Of course, you lose a bit of immersion, when not looking out of your head. But the beautiful stereoscopy and audio spatialization work perfectly, and are impossible to replicate on a flat screen. In our case, we willingly trade a bit of immersion for gameplay and tactical clarity on the battlefield – stereoscopy is greatly helping with gauging distances and timing! The game design takes precedence. Teleporting or forcing the user to stand in one spot will not do. Why delegate the movement to an avatar when you can swing a sword yourself? Because sometimes you lack the skill or an appropriate number of arms to perform a special attack. Well, it’s not a problem for your avatar! Also, there is no haptic feedback in first-person VR either. While it may work for guns and lightsabres, it is much less suitable for melee weapons, where feedback is expected. Instead, we are going for a skill and timing based melee combat, heavily inspired by Dark Souls, and 3rd person is the way to go.

Natural movement

There is an invisible elephant in the room when designing any user interaction that is to last and repeat for several hours nonstop like is expected in MMORPGs. In this case, the unique selling point of VR is also one of its possible friction points. Fatigue and sweat – are a problem during long play sessions! Imagine having an office job. Instead of a minimal finger movement, to interact with the interface you are required to draw shapes in the air to open every new tab, to press the enter button, to close the window. While it looks good in Minority Report and other movies, it gets frustrating quite quickly. With a gamepad, your hands disappear after a while. You become one with your avatar. Many souls-players surely recognize this state of flow.