A steampunk hot-air-balloon race using a custom VR controller. Created for the Prototyping E-Narrative Lab at Georgia Tech.
You and your robot sidekick must navigate over mountain tops and dodge storm clouds to prove you are the best inventor in Mountaintown! This game makes use of a specialized controller that combines a familiar motion with a pressure sensitive pump to provide real-time feedback and a deeper immersive experience.
How can familiar items be leveraged as controllers to increase immersion in virtual reality?
The controller was created using a bicycle pump, an Arduino and a custom pressure sensor placed between two balloons. The physics of the controller ensure the height of the user's ship is mimicked the air pressure inside the balloon. The interaction uses physics that are already part of the pump's affordances so the pump provides audio and resistance feedback without programming.
Characters and environment are designed in the steampunk style. The ship was designed to give the user a maximized view of the landscape while still providing context for the air ship.
We completed one round of user testing with 11 users. Each user participated in the game then answered a series of interview questions. A vast majority of users explained the controller increased their immersion in the game and understood how to use it without instruction. The users also desired increased narrative interaction and more control over the direction of their ship.
After analyzing user feedback we added directional pedals. This addition offers the opportunity for increased narrative interaction. Imagine instead of a race, the user must help their robot friend find their lost dog Drillbit. The two must explore Mountaintown and interact with different characters in order to get clues on where Drillbit may be.
With this new narrative, users will have choices about the places they go and the characters they interact with. Characters can encourage the interactors to visit exciting locations in the VR world and ultimately lead them to Drillbit. Interactors will also have the opportunity to explore the environment at their own pace.
Creating a sense of agency in any VR experience is a crucial for immersion. A strong narrative and custom controller can help to create a more successful experience.