In The Dark

Virtual Reality experience where you play as a post-apocalyptic survivor


The Problem

Create a VR experience with indirect control for a naive guest.

The Process

 Team Size: 5     Role(s): Programmer, Producer     Engine: Unity3D     Platform: HTC Vive

Before coming up with an IDEA, we listed out everybody’s skill-set. Everyone had an expertise over a particular subject and a broad idea about other subjects. Then we started listing out things and we found a pattern that people were in favor of a game with an open environment to have the guest experience a feeling of freedom. But, we decided to take the risk and aim for having the guest experience a feeling of freedom in a closed environment. We started brainstorming and figured out three different ideas – Escape Room, Supermarket, Horror. After talking about it for a while, we decided to mix them together. A post-apocalyptic blacked out supermarket scene where you are looking for supplies. We set that as our premise.

We gave the guest the role of ‘a survivor’. The VISION was to use indirect control to achieve two value changes:
1. Guest should not feel restricted in their actions, and experience a feeling of freedom.
2. Guest should experience a feeling of accomplishment.
We COMMUNICATED this idea to Jesse Schell and Dave Culyba and they were positive about the premise. VR Horror games were pretty common and they liked the risk we were taking. But, they really wanted us to think about how we were going to achieve feeling of freedom in a closed space. So, we did. We had already decided on the MECHANIC of collecting supplies, so we just added additional items in the supermarket.  This gave the user a feeling of freedom because they could collect any item in their bag, but they should be collecting the required items, which we were going to make them do using indirect control such as UI, hints on walls, audio conversation, etc. When we communicated this with the advisors and playtesters, it made sense to them. Considering our SCOPE of two weeks, we had a new scene planned which we had to get rid of. The first scene was supposed to have two items – water bottle and bandages which were not very hard to find, and the new scene would have the final item – painkillers, which were hard to find. But because of the less amount of time, we put all the items together in one scene. Our interaction map was pretty straightforward.

SCHEDULING was a very important aspect of this round for me because not only I had to schedule for myself, but also keep track of what others were doing since I was a producer. We had at least two 30-minutes long meetings everyday and we would make a to-do list at the end of each meeting.

My ROLE as a programmer was to use the HTC Vive SDK at its most to create a great VR experience for the guest. I used Unity’s fixed joint component to attach an object with their hand when they grab it using their trigger and detach when they let go of the trigger. I also scripted some story-events in the game. I used Nav-mesh to spawn the demons waiting outside the window. I also did lighting in the scene and made a flashlight to see better in the dark. As a producer, I kept track of the feedback because playtesting was really important in this round. We had a bunch of playtesters outside the course who would be considered as naive guests. We had questions ready for them. We had about 15 playtesters and received an A+ for playtesting in our final grade.

There were a few design CHALLENGES as this was my first virtual reality project. Indirect control was the biggest problem because we didn’t know how to let guests know what to do next and what’s important. Also, another major challenge was re-iterating. Since the final scene involved guest leave the supermarket, and we had limited space, we could not just build a door right next to an aisle at a supermarket. So, instead, the artists redesigned the supermarket as a convenience store which made more sense to have a door closer to the user. Upon REVISITING, I would like to make an inventory system so that you cannot actually have a lot of items that are unnecessary. Also, I would increase on the fear element such that the monster is scarier than right now and can enter the store during the lose scene.

The Result

Yep, it was a whole lot of fun.