Recreational Dreaming, released on Steam on January 31st 2018, is a surreal, casual “sleepwalking simulator” for the HTC Vive. Our primary goals were accessibility, comfort, and producing a sense of a fully saturate dream. We chose to include narrative moments that would be evocative to an extremely wide group of users without challenging them in unintended ways. We felt the ecosystem of VR experiences was skewed too much toward middle- and hardcore games, and, in keeping with our belief that VR should be universally inclusive, we decided to create an experience that rewards with discovery, rather than challenge.
The duration of the project was 17 months. Ryan Donaldson, the 3D artist, concept artist and painter contributed to the initial concept and designs, and worked full-time for seven months. I completed the rest of the tasks over the duration.
UX/UI Challenges, Decisions
We chose the central dynamic of shooting, and prototyped various slingshots to give the player the force and aiming control of the common bow-and-arrow dynamic, with the added benefit of increased visibility over the top of the mesh. However, during early playtesting we began to question the tradeoff a two-handed approach and accessibility to players with comfortable use of only one hand. We ended up designing a time-based mechanic to fire one-handed, and a new metaphor for the controller – a flashlight, which came with the added benefit of inducing a constant state of interaction with the environment through its realtime beam.
Through shooting various trigger objects, the player is able to unlock more space to explore and traverse between environments. To allow for exploration of these environments, we chose the action of teleporting for its general acceptance as a simulator sickness-proof locomotion solution. We decided on a bezier teleport beam to allow for easier navigation of terrain of various heights and across gaps, allowing us certain freedoms in level design.
Because one of the central goals of the brief was to create an accessible game and so as to not overcomplicate the controller, the only other function we added to the controller was the ability to create a physical object that can be used to return the player to the title screen. Because of this simplicity, only a select few playtesters were unable to master the controls in less than a minute.
Because many players would be playing two-handed, we designed the secondary control to have meaningful but game-unnecessary functionality, including a camera function that saves screenshots to the player’s computer, and a deconstructed score card to support the central metaphor of the experience.
Other UI/UX considerations are discussed in my post-mortem, featured at Gamasutra.
Because we chose to create an environment that would be broadly narratively evocative rather than telling a specific story, we were faced with the challenge of depending heavily on environmental storytelling while avoiding elements that might easily add up into a linear narrative. This required finding numerous frames to reinterpret the various environments so as to craft narrative delivery elements appropriate but distinct. For instance, the desert canyon level includes elements of the American southwest, the Painted Hills of Oregon, the Atacama Desert in Peru and Chile, as well as an ICBM launch, a peyote trip, and ancient cave painting.
Other notable narrative delivery events are a squadron of giant paper airplanes in bombing formation, a tape recorder that plays children’s musings, and a brisk but glorious sunrise.