Continuing our development series, our Food Fight programmer shares how he worked on avoiding player distraction in a virtual reality environment.
With virtual reality applications, users have more potential to interact with their environment compared to standard interfaces. For many VR apps, interaction is the key to game-play, where the plot and progression is intrinsically tied to experimenting with items to solve puzzles and tasks. This game-play extends the VR experience. An example is Waltz of the Wizard, in which the player must combine ingredients into a cauldron and weave spells to progress in the plot. Other apps have a simple scheme where they use a specific interaction throughout. An example is Space Pirate Trainer, where the player is given guns, a shield, and explosives and must fend off waves of enemies. Even though interaction isn’t as complex, it still provides a thrilling VR experience.
An issue I’ve come across in my work, and noticed with other VR projects, is that sometimes players will lose track of the application’s purpose if given enough freedom and things to interact with. Players that are new to virtual reality are more prone to it, since they are simply learning the controls. Sometimes they will find an aspect of the game that the developers added as a minor addition to be the focal point of a demonstration or game. Examples of these can be found across the industry. One such example would be a game like DayZ. It started as a mod for ARMA II, but users played it drastically more than the base game. I mention this topic because similar issues have appeared in Food Fight. Sometimes players will play with food rather than throw it directly at the enemy. This is elevated when power-ups come into play. We’ve already implemented some features to offset this, but it’s good to investigate what is causing this for future versions of the game.
Food Fight focuses on interacting solely with the food with few other interaction elements. However, with the use of power-ups, players can extend food interaction. Power-ups appear when players eat three healthy items in a row. There are three power-ups currently:
Player can make contact and punch food away from them.
Attracts a single food item that can be shot on a trigger.
Fires water particles that can hit food and knock it away from the player.
In addition, there is a main menu on the left hand that players can use to reset levels and return to the main menu. One of the biggest improvements we recently made to the game was to add a target practice level. In this level players can practice throwing food at targets that vary in distance. This has served as a decent tutorial for throwing mechanics in the game and by the time the player faces the food goblin, they don’t have to play around as much to figure out how food is thrown.
An issue we are currently facing is one with power-ups. It is fairly easy to obtain power-ups at the moment. So much that you will always have one available if you are gobbling up healthy food at every chance you get. Players now expect power-ups, and since they are so powerful, the player is free to mess around the level and bounce food around as they see fit, detracting from how the game was meant to be played. The solution to the power-up issue? Make them more worthwhile and have them feel like they are a reward. They need to be spaced out more so that they only appear once or twice in a single level.
Now players don’t have the crutch of the power-ups and must focus on defeating the enemy to survive. When the power-up appears it will give them a quick reprieve, or if the difficulty is high, allow them to overtake the enemy. Gameplay would once again focus on the simple interaction of throwing/catching the food. Additionally, more power-ups need to be added. We have discussed adding a slingshot and laser sword. Having five or more would be enough variation for the player to not get used to them early on in the game and will keep them guessing.
As we add more features to Food Fight we’ll need to keep track of how distracting it is for the player. Deviating from game-play can derail a convention demo or even a full game.