How do we create the best possible VR experience? Virtual Reality Best Practices
June 12, 2020
VR can be the right technology to tell your story and there are five main components to consider to create the best possible VR experience: Narrative, Environment, Cognitive Impact, Social Impact and Technology.
Plot, narrative arc, and characters that elicit emotions from viewers, are basic elements of storytelling, and are as important in VR as any other medium.
Virtual Reality provides the opportunity to tell a story where things are happening in 360º around the person in the headset, not just in front of them. This immersive quality is what makes the medium so powerful. But most viewers are not used to following a story in the round so the user experience design (UX) needs to provide guidance about where to look and focus your attention.
UX should also draw the viewers’ attention to the important objects and story points, so they spend less energy constructing the story and more energy receiving it.
If your story can’t take advantage of the 360º world then don’t use VR.
Environment (created with visuals and sound)
Whether the world is 360° video or computer generated there will be a lot to see outside a viewer’s field of view. Give them time to look around at their surroundings and explore before the story really gets underway.
Fictional worlds created with computer graphics don’t have to be visually perfect to feel real. The human brain can fill in a lot of details if the story and characters are well developed.
Sound design is all important! Sounds are what you see with your ears so creating a soundscape adds to the sense of immersion of being in a real world. Also, simple audio cues can alert visitors to turn their gaze away from what’s directly in front of them, so they don’t miss what’s going on behind or beside them.
Viewers will automatically adopt a role because they are inside an experience. They may only be observers, or you may assign them a specific role. You can hint at this by showing arms or legs that signal who they are, or place them in something like a cockpit or a wheelchair or whatever is appropriate to their character. There are different ways to do this but the more the viewer feels connected to the action, the stronger the impact of the story will be, regardless of whether you’re producing a social impact documentary or creating a fictional world.
Producers have a responsibility to warn users about violent or emotionally charged situations that may be occurring in the virtual world, before they put a headset on, because an immersive virtual experience can feel like it’s really happening to the visitor.
With documentary or social impact VR, it’s important to remind visitors that the VR headset is serving as a proxy. The virtual experience is not the same as the real thing.
Yet it can still inspire users to take action in the real world to address the issues.
Pre- and post-experience guidance is advisable. Visitors often want to talk about the visceral scene they’ve witnessed, to share their reactions, ask questions, and process their feelings.
The ultimate VR experience occurs when the user can physically move about in a virtual environment composed of computer-generated imagery (CGI). This is known as a room scale experience and requires a VR headset that provides 6DOF (Degrees of Freedom), the ability for the visitor to move forward, backward, left and right, up and down in the virtual space, mirroring movement in the physical space. This requires tracking devices that can tell where the headset is and what the viewer is looking at. As of June 2020, the Oculus Quest is the only headset that offers inside out tracking for a 6DOF experience without a cable or “tether” to a computer with a powerful graphics card. There are also headsets such as the Oculus Rift S, the HTC Vive, and the Varjo that can deliver better quality visuals but they all must be tethered to an external computer.
Projects that are composed of 360º video footage, rather than CGI worlds can be viewed in 3DOF headsets. These offer the ability to look up, down and around 360° but from a single point. Even though the visitor can’t move through the video space, they can still have an extremely immersive seated or standing experience.
You can also make your content directly available to visitors on their own devices to be viewed with Google Cardboard, either via YouTube 360º or an app downloaded from app stores.