Elements of a Virtual Experience
Elements of an Experience
One of the most overlooked elements of any experience is the audio. Even in a “photorealistic” setting, it’s not enough for an experience to look real. It has to sound real. It has to feel real.
It’s not enough to just have recorded sounds playing. They would need to change as a user moves about a room. They should reverberate on surfaces and be realistically muffled when an object passes in front of the source.
The weight of a bass line, changing in intensity as bodies move in front of a speaker, would do more to bring your user into that sense of space than almost any visual trick possible.
Sound is absolutely vital to creating a realistic and engaging experience and the more it mimics real life, the more you can pull a user in.
Take a look at the AAA video game, Battlefield V below. While the graphics are great, don’t watch the video. Close your eyes and feel how much the audio alone is contributing to the experience.
Graphics are not just about what models and images you see on the screen. It also includes animations, art style and lighting.
The end goal of most games is immersion. But immersion doesn’t just mean “photorealism”. It can happen in “cartoony” graphics as well – it’s about how the interplay of all the different elements work together. No one would argue that Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks realistic, but it can be very immersive.
One of the reasons for this is called the “Uncanny Valley“. As something looks more realistic, we’re more likely to accept it – until it gets too realistic and then people can actually be repulsed by it, feeling as if it is alien or somehow “wrong”. Once a digital recreation of a human (though this could apply to more than just that) becomes hyper real, then any small errors – not enough mouth movement, blinking too fast, colors are wrong, etc. breaks the whole illusion.
This means, though, that people are more likely to accept a cartoony character over a realistic one and we give a lot more leeway to non-photo real spaces. So don’t be so quick to jump to hyper-realism; it may actually work against what you’re trying to accomplish.
Take a look at the video below from the hit game It Takes Two. This game is beautiful and wonderful and at the cutting edge of game graphics. Notice how your mind perceives the human characters vs. the cartoon ones. The humans look stiff and unnatural, where their cartoony counterparts look full of life.
While we cannot replicate specific sensations, one of the best ways to immerse a user is to make the mechanisms that they use to interact with a virtual experience be so intuitive and so true-to-game that the controller melts away into simply being part of the experience itself.
A great example of this is something simple like a pistol and a VR controller. They are already shaped like grips, so the idea of them being a handheld weapon is a pretty small mental leap to make. A greater leap would be holding a rifle, as both controllers are not connected to each other and the foregrip of a rifle is not shaped like a pistol grip.
In more 2D terms, there’s a great little game that’s free to play now called Hammer Fight. It is a physics-based fighting game where you swing a giant mallet to hit other flying machines. The way this mallet is controlled is by moving your mouse in circles, creating a kinesthetic link between the player’s hand and what’s going on on the screen. This connection can even feel like the mouse itself has weight! See the video below.