Mobile gaming is a huge market – and mobile VR is possibly the VR killer app waiting to happen. There’s obvious potential for the developer that can nail down mobile VR design!
But what does it take to make a mobile VR game? Making a VR game is hard enough, and mobile adds even more constraints. Fortunately Phosphor Studios has made a lot of VR titles, including mobile VR games, and over time we’ve assembled a list of best practices to help develop for mobile VR.
Mobile VR strengths:
First, let’s consider the advantages of mobile VR design versus full-on VR like Vive or Oculus:
Larger Install Base
This is a pretty obvious one. The price of entry is way lower – it’s easier to convince someone to get a Google Cardboard than drop $3k on top-end PC with a Vive headset!
Anyone who has used a full-feature VR headset knows about getting tangled up in cords. Mobile obviously avoids that!
If you’re using a phone’s VR, all the necessary hardware is packed into the headset. This means you can design games that requires the player to turn 360 degrees in place without worrying they’ll get caught up in cables.
In VRSE Jurassic World, we utilized this freedom to create an exciting 360 degree boss battle with the fearsome Indominus Rex!
Phone only features
Everyone thinks of the stuff that mobile devices lack – we’ll get to that in a sec – but they offer some really cool opportunities.
Having a phone strapped to your face means you can take advantage of phone-only hardware like vibration to create player feedback, or GPS to add in some AR features. Use the phones camera to tie into the game’s visuals. Be creative!
Mobile VR weaknesses:
Now naturally there are negatives to mobile VR, primarily the lack of horsepower. We could lament the loss of polycount or elaborate shaders or lots of alpha-blending.
But we do have an opportunity here to pull off some Judo, and try to make negatives into positives! The best mobile VR experiences must embrace this thinking.
Simplify the game
The lack of horsepower means we must change the way we do mobile VR design – you know you’ll need to optimize visual performance with low texture budget and polycounts, low draw calls, baked lighting, every optimization you can think of.
But you also need to design your game with mobile’s limitations in mind, as well. Simplify your game design! It’s easier to set a mobile VR game in a box factory than it is a jungle, or to skip photorealism for a simpler art style. So design around the limitations of the platform, instead of struggling against them!
A lot of VR games involve guns, with players controlling them via hand-tracking. However, looking down the sights of a weapon in high-end VR tends to take a lot of coordination, arguably more than a broader audience has.
Mobile VR will either have no controller or a poorly-tracked one, so you can reattach the gun to the camera. This frees the player to focus on the game at hand – and adds a bit of viewport stability to boot. This can be a real help for player comfort issues.
Can’t use hand tracking? No problem!
Since high-end VR has near-perfect 1-to-1 tracking, avatars’ actions tend to follow the player’s actual motion. Not only does this cause a huge headache for IK solutions, but IRL players aren’t going to move like action heroes. Imagine trying to actually mimic Batman’s movements yourself… you get the idea.
In VRSE Batman, we created simple abstract controller gestures to drive Batman’s punch – and the resulting actions were dynamic, powerful, and looked super heroic.
This creates the additional payoff of making the player feel powerful; little physical effort, lots of on screen results.
Mobile gamers are casual gamers
VR is an expensive investment, and only hardcore gamers are currently onboard. But mobile VR requires very little investment – so mobile VR might be the gateway to VR for non-hardcore-gamers.
This means your game must be as intuitive as possible. If children, the elderly, or people new to games are potentially picking up your app, you don’t want them to feel intimidated or excluded by a complex control scheme.
This challenge forces you to keep your controls – and your game design – as streamlined and as intuitive as possible.
Mobile VR design
Designing for mobile VR is difficult, but embracing its constraints offer a way to flex design muscles we might not normally. As the mobile VR market heats up, those thinking the most creatively and delivering the most interesting experience to the consumer are going to be the ones profiting!