Going Round Corners: Designing a Mobile VR Racing Game
by Richard Boon (Sr. Game Designer)
Pac-man doesn’t use a fire button. The standard videogame control mechanism for the first half of the 1980s involved a joystick and fire button, but Pac-man doesn’t need to use the button, and so it doesn’t use the button.
All-Star Fruit Racing VR, an experimental avoidance game for mobile platforms, uses cardboard VR headsets to present a 3D gameplay experience. Control is via the phone’s gyroscope, acceleration is automatic, and there are no brakes. It doesn’t need a button.
When we started making All-Star Fruit Racing VR, one strong desire was to explore interface in VR. I sometimes model gameplay as a conversation between player and game, in which the player inputs questions to the game, the game outputs answers, and the cycle continues. Interface is the language of this conversation, and the goal of the game - to be fun - requires that the player and game are speaking the same language.
In All-Star Fruit Racing VR that language is very specific: it is the language of the turn. Classically, racing games are about corners and how to go round them. Winning a corner means carrying more speed into the next, changing the player’s approach to that corner. To perfect a course, the player must practise sequences of corners and maximise their speed through them all.
Racing games of the first half of the 1990s provide a pure form of this play style - Daytona USA, Ridge Racer, Destruction Derby, Sega Rally, Screamer, Stunt Car Racer, F-Zero, Super Mario Kart. As a toss up for the greatest video game corner ever, it’s between the first left of Mythical Coast in Rage Racer, into the upslope right-hander beside the waterfall; and that epic, sweeping right hander at the end of Sega Rally’s Desert track. Well, that’s my opinion anyway.
To allow control in a cardboard headset, we prototyped a mechanism intended to allow players to look where they wanted their car to go. The prototype worked, delivering intuitive, fun cornering - but something was missing. Feel. What’s the point in beating your personal best if the raw sensation of cresting those corners isn’t sublime? You shouldn’t need to look at a clock to know you nailed it - you should simply feel the excellence. And so that became the goal.
And that is what we achieved, due to the diligence of our excellent developers, whose expert engineering of control and camera gives the game its fluid feel. It’s a game in which the player looks where they want to go and then, depending upon the nuance of their movement, goes there in incredible style. Once acclimated to the game, our playtesters were regularly drifting around perfect corners, chaining one corner into the next, whilst plotting out the best routes to maximise their score. All without a button.
This is especially noticeable in Legend mode. Though a high degree of accessibility is a necessity to allow people to enjoy the game from the start, the team also needs challenging play during development, since they play for so many hours. Legend mode provides the fastest, driftiest, most fragile car in the game - it’s impossible to finish a run without an increased heart rate. And then play again. And then play again. Until perfection is reached.
All-Star Fruit Racing VR focusses determinedly upon this challenge of perfection, as a game about enjoying the feel of perfected sequences of corners. Our next game will probably have a different focus, but will nevertheless continue XR Games’ mission - to provide greater accessibility and depth of gameplay through intelligent VR interface.
The output of intelligent design and development is evidenced in the initial reviews:
“All-Star Fruit Racing VR is some of the most fun I’ve had in a VR racing game. Using your head to steer in VR mode is much tighter than you’d expect, and the drifting is pulled off flawlessly.” -- Henry Hoffman. BAFTA Breakthrough Brit and BAFTA winner for Game Design
"It only took me one race to get hooked on All-Star Fruit Racing VR. For me, it's the best mobile VR game I've played.” -- Andrew Douthwaite. COO WEARVR.com