Post Mortem

Although there are a lot of unknowns in our initial question, there was a lot that went right for us. One of our earliest lessons came when we experimented with the size of the LSE (large-scale enemy). After playing around with various sizes and landing on 60 meters, the question shifted to “how should the LSE be revealed?” With this new question, the team was exposed to the Loom Response. Learning about this physiological effect proved vital in how we would approach level design, LSE aesthetics, and LSE actions throughout the semester.

Coming out of our Half semester presentation, we had some new hypotheses while being met with some key points of feedback to address. When we initially pitched this project, we were fully prepared to address a factor that we assumed would hinder progress: motion sickness. Throughout building the first prototype, we noticed that motion sickness was a non-issue. Playtesting data revealed that throughout the experience, even when the player was using the hookshots to swing in the air, the level of motion sickness remained lower than expected. Our initial conclusion was that since the LSE was so large and solid, the player is virtually unable to see the horizon line shift as well as being unable to see a lot of the surrounding environment change rapidly. In addition, the use of slow animations to make the LSE feel enormous and daunting aided in that aspect. We decided to do a quick test by changing the material of the LSE from that of solid rock to one of translucent crystals; the reasoning being that if the player can see the shifts in the horizon line and environment, perhaps this will cause motion sickness. 

This hypothesis also proved to be inaccurate, as the only change this made a drastic increase in difficulty when it came to navigability and disorientation. The question then became: why? Our updated conclusion stands that if the player is hyper-focused on a specific task or point to get to, it occupies the brain enough to prevent motion sickness. While this requires further testing to prove definitively, it was an interesting point for us to learn in our experiments.

Stepping into the second half of the semester also presented itself with faculty feedback that needed to be addressed. The first piece stated that “there should be a greater focus on combat”, while the second said our team should be “less conservative with what we build”. We took these critiques to heart as we set off to build our second prototype.

Brainstorming more around combat with the LSE proved to be more difficult than previously imagined. We needed to present the LSE as a gigantic threat, and yet the sheer size and might of the creature made direct head-to-head combat with it seem unrealistic and broke the fantasy we were trying to build. Although we were told to focus more on combat, we realized that methods of locomotion to dodge incoming attacks and other dangers the LSE presented were necessary to make a potential combat scenario work. In this way, a power dynamic was established early on in a prototype. Only through using your wits and skills could use become more powerful later on and tip the scales to your side. 

In researching and developing unconventional methods of transportation in virtual reality, we also realized we were taking a big risk. The previous hookshots were already established as being fun and enjoyable while simultaneously getting the job done and fulfilling a cool fantasy. Moving away from this would mean more work within all of our disciplines. Nevertheless, we decided to build a new prototype from the ground up. This included a new fantasy, new world, new aesthetics, new goals, and new challenges all around. In the end, we had a second prototype that revolves around making your hands powerful. This included punching, climbing, and using your new gauntlets in a unique “grab dash” mechanic that suited our needs well.

With this second prototype, we concluded the semester with two relatively polished prototypes. Having the amount of polish we ended up with was a huge feat, and one we are all extremely proud of. We plan on refining these prototypes a bit further in order to make them exactly how we envision before presenting them online for critique as well as additional playtesting.

While there was so much we learned this semester and so much that went right, not all of it was smooth. There were a small handful of aspects that could have gone better. This included divisive feedback as well as budgeting time.

As previously discussed, our second prototype moved away from many of the facets we deemed successful in the first prototype, namely the use of hookshots to get around the world. While the physics-based swinging appealed to many, we did receive feedback that was not as positive. Some wished the swinging to be more controlled and directed. Ultimately, we learned that even if sections work well, they can still be divisive overall. This would prove even more true in our second prototype.

One of the new mechanisms we introduced in the second prototype was the use of flying enemies (resembling stone birds) to teach the player about punching, UI indicators for said punching, and additional threats to amplify the interest curve. However, these birds were not well received. At the time, the birds attacked the player in set groups and at set intervals, and did not seem to fit the world or narrative. This was seen as especially true when compared to the LSE, who was still comprised of the same desert stone from the first prototype. The use of these enemies was also seen as a way to avoid dealing with LSE combat since you are attacking them instead of the LSE itself. We made the difficult decision to keep them in the second prototype while working to integrate them into the world better.

This was also right before a new LSE replaced the one from the first prototype in order to better mesh with the world. Interestingly, we were advised against this. Many faculty liked the desert LSE design, as it was simple, readable, and the color provided a contrast to the world in our second prototype. The injection of this new LSE came very late in the building process, and it remains to be seen if everything about it works.

One of the facets of this new LSE that we know could be better involves the use of certain textures. While it looks great from far away, the texture used is visibly pixelated when one is climbing on the LSE. This is jarring enough to take the player out of the experience, and it was unfortunate that we did not have enough time to work on this more through texture and material testing.

COVID-19 was a wrench that disrupted a lot of our plans for the second half of the semester. The transition of working remotely rather than all being together in a project room threw a lot of our team members for a loop, and while we were able to conquer some of the challenges this pandemic presented us, there were still aspects that could have been handled better.

Working remotely requires amplifying numerous facets one could take for granted when being in a physical space together. Specifically, communication is made even more vital. As a team, we made sure to have more meetings through Zoom as well as have more discussions via online chat. While some of the updates received were small in nature, it promoted a better sense of collaboration and communication that allowed us to build the aforementioned second prototype.

As always, there were some things that could have been done better. While we did amplify our level of communication, being able to covey new designs and ideas remotely proved challenging at times. Screen sharing was a great tool in our arsenal, but it was obviously not as strong as when we were all in a project room together. Our timeline was also shortened when it came to building a new prototype. Brainstorming and ideation took time, as well as just transitioning to a remote environment. In short, progress was just tougher to accomplish in the beginning. Another major part of our project that we took pride in was how often we were able to playtest with people outside of our project room. In the wake of COVID-19, this proved impossible. We continued to test internally and, when we feel enough polish is added, we will be delivering both prototypes to the outside world for comments. 

In conclusion, the prototypes we produced during this semester taught us a great deal about how difficult melee combat against a large enemy truly is, aspects of virtual reality that can be used to bolster this kind of fantasy, and the nature of working in different kinds of environments. The team plans to build out the prototypes more and present them to various online communities in order to receive even more insight into giant combat.