A ton of thought goes into the game design process for any title, but with VR there’s so many additional factors to consider. Will the player be able to roam freely, or are they locked to a single location? Should they stand or sit? Can they teleport? How does the camera move outside of head movements? With Trover Saves the Universe, Justin Roiland and his designers at Squanch Games had to go through all of these steps and more. A while back I got to sit down with Roiland and chat about the game, and was stunned by how deep he got into this process.
Starting off we discussed why Trover Saves the Universe is a seated VR experience, and how it came to use the locomotion systems it ended up with. “In the early days [of Trover Saves the Universe] I had a whole other pitch. A whole different game,” explained Justin. “It was very much a room-scale, standing type of thing. But then I had this other idea because I started playing the Samsung Gear VR and there’s all these seated gamepad games. And when I played what was back then ‘Morpheus’, what became PSVR I was like ‘OK, I get the Move controllers, that’s all good and well, but the seated gamepad shit is really cool.’ And that’s a whole other avenue that I haven’t really explored and thought about too much.”
“I played so many fucking games that were currently available in VR that in my notebook I have just notes and notes of like this game’s locomotion, this is what they did right. Don’t do this, or really like insane, I’m not prototyping shit, I’m just like playing and making notes. Cause I’m a fan. I was enjoying playing all this stuff, but then I was also taking things away. Trover Saves the Universe kind of became the culmination of all of these different things, like ‘I love the exact degrees of lerping (a type of VR rotation) in this game.’ Also there was this one game I played where it had the lerping rotation in VR, but the geography was so samey that you would just get lost.”
Roiland learned from these sorts of experiments much like we’ve seen from some other recent VR experiences. “So I knew that when we designed the levels, we were like ‘let’s make sure that our levels are really colorful and the geography is very clear and not samey.’ And also we knew that we didn’t want just a blink (referring to teleportation methods of movement). We wanted an actual contextual thing.”
This came out in my time with Trover Saves the Universe, where movement is handled with warp node that you direct Trover to before warping yourself to his location. This creates hard travel points and distinct areas of movement for your character. You never feel like you’re being jostled or thrown around the map. Instead it’s smooth and even the rough environment of the PAX East show floor worked well with the PSVR setup to the point that I felt no nausea or motion sickness. That continued once I got the game home and played it for our review.
There are alternatives, such as Astro Bot Rescue Mission and Lucky’s Tale which have a free floating camera that follows the action. Roiland says this could have worked, but they would have had to plan that from the beginning. “It’s a very significantly different design process. But we found that the warp totem thing is really cool cause it’s almost like you warp to a location and okay now you’re there, Trover has free range. You can also work the warp totems into the game design, like ‘there’s the next one, how do I get to it?'”
And the benefits go far beyond just the gameplay. Roiland explained “we found that it eliminated motion sickness, it eliminated all of the VR sickness stuff.” For many newcomers to the VR gaming space this will sell the game all by itself. Gamers have contended with VR sickness of some sort throughout the tech’s development, so designers like Roiland taking that into mind is a big benefit and should help grow the playerbase and library for the foreseeable future.