Virtual reality gives people the chance to enter incredible make-believe worlds … but the results of that are often unsettling instead of wondrous.
Playful, the studio behind the working on the 3D platformer Lucky’s Tale for the Oculus Rift headset, revealed that even the cutest game characters can turn scary inside of VR. Lucky’s Tale comes bundled with the Rift, and it launches March 28. It stars a cute wolf that players guide around colorful levels that feel like throwbacks to Super Mario 64, one of Nintendo’s most groundbreaking games, or Banjo-Kazooie. This might sound pleasant, but the problem is that if Lucky is the same size as you in VR, Lucky’s presence can feel ominous.
“Seeing a human-sized Lucky is actually really creepy,” Playful designer Dan Hurd said during a presentation at the Game Developers Conference this week. “It’s not something you want to experience.”
Most VR games happen from a first-person perspective — and a lot of studios have used this to throw enemies right into players’ faces. PlayStation VR’s Until Dawn: Rise of Blood, for example, doesn’t hesitate to throw some serious gruesomeness right in front of your eyeballs. But Lucky’s Tale is not supposed to produce that sensation — and it’s even worse because your role in Playful’s game is really that of a mostly stationary camera. So if you use a gamepad to guide a large Lucky right at your position, it can start to feel like this giant cartoon fox is coming to get you.
“Yeah, it’s vaguely threatening,” Playful designer Evan Reidland said. “You begin to wonder ‘who is the real person here?’ And we didn’t want to feel that way with Lucky.”
Playful was able to solve this problem by playing around with the size of the world as well as the size of the virtual camera.
“We discovered the joy of scaling the camera,” said Hurd. “Whenever we would pull up the camera, it messed with the world scaling and made it feel a lot smaller and more toylike. Things that are further across the room begin to look flat and lose their depth cues. But whenever you scale up the size of the camera, it brings more of the world into this comfortable sweet spot in about arm’s reach. It really adds to the 3D effect.”