Exploring VR & UI: Part 1
Updated: Feb 24, 2020
VR provides us with an immersive experience like no other. There is a rapidly increasing use of VR products in both professional and consumer markets. We can now immerse ourselves in environments like never before. So why do we still use the typical button and slider to interact with information? Is it easier to use? Is it familiar to average user? Or have we just not discovered a better way to interact with information in VR? Over the course of this semester and blog series, I hope to explore these questions in depth and prototype new ways to touch, see, and convey information in VR. The goal? To break the norms of UI and explore solutions to problems faced when dealing with this new medium. If there is enough material created from this exploration, the hope is to publish an asset pack of UI widgets and tools to help other developers explore new ways to experience data in VR!
What Knowledge I Have Going In?
Before starting any of my research or prototyping, I have worked on multiple VR game and prototypes. These include my current senior production game Cash Force and small prototyping projects in the past. I have worked in both Unity and Unreal with both Oculus and Vive headsets. Outside of developing for VR, I also have played multiple VR games and experiences. Some of which have done incredible things with UI... and others not so much. Using my skills as a programmer I hope to find unique solutions to many of the problems I have seen in other games and my own. With this is mind, there is plenty I need to learn.
Research Needed To Be Done?
There are many unknowns going into this project that I must research and understand. Such things include compatibility of systems / SDKs, what kind of information developers need UI to express, and what methods we can use to convey, generate, or show information to the user. There should be a solution for as many problems and needs as possible. Looking into the Unreal and Unity's asset stores, I did not find any "all in one" solutions to this problem. This is what I want to fix. What are those other assets and packs giving? What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? All these questions will not only help determine the direction I should start researching in, but also what fundamental ways of manipulating or showing information in VR feel unnatural.
Other factors that need to be kept in mind when exploring this project is the dependencies in this exploration. These include peripherals (headsets), computer capable of running VR, VR SDKs, and external mentors / knowledge. I do not own a headset myself, but as I'm currently working on a VR game, I have multiple members of my team that have given me long term access to varying headsets. I have also applied to Oculus Start for our senior production project, which might end up giving me access to a headset, but is not guaranteed. Next is the use of VR SDKs in Unity and Unreal. Using these SDKs will allow me to best create a pack that a large audience of developers can access and use. Having a computer that can run VR is also a minor factor. I own a computer that can run VR and I have access to many on campus, but it means I can not work remotely on this project without a computer and VR kit. Finally, there is the issues of resources. Having some knowledge in the surrounding topic of VR, I would still need to learn more. My professor Sajid Farooq has ideas and thoughts on the project which will help immensely and there are other professors on campus who might as well. Being able to work on this project and complete it will require me to keep in mind these external factors and minimize the risks they might pose if I lost access to them.
Over the next couple of weeks I will be researching and discussing the direction of this project. I will continue to blog on my process and prototyping during the semester, including the my research on VR and UI. With Cash Force having similar issues with UI, I will also be able to connect my findings to solutions to our game. Until my next post, it's time to get researching!