How Game Mechanics Change In Virtual Reality

by Upload • December 15th, 2016

In 2016 three major trendsetters in virtual reality – Oculus, HTC and Sony – released consumer headsets. It took at least three years and thousands of developers to explore boundaries of VR technologies, create new interactions patterns and test various game mechanics. No new unique game genre has been created yet, but many existing mechanics have evolved because of both the possibilities and limitations of VR.

It’s time to figure out how exactly game mechanics change in existing genres. Here are four key examples:

  • movement system limitations
  • ways to avoid movement system limitations
  • body ergonomics and tracking system
  • motion-controller possibilities

Movement system limitations

Shooter games have changed most dramatically. The reason is a motion sickness issue which doesn’t allow you to move completely naturally using a motion controller. It’s important to synchronize a user’s head movement with camera position to ensure comfortable interaction in VR. As a result, many early VR shooters are designed as shooting galleries with movement area limited by the tracking system’s capacity.

It doesn’t mean that no shooter game allowing movement with controllers exist. For instance, Sony, unlike other companies in the industry, tends to use classic ways to move around games.

There are a number of ways to avoid the motion sickness effect while completing game scenarios and still to move around game actively. A frequent response is movement via teleportation. Some players, however, find teleportation breaks the feeling of immersion.

Ways to avoid movement system limitations

However, some game developers decide to challenge the motion sickness issue by creating completely new ground for game mechanics. Take the project Budget Cuts for example. The whole game is based on the teleportation feature. It is not perceived as a least-evil solution but rather plays an integral part of the game. Thus, the developers implemented teleportation into game scenarios in a way that fits inside the world.

Isn’t it a cool move: to turn avoiding a limitation into a main feature of the gameplay?

If we continue with the teleportation feature, it blends in well with slow motion effects (like in Space Pirate Trainer) which can be implemented in a shooter and in the end can lay the groundwork for better interaction in VR. Players can also be constrained in movement by having a virtual platform to stand on. While the player can’t move beyond the platform, the platforms themselves can move in space. That’s how Hover Junkers does it. These are all different ways to reduce the possibility of motion sickness by making it one of the central features of the game.

Ergonomics and tracking system

Any new input systems inevitably see new game mechanics developed. In the case of VR, these changes are pretty fundamental. Now we don’t simply look at an image, we appear inside of it. Thanks to tracking systems in headsets and motion controllers in hands, the human body is not only a part of virtual reality but also a means of interacting with the environment. Thus, ergonomics can influence gameplay as well as open new opportunities (and set limitations) for existing genres.

Now precise body movement can be incorporated into game mechanics.

Tracking systems introduce sometimes quite interesting game practices, for example, doing actual squats and dodging bullets. When doing physical puzzles a user is expected to place their controllers in different positions. New experiences can be created with fairly basic actions as well. For example, picking apples and “eating” them by bringing your hand to your mouth to regenerate health, or  moving an arm to a shoulder to grab a sword.

All this physical activity is worth consideration when developing game dynamics, levels and session duration. This is as important as remembering ergonomics and the weight of VR devices.

Motion controllers

Using motion controllers in VR games is a topic for discussion itself. In shooter games, gun reloading is now a new part of the gameplay. In some projects it is a very substantial part of the gameplay. Different variations of movements, gestures and button presses offer various ways to reload. It all takes an effort from a user to manage.

By the way, realistic weapon targeting is also possible in VR. Now a user carefully positions the controller to align a rear sight and a front sight. The image of the controller itself is brought into virtual reality and the number of its operating elements increases. For other titles, additional layers of virtual buttons and panels can appear in VR, allowing the controller to access a wide range of tools.


In the end, locations and environments in VR become more impressive. Playing in VR dramatically changes the experience in genres where such impact is important, for example, in action-horror games, quests or exploration games. All four aspects outlined above are related not only to the game industry but other segments, too. The list of opportunities which VR technology gives is endless. Some of them are known (sound, social interactions) and some are yet to be explored.

This post is contributed by Denis Tambovtsev, co-founder of Cerevrum Inc.

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