GDC 2016 - I Expect You To Die

Lessons Learned from I Expect You To Die

Speakers: Jesse Schell, Shawn Patton (Schell Games)

In my original GDC recap post, I talked about my experience playing I Expect You To Die, from Schell Games for the Oculus with touch controllers. In this session, Jesse Schell (CEO) and Shawn Patton (Senior Designer) discussed the lessons they learned about developing VR games through their experience on this project, including some important ideas about presence in VR, and what makes some experiences in VR super fun.

According to Jesse Schell, presence is more important than gameplay when it comes to building immersive virtual reality experiences. 

He proceeded to outline seven common presence breakers:

    I Expect You To Die Screenshot

    1) Motion Sickness – To account for this, you need to achieve a high enough frame rate, avoid virtual camera motion, don’t accelerate / decelerate, and keep the horizon level.

    2) Confusion – Interfaces need to be natural, intuitive, and straightforward. Confusion makes you think too much.


    3) Shallow Object Interactions – Design your puzzles and gameplay so that objects interact with one another in interesting ways. Object interactions should mimic the affordances that we give them in the real world.

    4) Too Much Intensity – The whole point of presence is to make you believe that everything you see and hear is real. But crazy jump scares and really intense experiences will make your mind want to tell you, “This isn’t real!”

    5) Unrealistic Audio – You need to spend a lot of time on sound design. If you drop a coin on carpet and then on the hood of a car, they should sound different. People will notice if something doesn’t sound right, and appreciate your game that much more if it does.

    6) Proprioceptive Disconnect – Proprioception is your body’s sense of its position and orientation. Your player character’s body position needs to match your user’s physical body, or they’ll notice that something isn’t right.

    7) Unintuitive Interactions – When things are unintuitive, you have to think, and when you think, you remember that you’re in your home playing a video game, not in a beautifully crafted virtual world.

    Here are some other observations they made:

    Putting your hands through solid objects in VR is not ideal, because it does not match your expected behavior of solid things in the real world (#2/#3). But it helps to preserve proprioception (#6), because if you physically move your hand, but your hand in the game stops suddenly because of an object collision, you will feel a disconnect between your physical body and the virtual one.

    I Expect You To Die Screenshot

    Two-handed interactions were necessary to achieve deeper object interactions, and also really fun, changing the way that some of the puzzles in the game worked. With two hands, you can a lot more things, like uncork a bottle of champagne and pull wires out of a bomb to defuse it.

    Telekinesis is fun! Most of the interactions in I Expect You To Die are seated, which makes it challenging to interact with objects on the other side of a room. But players really wanted to interact with more things. So Schell Games developed a telekinesis mechanic that lets you pick up any object from a distance and bring it toward you to interact with.

    I asked Shawn and Jesse why telekinesis (being a superpower) doesn’t break the player’s sense of presence, because it gives them an ability that they do not normally have in the real world. Surely, I thought, this would remind you that you’re playing a video game and not actually a secret agent. But Jesse’s answer to my question was great: he noted that while we cannot pick up books with our minds in the real world, we can get up, cross a room, and take them off a shelf. Telekinesis simply enables a real-world object interaction in a slightly easier way, and our minds don't seem to notice. Thanks Jesse!

    I Expect You To Die Screenshot

    Now, if you’ve played already played the game, you’ll probably be familiar with the famed “car puzzle”. Shawn went into more detail on what makes the car puzzle so successful.

    First of all, it was comfortable. Players had time to get acclimated to the environment, and everything felt familiar to someone who has sat in the driver’s seat of a car before.

    Second, there were lots of things to interact with in this puzzle, so the player had a lot of affordances. The interactions represented player goals, and these goals built very naturally on one another. The long-term goal of “I need to drive this car” was clear from the start, and it helped the player realize intermediate and short-term goals, like “I need to find the car key” and “I need to start the car”.

    Third, even if you died in the car, they were helpful deaths that helped you progress further in the puzzle the next time and learn the mechanics of the game.

    Finally, solving the puzzle made players feel clever. “Lead Them To Cleverness” is one of the main design pillars at Schell Games, and because the solutions to the puzzle were so cool, players feel really cool when they solve it.

    If you haven't played it yet, go check out I Expect You To Die on the Oculus Share! It's been one of my favorite (top 3) VR experiences to date, so I'd highly recommend it to everyone.


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