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"This Is Not the Church of the Worm" Lovecraftian horror + Cardboard VR

05-29-2015, 12:35 PM
#1
"This Is Not the Church of the Worm" Lovecraftian horror + Cardboard VR

"This Is Not the Church of the Worm" has been a back-burner Mac/Windows Oculus Rift hobby project for me—a last priority after my day job and finishing my first iOS game (Scree).

However...


With Google Cardboard virtual reality on iOS now, I now plan to release this horror "game" for iPhone and iPad! (No time frame yet—Scree comes first.)


"Game" is in quotes because you cannot win or lose. (Well... maybe one of the two.) I consider it an artistic "horror experience"--something between a short film and and a short game. Maybe 10–20 minutes to experience, plus replays if you want to see different minor endings besides the "main" ending. It's not highly interactive, with long stretches of tension building to feel the depth increasing and wonder about things half-seen and half-heard.


I've come up with a horror theme I've never seen done: you're being lowered on a winch down a mysterious shaft or well (400 meters deep) found in the floor of a forgotten old church. The only light is your headlamp, and you're wearing scuba gear because most of the shaft is filled with water... and maybe more than water. It's not Cthuluhu mythos, but there's certainly an H.P. Lovecraft influence. The story is very minimal—a few words at the start. It's all about the experience (which has indeed frightened some of my early testers/friends--even those without a VR HMD. VR is ideal but not required.)


Your only controls are looking around the claustrophobic well, plus radio-controlled Winch Up/Down (in VR: look up or down and tap to engage/disengage the motor). So it's kind of "on rails"—but no shooting, and you can stop freely, and even go back. (That's how different "hidden endings" are possible. To spoil one: what happens if you winch back up to the top, hear the awful grinding noise, and just keep going? Something's going to break...)


I've worked really hard on the sound environment and water effects—it's pretty convincing when you are lowered beneath the surface and the echoing generator motor high above suddenly muffles—especially since the VR mask already feels like a scuba mask. (The screenshot below, looking down past your own seated legs, is above the water.)


Also attached--my home-brew Lego VR viewer for iPhone 6+. Didn't want to wait for a Cardboard kit I know, it's ugly... version 2 will use better Legos...
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Morgan Adams (GameCenter: “Adams Immersive”)
My upcoming first game: Scree (Forum thread)
My upcoming VR horror experience: This is Not the Church of the Worm (Forum thread)
Stop making lists. Organize with shapes and colors instead: DotSpace (Forum thread)

Last edited by Adams Immersive; 05-29-2015 at 01:19 PM. Reason: Link to Cardboard for iPhone
05-29-2015, 01:13 PM
#2
Joined: Apr 2011
Location: Houston, TX
Posts: 3,585
Thanks for posting about this. Now that Google will officially support IOS, I am excited to get one of the version 2 Cardboard devices (are they available yet?) and start playing with VR. Hopefully a bunch of developers will support Cardboard on IOS.

Game Center: MarinasideSteve

05-29-2015, 02:14 PM
#3
My impression so far of Google Cardboard VR on iPhone: the demos are poor, but the potential is good! I'm convinced it can generate very immersive experiences that feel real like the Oculus Rift. (And you really do have to try "real VR"--more than these Google demos. Imagining it is not the same. It's amazing.)

• "Screen door effect" is much better than Rift DK1 (similar to DK2, presumably). You still won't get great distance vision in VR--the detail's not there—but the experience can still be very good. (That's why I designed this game to have most things within a couple meters: that's where VR can look the most like real life.) And the pixels are nicely anti-aliased—no flickering stair-steps. (My Oculus experience has been that this is important: aliased edges are really annoying in VR.)

• Latency is very good! That was my biggest worry, but at least on my iPhone 6+, tracking seems rock solid. The CPU, GPU, and gyroscopes are up to the task.

• One-button control (a side-button on a Cardboard kit... a finger through a hole in my Lego version) is not as limiting as you might fear. Because you also have a 3-axis controller... your own head. Creative game design is called for.

• Chromatic aberration: there is NO correction for this. Maybe that's an option in their SDK (or will be)—I haven't looked. Maybe it's just not worth the processing power. Without it, there's some color-fringing—but I find it acceptable. It's only at the edges of your view. (Most won't notice consciously, but they'd still like the image better without.)

• Focus and barrel distortion: I'm going to give an optimistic thumbs-up, because this is a solved problem. My Lego contraption doesn't have the perfect dimensions, and so there's blur sometimes. But a more precisely-crafted VR headset should be fine.


BUT: the official Google Cardboard app is baaaaaaad. (I know, they had to release something to spark others to do more.)

It cleverly uses the 3rd axis (roll) to trigger a menu--kind of like a second button. And the four included demos run fine for what they are, and could become useful applications of an HMD. But none of the 4 demos fully demonstrate actual virtual reality! The hardware and software can do it, but I'm surprised this was the best Google could ship.

• "Urban Hike" is a Street View demo--complete with the weird blurs, half-objects and lack of smooth travel that Street View always has. More importantly, it is not stereoscopic! It's like a big-screen IMAX—immersive in its own way, still pretty cool, but NOT VR.
• "Exhibit" is stereo, but doesn't track your head in the world—you're looking AT an object, not IN a place. (Head tracking is used to rotate the object, but again--that's not VR.)

• "Kaleidoscope" is stereo AND tracks your head in the world—it's close what I'd call a real VR experience. But you're still not in a "place"--you're just surrounded by a bunch of "stuff." The experience is NOT on the same level as even low-detail 3D environments I've tried with the Oculus Rift. (But it could be! Someone just has to make better content.)


• "Explorer" feels halfway between Street View and real VR. At first I thought it too had no stereo—because it has so little! Very little of it can match the strong stereo effect I've seen in the Rift (or in Kaleidoscope even). And it has no "neck model"—which really hurts the depth effect and sense of "being there." The best parts are the dinosaur's skull, and (keep tapping!) the best of all: the Peruvian cave. Strong stereo there! That's the best demo of the bunch, I think. (Still no neck--a regrettable omission.)

• And none of them have any audio. Spatial audio that turns with the world in response to your head is a big part of a complete VR experience.


But they had to start somewhere, and better demos (even real games) will emerge.

(I haven't tried TINTCOTW yet—it looks like it should be simple to port from my Rift DK1, but for now I've just viewed stereo still-shots from my game, like the one above. They work.)


P.S. I also tried Gear VR with a Note 4. The OLED screen had great black levels and dot pitch—I'd say it's better suited for VR than for a phone! And it had some Oculus demos that were actual VR. But the detail and realism was still not good--the "world" felt very three-dimensional, yet very fake and cartoony. Maybe newer/faster hardware can be pushed harder—or maybe the demos just didn't do it justice. I certainly wouldn't pay more for Gear VR over Cardboard: you gain a nice touchpad on the side, but holding your had up to use it is awkward and makes it a poor controller anyway. Better to use your head alone—or a bluetooth gamepad (which I did not try).

Morgan Adams (GameCenter: “Adams Immersive”)
My upcoming first game: Scree (Forum thread)
My upcoming VR horror experience: This is Not the Church of the Worm (Forum thread)
Stop making lists. Organize with shapes and colors instead: DotSpace (Forum thread)

Last edited by Adams Immersive; 05-31-2015 at 12:24 PM. Reason: Neck vs. stereo edit
05-31-2015, 12:36 PM
#4
Edited my above commentary on the Cardboard app: the lack of a "neck model" is a failing—but one developers can solve on their own. TINTCOTW uses my own custom neck model anyway.


A neck model means that as you turn your head to the side (or up/down), you see different things because your eyes are moving, not just rotating around the center of a sphere. Your eyes are in front of your skull's horizontal pivot axis, and above your necks's vertical pivot axis. So an "L-shaped" approximation of the rotation geometry feels way more real—and adds a ton of parallax that gives a far stronger sense of depth and immersion.


You can test this without VR: hold still, and hold your computer/phone screen still. Keep your head pointed straight ahead, but turn your eyes to look at the wall or background right next to your screen. Now, keeping your eyes on that spot in the background, turn your head to the side and back. See how more background is revealed when your head turns? That's the neck model missing from Google's VR demos. But solvable.



Quote:
Originally Posted by slewis7 View Post
Thanks for posting about this. Now that Google will officially support IOS, I am excited to get one of the version 2 Cardboard devices (are they available yet?) and start playing with VR. Hopefully a bunch of developers will support Cardboard on IOS.
Not seeing any yet. I have my eye on the foam ones. (Some of the "certified" viewers mention iPhone 6+, but I think that's their unofficial modification, pre-dating Google's announcement. So, still Cardboard 1.) It's odd: Google has a box announcing the "New Cardboard" and then right below it a bunch of "certified" viewers that don't seem to use the new Cardboard!


So for now, Legos (and spare Oculus lenses) to the rescue! (And I'm glad C2 doesn't use the magnets anymore--it means you just reach in with your finger to tap if nothing else.)

Morgan Adams (GameCenter: “Adams Immersive”)
My upcoming first game: Scree (Forum thread)
My upcoming VR horror experience: This is Not the Church of the Worm (Forum thread)
Stop making lists. Organize with shapes and colors instead: DotSpace (Forum thread)
05-31-2015, 01:05 PM
#5
Joined: Apr 2011
Location: Houston, TX
Posts: 3,585
I have been unable to find any versions of Cardboard 2 either, so I will wait until they are available. I have an iPhone 5c for now, but I expect to get a newer and larger version late this year. Hopefully, I can find a premium Cardboard 2 implementation that will work for both of them and that will hold me off until the Rift or the Vive.

Game Center: MarinasideSteve
05-31-2015, 10:47 PM
#6
My Lego iPhone VR viewer v.2 is a success Pics attached. It's no Oculus Rift, but the price is right!

And I've now had some success porting a game to Cardboard as well: that's my other upcoming game Scree, showing in the VR view. (I doubt I'll release VR mode for Scree, though--it's neat but not vital. My next VR test will be This Is Not the Church of the Worm. So far the chances of it working out look good!) Google's SDK and docs seem pretty decent.
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Morgan Adams (GameCenter: “Adams Immersive”)
My upcoming first game: Scree (Forum thread)
My upcoming VR horror experience: This is Not the Church of the Worm (Forum thread)
Stop making lists. Organize with shapes and colors instead: DotSpace (Forum thread)
07-11-2015, 03:22 PM
#7
Here's a new first-person iPhone VR game/demo I've built to overcome the shortcomings of Google's own Cardboard demo app. If I do say so myself, the sense of the 3D is WAY better than Google's demos.

I built it as a learning exercise for Church of the Worm, but I might release it free on the App Store because it turned out to be pretty fun! (You're flying freely around a giant 3D city, with control over both speed and direction. Colorful piñatas from my game Scree--only redone in shiny metal--are hidden around the city to find. A simple treasure hunt game--but the biggest fun is just flying around.)

This demo is designed for maximum 3D effect (unlike Google's demo) with minimum "VR sickness." (Or none! Move slow if you have a fear of rapid motion or heights, and look at the black ball if you feel at all weird.) Even beginners (a.k.a. my parents) seem to enjoy it with little need to "get their V legs" first.

Techniques I've used for better VR effect:

• Added "neck modeling," absent in Google's SDK. This makes a HUGE difference in depth perception and immersion. Took some trial and error to make it feel right.

• Particles in the air (early snow?) around you. Particles look great in 3D movies... great in VR too!

• "VR cage"—those black bars you see in the image. It's a virtual "cage" strapped to your "chest" to make first-person movement take on the benefits of a vehicle or cockpit: a non-moving reference in your field of view, greatly reducing motion sickness. (This works much like looking out of the car while reading, or looking at the horizon while on a boat.) Bonus side effect: having some objects very close to you AND some far away gives a great sense of depth, especially with the neck modeling.

• Realistic 3D cues in the environment: realtime shadows, distance haze, and city geometry with lots of easily-perceived perspective.

• Motion! You can just stand and look around, but you don't have to: you can move around slowly or at high speed, along the streets or flying over head, and stop and hover at will. All under your control--not another "on rails" demo. (Although you should check out the "InMind VR" demo app—it's on rails but still pretty neat.)

Controls—no tapping or controller needed:

• Look around to... look around.

• Tilt your head sideways (like a plane banking its wings) to rotate your "body" (the "vehicle"). So you can sit on a couch and still turn 360°.

• Look down: around your "chest" you will see three round "speed ball" controls. Look at any one to change your speed: Stop-Slow-Fast.

• While in motion, tilt (bank) to steer yourself, and you can freely look to the side or behind you while still moving in the direction your body faces. (Many VR experiences make you move toward where you look--which sounds nice and simple, but it's NOT how real life is! In real life, you don't suddenly start walking left just because you turn your head to see something!)

• But to climb/dive, it does follow your gaze (unless you're stopped): look up or down. Feels pretty natural.

Releasing this app is not my priority, but it's done—if there's interest, I will do so! (Google Cardboard required of course. You need that barcode to calibrate the visuals.
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Morgan Adams (GameCenter: “Adams Immersive”)
My upcoming first game: Scree (Forum thread)
My upcoming VR horror experience: This is Not the Church of the Worm (Forum thread)
Stop making lists. Organize with shapes and colors instead: DotSpace (Forum thread)