Improving The Assembly's Virtual Reality

If you’re concerned about movement within VR, cybersickness or head movement, check out how we’ve been tinkering away to improve The Assembly over the last year. We’ve made The Assembly as comfortable as possible for the player, as well as made some changes to the plot to adjust the player’s experience of The Assembly’s mysterious world.

In this (spoiler-free!) blog, The Assembly’s Game Director Jamie Whitworth takes you through our latest updates and improvements for the game.

Easing you in

Our goal as a VR developer and publisher has always been to create the perfect introduction to virtual reality, so during the summer of 2015 we took an early version of The Assembly out on the road to multiple events. The demo consisted of three distinct chapters, which we used to gather as much feedback as we could. This feedback helped us upgrade the movement mechanics that we developed to make The Assembly as accessible as possible for players of all abilities and comfort levels.

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Combating cybersickness

Cybersickness is the enemy of every VR developer out there, and we’ve done everything we can to prevent it. For example, our first chapter in the early version of The Assembly featured the player, as Madeleine Stone, being wheeled into and through the Assembly’s entrance, towards a holding room in preparation for her first trial. However, the journey included slopes, reverse movements and changes in speed that brought out simulation sickness in a few users.

In light of this feedback, we decided to break the journey down into a series of key moments. Each of these contain just one direction of movement, and lets Madeleine fall in and out of consciousness between these segments, without ever changing speed or direction. This has enormously improved the player’s comfort, as well as introduce the player to The Assembly’s mysterious world with ease.

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Using your head

Unexpectedly, we found in the early version of The Assembly that many players didn’t instinctively move their heads around all that much when they first entered the game. Playing The Assembly in VR has been designed to be an immersive experience, so we want the audience to look around and interact as if they were in the Assembly's bunker. Players have typically spent the majority of their gaming experiences in the typical sitting pose for playing games on a flat screen, and preferring dual analogue controls to physical movement. We therefore found that we needed to actually prompt the player to move their head to look around.

We knew we needed to loosen the players up, so we peppered Madeleine’s initial journey with an increasing amount of key audio and visual information. This encourages the player to rotate and move their head in all directions, and thus enjoy the unique experiences that VR offers.

Blinking around The Assembly

Our blink control method was developed in response to feedback gained from the initial demo of The Assembly, in order to create a VR experience that is tailored to our community's needs. Blink teleportation allows players to quickly and easily freely navigate the world around them without inducing cybersickness. We’ve also built in some slower paced sequences to give the player time to become accustomed to these controls, experiment with dual analogue controls, and see which they prefer. Players can freely switch between the two movement methods, depending on their preference and comfort level.

We also enabled snap rotation using the dual analogue controls, which is typically set at four axes. However, in The Assembly, the player can snap rotate their view in the same direction that the joystick has been pushed. This enables the player to have more flexibility in their snap rotation view, rather than be limited to just four directions.

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Developing in Unreal

The Assembly is built in Unreal Engine 4, and throughout development we’ve been updating the latest version of UE4. As a result, we’ve been able to take advantage of new features and optimisations that have been added to the engine over the past year, allowing us to add a range of improvements. We’ve revised everything from adding more detail to environments, improving environmental lighting, having a higher onscreen NPC count, and adding capsule shadows for NPCs. This is all while preserving the minimum 90 FPS required for VR gameplay.

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Missed our preview coverage?

Check out our press round-up of preview coverage for The Assembly, as well as this hot-off-the-press preview from PCGamesN: The Assembly is the first VR experience that feels like a fully-fledged game.

We’re here for you, virtually

If you have any questions about The Assembly, feel free to send us a message via The Assembly's Facebook page or tweet us with the hashtag #TheAssemblyVR. Make sure you visit The Assembly’s Steam page, get chatting in the forums and add the game to your wishlist.

You can also find nDreams on Facebook, reach us via our dedicated subreddit, find our videos on YouTube and check out the game’s board on Pinterest for more screenshots.

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