Further refinements are being made to Conjure Strike. Recently, new levels and classes were released in the Temple of the Moon expansion. Please stay in touch for more updates in the coming months.
Research & Analysis
During my initial conversations with TribeVR, they clearly saw Overwatch as the main precedent they’d like to capture for the feel of Conjure Strike’s gameplay. Overwatch provided a clear sense for the fast pace of the gameplay TribeVR wanted, but I needed to look into dedicated VR first-person experiences to figure out how to translate that to the Oculus Rift's unique interface. Some of the games I looked into were The Unspoken, Echo Arena, Gorn, and Adr1ft.
Researching the competative gamer audiance
For my user research interviewed gamers of varying degrees of experience that played competitive online shooters and VR games. I then distilled my findings into the persona, Eric The Esports Gamer.
Eric - The Esports Gamer
Likes fast paced action mechanics with precise controls.
Owns a high end PC for playing games.
Was an early adopter of VR.
Primarily plays online competative games (Overwatch, Fortnite, and League of Legends).
Dislikes cumbersome interfaces that get in the way of gameplay.
Optimized for VR best practices
Due to the speed and complexity of Conjure Strikes gameplay, I did thorough research on the best practices of VRs interaction designs and methods to prevent nausea. One of the most helpful resources was the Oculus VR Best Practices guide.
IDEATION & DESIGN
A modern VR game with classic controls
We went through multiple iterations for the controls. It became apparent that all locomotion should be assigned to the left Touch Controller, and all spells should be assigned to the right Touch Controller (with an option to switch hands for left handed players). What works so well about this design is that it mimics the tried and true dual stick shooter control layout that emphasizes the ability to allows for users to both move and aim independently.
In Conjure Strike users have an arsenal of spells they can use to defeat their opponents. It's vital to the gameplay that users be able to use specific spells with split second precision. Unfortunately in the initial prototype had a design where users could only use one spell it at time. The design was cumbersome, and prevented users from enjoying the quick Overwatch style gameplay. In their design each spell was connected with a wand, and the user could only hold one wand at a time. To switch spells, users were required to look down and use their Touch Controller to grab from a series of wands floating at waist level. I realized this was a problem during play testing when users would stop moving in amidst the hectic action to look down and focus their attention on switching spells. This often resulted in the user being killed or missing the opportune moment they had been switching spells for.
I streamlined this design by removing the spell switching completely, and instead I mapped all the user’s spells to the Touch Controller’s buttons. This allowed for the entire arsenal of spells to be accessible anytime. My design was validated during play testing, as the matches became much faster paced and engaging.
Character Locomotion system
Tribe VR wanted a locomotion system that allowed users to fly through the air with complete freedom of movement. After several iterations we implemented a system where users can control their flight by simply looking in the direction they want to move and pressing forward on the left joystick. Moving backwards and strafing left and right are also controlled by the same joystick. In addition, I assigned a move up, and move down movements to the left Touch Controller’s trigger buttons. This last design emerged from user testing where there were complaints about having to crane their neck up and down too much during gameplay.
For the initial prototype of Conjure Strike the user’s health bar was attached to their left hand. If a user wanted to check their health, they’d have to look down at their hand, or bring it into camera view. This made it difficult to view a your health bar during intense gameplay, and overall served as a distraction from the fast paced gameplay. My feeling is that for a competitive shooter it’s crucial to have an immediate understanding of health bar at anytime during the gameplay. For my design I visualized it a green bar at the upper edge of user’s view, making visible but unobtrusive.
I also created a system where the user’s spells and cool down timers are visualized as icons that track their weapon on screen at all times (See the “Simplified cool down timer system” below for more information on cool down timers). This allows for a user to have an immediate understanding of which spells were connected to which buttons, and the status of their cool down timers.
In addition, when a player moves their weapon offscreen, the cool down timer icons move to the lower edge of user’s view. This allows them to remain onscreen at all times.
I purposed two different designs for waypoint systems. The fist waypoint system is visualized as a 3D ring that hovers around the user at chest level. This allows it be be easily visible with a slight glance down, but not in the way of gameplay. The main waypoints in the game are attached to the ring, such as your base’s health, and capture the flag locations. As the user looks around, the ring remains static, but the waypoints rotate around the ring, indicating which direction they are in relation to the user. If the waypoint is completely out of the user’s view, the waypoint visualized at the edge their view pointing to the direction the user would need to rotate in order to be facing the waypoint. This design is more reminiscent of the UI found in games like Doom VFR or Skyrim VR.
The second waypoint visualizes the UI floating in 3D space in the direction of the waypoints they represent. If the waypoint is completely out of the user’s view, it is visualized at the edge their view pointing to the direction the user would need to rotate in order to be facing the waypoint. This system is similar to a traditional FPS like Overwatch.
In game waypoints have important states that need to be conveyed to the user. For example, in this case the crystal core is an in game location that needs to be protected. I created various states to show the condition of the core to users.
Special Ability INteractions
In Conjure Strike, players can choose from 5 different character classes. Each of these classes has unique spells and interaction design. To best illustrate various states of each spell’s interaction I created user flows that utilize sound, visuals, and haptics.
For example, here is a user flow for the Mage Hunter classes’s ability called Fan of Blades. For this interaction I created a spell that is initiated by an on button press, and cast with a on button release. I felt that this allowed for the user aim the spell with much more precision.
The Conjure Strike team was curious for me. to explore interactions that could be initiated without the need for an "on button release step from the user flow in favor of faster paced gameplay. To accommodate this I created an alternate design that makes use of on screen visuals to show the state of the interaction. In my alternate design for Fan of Blades the user initiates the spell with an on button press, which visualizes a semi transparent ring around the users hand. As the user moves from the center of the ring towards its edge, a red cone is visualized that shows the speed and direction of players hand movement. When the user’s hand finally connects with the edge of the ring, the fan of blades spell is cast.
Simplified cool down timer system
The initial prototype had a complex system of different resources associated with casting spells that was distracting from the fast paced Overwatch gameplay we wanted. These resources, were mana, ammo, cooldown, and charges. Mana was a universal ammo that was drained whenever a spell was cast. Ammo is similar to mana, but only used for certain weapon. Cooldown is a timer that initiates after casting a spell, and prevents the user from casting spells again until the timer finishes. And finally, charges dictate the amount of uses a spell has before the cooldown timer is initiated.
I redesigned this system by removing the mana and ammo, and instead refined the charge and cooldown timers. In my design the amount of charges varies between spells, which are visualized as segments on a ring around a spell's symbol. Below are a few examples of how this is visualized.
The system has varying visual states that display its status. Every time the user casts a spell, a segment is depleted and greyed out on the ring. But these charges are constantly recharging, which is visualized by a red progress bar that fills up the charge segment. If a user uses all of the spell charges, the spell becomes temporarily unvailable until a charge segment refills.