Components of the Rift: Designing for Oculus (Part 1)

By Sam Watts

Posted on

RS Components approached the 3D team at Makemedia with a relatively tight budget to create a fun experience for visitors to their trade show booth at an electronics event in Shanghai, China called Electronica Productronica China (EPC), held mid-March 2014.

Makemedia has previously worked with RS Components on the Design Spark website, amongst other website projects, so we knew the client well, their focus and their overall business aims and goals.

RS Components - Design Spark website
RS Components – Design Spark website

The Concept

We set about brainstorming a number of ideas that would meet the following criteria:

  • Involve 3D
  • Be interactive
  • Be immersive
  • Be fun to use
  • Sell the core concepts of RS Components’ business

Once we had a number of ideas, we fleshed out the more valid, workable ones into proposals, outlining their interactions, the messages the user would get from them about the business, the hardware setup required and high-level core concepts. From this list, RS Components came back to us with a shortlist and a request to combine elements of each idea into one larger proposal.

From this, the RS Racer concept was born and we created the main idea of a racing game that utilised 4-player, networked Oculus Rifts together to form a timed-lap-based game, which would engage visitors to the booth, whilst subconsciously conveying key marketing messages related to business aspects of the company.

Key Gameplay Considerations

Based on the budget and the time we had available before the event, we decided early on to determine some key gameplay design principles that would make development straight forward but more importantly, realistic and achievable. These included:

  • The race would be “hot lap” focus, set over one lap
  • There would be no collision, with either the world or other racers
  • There would be no “ghosts” (transparent representations of fastest times)
  • Gameplay had to be simple to pick up and play

These design considerations came about because of the nature of the environment that the game would be played in and the people playing the game:

  • On a booth, with noise, crowds and other distractions
  • Players may not be gamers
  • Players would most likely only get one go
  • No learning curve, had to be instantly obvious what to do
  • No repeat play, learning racing lines, placement of track assets etc
  • Players most likely wouldn’t have used Oculus Rift before

RS Components were quick to understand the value of our proposal and so, signed off the budget and development began in earnest. This was late December 2013, just before the Christmas break, for which most of the team would be away from the office for two weeks. However, before we broke for the holidays, we had a clear design vision of what we wanted to achieve.

Upon returning from the Christmas holidays, slightly fatter and giddy from sherry with Granny, we were keen to get cracking on the main development of the RS Racer game.

The core team we put on the project was kept relatively small, but we have a wide network of freelance artists, coders and specialists who we call upon depending upon the needs of each project. However, for this project, it being a game, we wanted to keep it in-house as much as possible and all provide input on the development since it was a break from the norm’.  We did enlist one freelance concept artist however, to come up with initial designs for race craft and trackside buildings, to build upon the initial idea we’d sold to RS Components of a race track set in a futuristic city, stylised around circuit boards and electrical components.

Ship Concepts

RS Racer Ship Concepts
RS Racer Ship Concepts

As you can see, the inspirations for the 16 potential designs were far and wide, ranging from well-known, popular games such as wipEout & F-Zero, as well as various sci-fi films and cartoons. There was much debate over which design we would go with for the final ship. We narrowed down our choice to 4 designs and then held a company-wide vote, along with input from the client, for which should be The One. N#16 won, unanimously chosen by all the staff & clients who cast a vote.

We had already decided that due to budget and time constraints, we would only model and provide players with one ship type to race in, but knew we could vary the colours on them to differentiate on track. During development we learnt that RS Components had managed to get four of their primary product manufacturers to effectively sponsor the game so these colours and logos became integral to the ship design as well.

RS Racer Ships with logos
RS Racer Ships with logos

World Concepts

Once we had the ship design confirmed, we needed to design and come up with the concepts for the world within which the players would race them around. We asked the freelance concept artist to create us a number of buildings that followed on with the core concept of electronic components. We researched all about transistors, resistors, diodes and other circuit board elements, and how these could fit together on a much larger scale to create this futuristic vision of the city.

RS Racer city buildings concepts
RS Racer city buildings concepts

Track Design

With the ship and the off-track assets designed and agreed, we had to create the final piece necessary to make it complete; a track to race on! We had already researched a lot of previously released futuristic, sci-fi racing games available and most of them stick to the obvious, flat track surface. We wanted to do something a little different and encompass the 3D VR aspects of the Oculus Rift as well as incorporating the circuit board style overall. One game from years past, F-Zero GX, had a small section within one of the tracks that allowed the player to race around a pipe, which fitted nicely into our concept. A pipe allows the racer to rotate around it 360-degrees and remains in-style and fitting with the circuit board since it represents the copper cooling pipes modern PCs have inside. It still allows for an element of skill and racing lines, if a player were to have more than one go or is a natural-born racer, since the inside of a curved pipe is a shorter distance than the outside of the bend.

RS Racer Track Concept
RS Racer Track Concept

The initial proposal to RS Components, being that the game must sell the business and act as a booth attractor for event attendees, included the design suggestion that the track be in the shape of the RS logo. Thankfully because of the branding styling of the logo, this was easily feasible with the pipe track.

We had also proposed an additional element to the hardware setup which factored in two large TV screens positioned behind the players. One of these would be used to display the track from an overhead viewpoint, showing the track with the players’ current, real time positions on. So this would in fact act as a large, lit up version of the company logo on the booth drawing peoples’ gaze and attention to the booth.

Now when racing around the track, the player is not fully aware of the track shape and as mentioned already, they are likely to only get one go so would not learn the track. The track in-game also has severe (for a race track anyway) elevation changes, with swooping uphill corners and plummeting valleys, whereas from overhead it just looks flat. So it was important to have these additional screens showing the track from overhead so players could see the shape of it more obviously.

 

So that’s the concept and initial design thoughts behind the game. In part two of the blog post coming next week, we’ll look at implementing Oculus Rift support and the design considerations around that, as well as the finished game and the game running at the EPC China show itself.

 

Back to top