●EM­PA­THY IS RE­QUIRED

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Strategies - BY KEN WONG The de­signer of the cel­e­brated game Mon­u­ment Val­ley on what’s dif­fer­ent about work­ing in vir­tual re­al­ity

Our idea at Ustwo was to make a vir­tu­al­re­al­ity game timed to the re­lease of the Ocu­lus Gear VR head­set. But af­ter eight months, the game, Land’s End, wasn’t com­ing to­gether as a story or an ex­pe­ri­ence. There were miss­ing skills on that team. There was no art di­rec­tor; there wasn’t a voice say­ing, “You’re go­ing to en­counter this beau­ti­ful moment, and here’s how we’re go­ing to con­vey it.” Even­tu­ally I felt the need to put my hand up and say, “Guys, I don’t think you’re mak­ing the thing that you want to make.” And we voted to kill it. For like 10 min­utes, we were just re­ally sad. And then I said, “I think what might be best for the team

is if I come in, change up the skill set, and bring a new per­spec­tive to this.”

Game de­sign is a dis­ci­pline that you can get good at. It’s not about a per­son get­ting their way all the time. It’s about be­ing tuned in to what makes a game work, what makes an ex­pe­ri­ence fun. With our pre­vi­ous game, Mon­u­ment Val­ley, we made it short in­ten­tion­ally so peo­ple could get to the pay­off at the end. For a lot of peo­ple, it’s the first game they were able to fin­ish. We got a nice let­ter from a guy who had sus­tained a brain in­jury; he used to re­ally en­joy com­puter games, but af­ter that most of them were too in­tense.

With Land’s End, we started fresh. We threw away lev­els. We found that peo­ple have a much poorer sense of space in VR than they do in real life, so we had to get bet­ter at cre­at­ing land­marks and mem­o­rable places and mix­ing things up, so you go out­side to inside, from cliff to gorge. Orig­i­nally, we had way more fan­tas­ti­cal lev­els, with float­ing chunks of rock. But it felt like you were in a com­puter game. We don’t want to re­mind you that you’re in a game; we want to fool you just enough that you’re like, “Oh, this is real, but it’s the most fan­tas­ti­cal real I’ve ever seen.”

Ev­ery­thing that you de­sign in a video game, it feels stronger in Vr—hav­ing a water­fall or a tower right in front of you. Eye con­tact is a re­ally in­ti­mate thing. Chris Milk, an artist who works in vir­tual re­al­ity, called VR an “em­pa­thy ma­chine”—it has the po­ten­tial to show you how some­one else lives. Games are just one ap­pli­ca­tion, and it’s kind of ob­vi­ous, but imag­ine how pow­er­ful VR can be for ed­u­ca­tion, train­ing, de­sign, tourism. We’re re­ally happy to be here at the ground level. That said, my next game won’t be in VR. I’ve had my taste, and I want to go and have another ad­ven­ture now.

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