When we click or tap away on our gadgets these days, it's hard to imagine any other way to navigate. For VR however, no universal way of navigation has been established yet. Much experimentation is still needed, and here is what we found so far.
Let's take a stroll
When we first started working on the browser, you have to "walk" everywhere: start in the "landing room", then walk to other "rooms" that contain different types of content, such as "panorama" rooms and "YouTube video" rooms. While this had the feeling of inhabiting another world, it soon became tedious and disorienting when we added more rooms. Test users did not know where to begin, where they are in the "world", nor which room they've visited. In addition, our test audience at meetups, who tend to come from a variety of age groups, are not familiar with the XBox controller. For some, using the keyboard - "WASD" - to navigate is a challenge as well.
Starting with a virtual space in which you can walk around was the natural starting point for us because of the long-held view - and hope - that to be in VR is to physically inhabit a new world. Our first thought, and many other VR developers', is to place ourselves in a fantastic landscape, Metaverse- or OASIS-style. It came as a surprise that it could be tedious.
Show me the content!
So if walking through portal after portal of content is tedious, what would be easier? One alternative is to show all that's available up front, so users can choose the experience they're most interested in. Hence the idea of a "Dashboard".
The Dashboard would show all available content in a centralized "grid" that users can select by pressing "A" on the XBox controller. The user is teleported into the experience, and need only press "B" to return to the Dashboard.
The result is less disorientation, and less tedium as you are seamlessly transported from one experience to another. There is no need to physically navigate from one space to another. We are defying the laws of physics - and why not? This is virtual reality, after all.
Testing the boundaries
But just because we are able to defy the laws of physics, does that mean we always want to? Even in the Metaverse imagined by Neal Stephenson:
You can't just materialize anywhere in the Metaverse, like Captain Kirk beaming down from on high. This would be confusing and irritating to the people around you. It would break the metaphor.
Stephenson explains that avatars - representation of people in the Metaverse - would materialize in a Port. From there, they would commute to their destinations.
But it's a waste to limit ourselves to teleportation when you are in a fantastic world. We can finally walk through alien worlds, after all. The key should be options: teleport if the experience demands it, and walk otherwise.
So we at uForis are making sure that viewers can teleport from one creator's world to another creator's easily. Creators of each world can lay out rooms that are best experienced in a walking tour - connected through physical portals - or otherwise.
Early reactions at meetups have been very positive. The variety breaks up the rhythm of simply hopping from one experience to another. The challenge now is to enable creators to do the same easily.
We can foresee that as the amount of content grows, the Dashboard can become unruly. Organizing them intelligibly is a UX challenge. In fact, UX is a field ripe for innovation in VR. How would you interact without the constraint of a monitor? We are busy tackling these at uForis, and other VR developers are doing the same with their creations.
How are you making a walk in virtual reality easier?