The Pharaoh’s Messenger

Entertainment Technology Center: Building Virtual Worlds

Round 2: “Naive Guest”
Art and Environment Design
Timespan: 2 weeks

Pharaoh’s Messenger is a Head-mounted Display (HMD) virtual experience.  The task was set to create an experience that gave a guest user choices and to guide them using indirect control.  The goal was to be able to have a guest that has never seen the world, nor is necessarily familiar with video games, navigate the world in a predictable manner.  At the finals, our worlds were presented to naive guests, people who have never seen the game nor interface before, who were given the controls and given at most one verbal command to help them complete the world.  All the other instructions were to be given from within the game.

In this project, the guest was supposed to navigate a river path  that had obstacles such as crocodiles, fallen trees, bridge collapses, and We concentrated a lot on using indirect control – letting the user know what’s good or what’s dangerous and how to steer using visual cues both in the game and in the physical interface.  Below is an image of our prototype being tested with our virtual world.  We used a bicycle wheel as proof of concept, but ended up building an entire physical interface of a ship wheel, to which we connected the HMD sensor to detect rotations of the wheel.   Our master programmer, Ken, created a steering interface so that a dolphin on the wheel indicated how the guest could control the boat to go straight or to turn, which we mirrored in the physical interface with a wood block.

It was interesting to find out how much playtesting helps.  Getting people who have no idea what you’re working on to play your game is instrumental to making sure your ideas and goals are communicated properly, even from outside the gameplay.  By giving distinctive visual cues, the guest would react in one way or another, which gives the texture artist a lot of opportunities to deliver the right message in the game.

At our final presentation, our naive guest successfully navigated our world and reacted to our obstacles as we expected!  We considered it a triumph in using indirect control and having a clear user interface, as well as a great job conveying an environment and mood through the intro and outro animations as well as our environment construction.

My contributions to the project were texturing all of the 3D models that were not part of Unity‘s Terrain assets, animating the intro and outro videos, building the physical wheel interface, and helping with level and map design.