The issue of body size in VR

Posted on Thu 09 June 2016 in VR

Recently when working on a VR game, I encountered an interesting issue. An inventory-belt system I built worked fine for me, but only because it was built with my waist-size in mind. As soon as someone larger came along, they were physically incapable of actually placing something into the belt, as the controller would need to pass through their body.

Now this posed an interesting issue that had never really occurred in the world of gaming before. With VR, the player's body actually can impact the gameplay. You not only need to design your game for different systems, but also different body types.

After encountering this issue I began experimenting with ways around it. Of course, I could just specify a certain size that is fairly large and have it the same for everyone. This can be a bit weird for people who are very thin such as myself, as it doesn't feel like a belt and rather feels like I'm dropping something onto the floor. This is also an issue for people who are larger than the size that is specified, as they are still unable to use it.

An eventual solution I came up with was to start at a relatively small size that would fit a majority of the population, and provide a 'calibration' system that works by having the player stand up straight, and hold the controller to their waist. Whilst this can be a bit of a hassle for those who need to calibrate it, there isn't another way until we can reliably map our bodies into the game world.

I've also noticed this issue in other games, but manifested in different ways. For example, in many VR games I've noticed shorter players are unable to reach high up items. This is particularly prevalent in Job Simulator's Gourmet Chef simulation, where shorter players can't reach the top shelf of the fridge. This could be solved by scaling the game world for shorter players, but it's an issue that could easily be disregarded or missed entirely if the developers are not actively looking for it. In a traditional game this would not be a problem as the game character is standard for all players.

VR, being new technology, comes with its own new set of issues that we need to tackle collaboratively as an industry.