Columbus, OH. In creating any experience, there’s an element of storytelling. In an immersive experience like virtual reality, that story is multi-dimensional and taps into various senses. As more and more people are strapping on virtual reality headsets for the first time, we’re learning about how to make that experience better and more intuitive.
A few techniques we’re experimenting with to guide the user during the VR experience are:
- Iconic visuals – creating intuitive imagery rather than text
- Environmental cues – bringing into focus the area where we want the user to look or go to
- Spatial audio – using voiceover or sound coming from a specific location (i.e. behind the user) to draw his/her attention
Let’s talk about spatial audio. When a user first enters the VR environment, their eyes want to get used to the visual space. We’re recognizing the importance of sound and voiceover to guide the user during this time. The eyes don’t want to split concentration between visual and text, so reading written words is sometimes distracting. However, if voiceover is used to direct the user, the eyes and the ears can work harmoniously to navigate.
Even if someone outside of the VR environment is working to guide the user, it’s less effective than a voiceover within the experience that knows exactly where the user is and can guide him/her accordingly.
In a recent VR implementation, we created a host “orb” similar to the game Portal. The orb greets the user and guides him/her through the experience, recognizing when the user needs help. Using audio the orb channels the user’s attention and we are able to bring forward the features of the program.
In our team discussion, we jokingly reminisced about Clippy – the Microsoft Office Assistant that would pop-up when it sensed that you required help. Clippy was much needed in the beginning as all of us were acclimating to MS Office products and weren’t familiar with the pathways through the software. As we adjusted and learned the controls and commands, Clippy became a nuisance.
Perhaps we’re at the “clippy” stage with VR. New users are adjusting to how the headset reacts to certain movements, how to trigger a selection, and how to move within the environment. They need a guide to help us get used to the environment. Spatial audio helps to create that hosted experience and ultimately craft the story.