WHAT'S UP IN WONDERLAND?
Creating the illusion of shrinking and growing in a fantasy virtual environment.
Storytelling in Virtual Reality (VR), Interaction design, User Testing, Animation
THE PROJECT IN BRIEF
The Design Challenge was to create the illusion of physically shrinking and growing in the virtual environment.
Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the experience draws heavily on fantasy tropes involving actions that would be impossible in the real world, such as shrinking to the size of a mouse. This is a fun, experiment of playing with scale that allows the player to experience diverse fantasy environments from different size perspectives.
Windows Mixed Reality, Samsung Odyssey
Within a medieval castle, you accept a quest to restore a ruby to the Queen of Hearts. You then spy a cheeky March Hare sneak off with the ruby and pursue him through the castle only to see him escape through a tiny mouse hole. Looking around the room you spot a shimmering bottle of fairy dust labeled "Shrink me". When you reach for it you find yourself shrinking to the size of a mouse. You follow the March Hare through the mouse hole to enter a 'Wonderland', a vibrant garden of strange vegetation, tall grasses and gigantic mushrooms. The capricious March Hare tosses the ruby and runs off. As you pick up the gem you spot another bottle labeled "Grow me". When you touch it you grow to the size of a giant. You are surprised by the realization that the garden was just a tiny mushroom patch on the balcony of the castle.
Team: Anuraj Bhatnagar, Allison Crochet, Karthika Jayaprakash, Edward Zhang
I created the narrative for this experience and was the creative and user testing lead on this project. I worked on the storyboarding, interaction design, animating the March Hare, modeling the mouse hole, curating assets and planning the design of the environments in the experience.
Tools: Autodesk Motionbuilder & 3DS Max, Adobe Illustrator, Unity
IDEATION & NARRATIVE
Our initial task was to to construct a scenario in which a story element would motivate an action that would lead to deeper immersion in the story. Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, proved to be a great inspiration with the whimsy of its characters and Alice's fantastical physical experiences of falling through a seemingly endless hole and eating cake to grow taller and shorter at will.
Initial ideations led to the following scenario, firstly, we would use an animated character to lead the player on a chase and next, the player would be prompted over the course of the chase to pick up a magic object that would result in a dramatic change in the player's size. To provide the player with an incentive for the pursuit, the character would steal a precious gem and run off with it through a tiny mouse hole necessitating the player's need to find a way to shrink and follow him to retrieve the object. The storyboard below was created based on these ideations.
The player accepts a quest to return the Queen of Heart's lost ruby. A sneaky March hare runs off with the ruby leading the player on a chase before escaping through a tiny mouse hole.
A magic key labeled 'Shrink me' allows the player to shrink to the size of a mouse and the pursuit continues...
...into a whimsical, magical garden of strange gigantic vegetation and ends at a humungous door. Another magic key labeled 'Grow me' allows the player to enter the door.
Inside is the March Hare at a tea-party. He petulantly tosses the gem at the player. At this point the Queen of Hearts makes an entrance. She demands the return of her ruby.
The promised reward unfortunately turns out to be execution!
The player follows the March Hare's lead in escaping the Queen by running out of the door.
Our design challenge was to create the illusion of shrinking and growing in VR and we researched how this effect was approached in movies and animations. We looked at movies such as "Honey I shrunk the kids", "Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory", "The incredible shrinking man", "Alice in Wonderland" (cartoon and movie), "Epic", "Antman rises", as well as, the more recent "Downsizing".
Insights we gathered from this exploration were-
Most shrinking effects were instantaneous, some included the shrunken being falling to the ground after shrinking. A big difference from what we were trying to accomplish was that in the movies the shrinking took place from the observers perspective, while in VR the interactor would have to experience the change. So, what would it feel like to shrink?
The smaller the size post shrinking, the more dramatic the payoff. Floor boards gaps showed up as large chasms, spiders and mice appeared to be gigantic monsters and the dangers of the world increased with the decrease in size. The same environment could appear very different from different perspectives of size and this could be quite surprising. So, how could we leverage this and more importantly how small could we shrink?
Gigantic props of everyday items such as a screw, a mouse trap etc. added to the drama of scale. What could we add to the scene that would be impactful when shrunken.
Magical elements like fairy dust, flashes of lighting and music were employed to add to the dramatic effect.
ITERATION 1 & USER TESTING
Our primary goal for the first round of user testing was to test if we could successfully create the illusion of shrinking in VR. At the time of testing we were able to shrink the player in the virtual space to approximately a toddler's height. For the user testing, we created the first of our environments, a medieval castle room with a tiny rabbit hole sized archway. A giant golden key floated 5 feet above the ground near the rabbit hole.
We conducted 10 user tests. Participants were students at Georgia Tech as well as industry partners. Participants were told that a March hare had run off with a precious gem through a rabbit hole. To retrieve it, they could use a magical key would help them grow small enough to fit through the rabbit hole. We then observed them going through the experience and conducted semi-structured interviews to get their feedback.
WHAT WE LEARNED:
The shrinking experience was 'disorienting' and 'dizzying' for most people if accomplished too quickly. Slowing the shrinking process reduced this feeling. We varied the speed of the transitions with our participants and arrived at a transition time of approximately 2 1/2 - 3 seconds that was comfortable for most participants.
Some participants missed the shrinking experience as it happened instantaneously when they reached for the key. The 'suddenness' of the change was 'jarring' for some. We realized that we would need to wait a couple of seconds after the key was touched to start the shrinking effect.
Most participants described the shrinking process as feeling 'accurate' and 'natural'. They enjoyed the change of scale in their reduced size and admired the visual quality of the castle's interior.
We also began to consider how to increase the dramatic impact of the shrinking experience. Firstly, the scale of the shrinking would have to be increased to enable the player to shrink to the size of a mouse. Next, we could introduce an element of surprise magnified by the change in size. For example, we considered having the key drop behind the shrunken player with a clanging sound. We also considered introducing an animated character that would be only visible to the shrunken player hidden from normal view under furniture. Finally, we considered supplementing the shrinking effect with audio.
LAYOUT DESIGN- CASTLE ENVIRONMENT
Arial view of the Castle Environment:
We used the concept of the 'impossible space' in the design of this layout, as per this concept the self-overlapping design of the layout can trick the player into believing that they are traversing a much larger area in VR without any loss in immersion that use of other techniques such as teleportation can cause.
The placement of the walls and the mouse hole makes the player traverse the entire playable area, when they exit the mouse hole the player is quite close to where they started.
Exiting the mouse hole triggers the generation of the garden environment.
ITERATION 2 & USER TESTING
In the second round of user testing, our primary goal was to test a couple of implementations of the shrinking process. Our secondary goal was to verify if our interaction model(using the magic key to shrink) was clear. We also wanted to get feedback on the magic garden environment we had created and check the effectiveness of the March Hare in leading the player on a chase.
We conducted 8 user tests. Participants were students at Georgia Tech. Participants were told that the March Hare had run off with a precious gem they had to retrieve through the rabbit hole and that they would have to use a magical key to help them grow small enough to fit through the rabbit hole. We then observed them going through the experience and conducted semi-structured interviews to get their feedback.
Unfortunately, an ill-timed Steam VR update resulted in a malfunctioning VR experience. Most of our participants could not view their controllers in VR. The effects of the shrinking was not predictable and some felt that they had sunk into the floor. While we could not adequately test the shrinking experience as a result of this, we did gather some interesting feedback about other aspects.
WHAT WE LEARNED:
Shrinking: We asked participants to name an animal they felt as tall as in their shrunken state. We got answers like "Mouse", "Cat" and "Rabbit". This meant that we needed to further reduce the player size in the experience. We had approached the shrinking process by either changing the scale of the environment or by changing the camera height of the player. Ultimately, we found a combination of both approaches would work best. At the transition speed we had come up with from the previous round of user testing, fewer participants reported feeling 'dizzy'.
Interaction Model: Participants easily found and identified the magical key because of the 'fairy-dust' particle effects we used. We made an interesting discovery about the use of the key as the magical object. Most participants said that since the magic object was a key, they felt it should be used to open something and tried to open a wooden chest prop situated nearby. This led us to reconsider the key, perhaps a bottle of fairy dust would be more appropriate.
Garden Environment: The garden environment was appreciated, we used this opportunity to adjust the scale of the assets in the environment.
Given the technical challenges we were facing we decided to simplify the narrative further
ITERATION 3 & USER TESTING
Our final iteration was the most complete version of our experience. We had 9 participants test this version. We observed them as they went through the experience and conducted semi-structured interviews post testing.
Participants liked the cheeky March Hare. Most waved and said 'Hi' to the Hare when he said 'Hi'.
Some suggested that it would have been more immersive to have the March Hare visibly carry the gem throughout the chase.
Most users found just touching objects with the controller too passive, they preferred/were expecting to use a 'click' mechanism.
Most users described the shrinking and growing experience as "neat", "exhilarating", "wow" and "cool". We observed that it was slightly dizzying for some but that the feeling added to their excitement.
Users wanted to prolong their experience in the magic garden. Some wanted to be able to shrink and grow at will.
TO BE UPDATED...