Save Sydney VR

Client: Academy Xi
Date: 2016
Services: UX, VR, Pitch

An educational climate change VR experience

You are trapped in an apartment, and Sydney is underwater.  The only way to bring the water level down and escape – to start reducing your carbon footprint by recycling, reducing power and water consumption.

Save Sydney is an educational VR experience for the HTC Vive, aimed at educating on the little actions that can help combat climate change.

The Problem

As part of the Design for Virtual Reality course at Academy Xi, students were posed with the task of developing a paper prototype and pitch for a VR solution to a real-world problem, ideally one that benefited society.  This led me to the problem statement:

Access to careers advice and work experience at school can be costly, timely and limited by accessibility, however is vital in inspiring students early and preparing them for their transition from education to work.

How can VR help bridge the gap between education and the future world of work, in particular for students in remote and rural communities?

Why VR?

The key question before starting any VR experience is does this need to be in VR? For an experience such as this, the benefits of VR are clear – most profoundly in the experience’s ability to:

  • Engage students through interactive learning
  • Provide access to a diverse range of experiences, not limited by geography or other constraints
  • The ability to stay current and updatable as the job market changes

The Solution

DreamJob VR would be a room-scale, mixed media VR experience, integrated into a school’s career guidance curriculum as a way of allowing students to:

  • Explore industries
  • Select a career experience
  • Visit the workplace and complete real-world interactive exercises

User Flow

As part of the UX process, I started by developing a user flow for the app however quickly discovered that no previous frameworks had been developed for VR experiences.  As a response to that, I introduced a VR icon into a traditional user flow to depict the VR interaction.

Onboarding

Once the user flow was mapped out, I began storyboarding using Cinema 4D and After Effects.  Onboarding is a crucial part of a VR experience, in that it introduces the user to the environment and their capabilities for interaction within the 3D environment.  In the case of DreamJob, I wanted the onboarding process to be as invisible and unobtrusive to the immersive experience as possible.  I chose to do so through a diegetic interface (ie. interface elements in the virtual world) in which the user would be forced to interact with in-world objects in order to learn the experience.  For example:

  1. Utilising room-scale: This is something that people generally avoid when entering a VR experience, as it is an unfamiliar experience physically walking around a virtual space.  By placing the first interactive element (ie. the lever) far away from the user’s spawn position, this guides them to explore the space physically.
  2. Using interactive elements: this is an element that a walk-through or tutorial would traditionally handle, however introducing VR design calls for the onboarding process to be designed in a way that heightens immersion.  Simply placing floating screens in front of the viewer does exactly the opposite, and so I opted for a more implicit approach to the introduction of interactive elements to the user, without having to rely on the explicit instruction of a tutorial.  By choosing virtual objects that offer affordances that we would expect of them in the real world (eg. lever for pushing, wheel for turning), interactivity is more natural and the expectation for learning new interactions is far lower. For example, the user is gently guided to push down the lever which triggers the bridge to initiate.  From there, the user understands that the wheel is used to turn the orbs toward the bridge.  Once the orbs come into contact with the bridge, the bridge is activated.
  3. Virtual locomotion: choosing a suitable locomotion type in a VR experience is key in ensuring an engaging experience that doesn’t make the immersant nauseous.  Since the controllers available at present are so unfamiliar, users often have difficulties understanding how to go about moving around their virtual space, often making explicit instruction necessary (eg. using the trackpad or trigger to teleport).  As a means of introducing the user to the teleport function, the user must teleport along the bridge in order to reach the ‘experience orb’.
  4. Bubble warp teleportation: In order to progress to another level, the user raises the orb to their face and are transported to the next level.

In keeping with the theme, a cloud character would act as a virtual assistant to gently signal and guide the user  through spatialised sound and visual glows.

Storyboard