A Hyper Reality World — Human Experience Design Principles & VR Case Study
UX Planet — Medium | Tica Lin
That night in Walking Dead
Years ago when I lived in Japan, I had a mind-blowing night at Universal Studio Osaka from the walking dead halloween event. It was long before the opening of the permanent Walking Dead attraction in 2016.
The pebble streets and old buildings formed the mysterious western zombie world. When the ambulance alarmed and the zombies all crawled out from trunks toward me, the horrifying feeling suddenly bursted out.
People who wore a blood bag around the neck attracted more zombie attack, to the degree that one young guy was put down by a few zombies and screamed horribly.
We ran, squeezed, screamed, sweated, and experienced Walking Dead in real life at that night.
1. An experience is impressive if we have feeling, take actions and end up learning something from it.
Human Experience Principles
Why did this experience feel so immersive as if it were real? For an experience to be profound, we must have feeling toward it, make efforts throughout the process, and learn something no matter it ends with a success or failure.
Think about the experience of pursuing an advanced degree. It might not be super related to design, but it’s definitely impressive and profound — we worked hard to apply, felt disappointed when getting rejected, felt like winning a lottery when getting an offer, struggled in between, and finally we graduated.
Experience Design of Horror Night
When thinking about why the horror night successfully created an immersive and memorable experience for many people, from an experience design point of view, it fulfills essential elements of a memorable human experience perfectly.
Nervous, expecting, horrified feeling and emotional connection to the Walking Dead story
People have strong expectation to be horrified at the beginning. The feeling brings them to engage in the zombie world when they see real characters, settings in the surroundings, and taking part in each plot. These include many marketing and branding efforts before, but the on-site decor design, character costumes and props, music and other visual clues help to create the exact horror atmosphere. It meets the expectation and beyond, and thus convince people as if they are in walking dead.
We ran, screamed, squeezed, grabbed friends’ hands, participated in plots, and finally got safe.
For those wearing blood bag around neck, zombies chase after you and bite you more. You get to choose if you want to run or stay to be put down. There was a preset location where zombies came out and some safe zone where there were fewer zombies. There were also more intense experiences hidden in buildings. As a participant, you get to choose where to go, how to react to the situation, and how much you want to engage in the experience.
In the end, the experience stays real in memory because we were engaged throughout the whole process.
As the technology and design trends change so fast, it would not be as impressive now as I experienced it years ago, but it could still be really amazing for those who haven’t had any similar reality experience. Thus, here comes an important second point of a good experience design.
2. A good experience should be designed to engage audiences with different level of knowledge and expectations.
An immersive theater experience
One of the most unique and immersive experience design I had is the award-winning theatrical experience Sleep No More. As a site-specific experience just like all other musicals in theaters, what it differs is that it blends the performance into real physical spaces yet separates the story from Shakespeare’s Macbeth into different storylines by characters, so that audiences can choose whom to follow and experience their own parts of the show.
As participants, we need to wear masks all the time and follow actors running up and down the stairs to catch the plots in the dark. The whole performance has no dialogue, but great choreography, music, decor and plot design. There are also some 1-0n-1 hidden plots for audience who chase after supporting characters.
Design to engage every individuals
Ever since its debut in 2011, it has attracted increasing amount of audiences and even recurring visits from same audience over 100 times. People from different cultural background, different level of knowledge toward performing arts and literature, and with different expectation of the show all take away impressive experiences after visiting McKittrick Hotel.
Why is this show such an immersive experience for so many people?
The choreography, the actors performance, the design put into arranging the traffic flow, connecting different plots and all other efforts are all very profound and professional. But I’m more curious from experience design point of view, what makes this theatrical experience so immersive?
Image from Wall Street Journal
Choosing one’s own perspective and walking at one’s pace empowers the audience to really “experience” the show, rather than simply watch it from the seats.
Remember how feeling and the ability to take actions are the core for memorable human experience? Sleep No More has it all by carefully designing each line of the story and the performance so no matter which path you go, you could explore the environment, figure out the characters you met and plots you saw, and form your own experience.
Arouse desire to revisit the show
MacBeth and Lady MacBeth (https://goo.gl/fGs8hf)
But what makes it even more influential is that people want to come back again and again despite it being a solo experience. Unlike an escape room experience or a video game, where people would rarely do it again after clearing out the level and knowing about all the tricks if not for playing with friends, Sleep No More, like classic movies and shows, makes people want to watch multiple times because it’s artistic.
As fine integration and innovation of arts, literature, technology and design, the audience can always get more of each element when visiting again.
People get to appreciate different levels of arts and design of the experience, the nuance of facial expression and body language, the tension between characters, the same story from different perspectives, or even just to catch the chance for a 1-on-1 performance or a kiss from Lady Macduff (I did!).
A few years later, I have been introduced to the design of exciting mixed reality world, where VR interaction design, interactive narrative, and 360 VR film all compete to thrive in the emerging VR industry.
As an experience designer and VR enthusiast, I found the designing elements for VR experience are actually not separate from the rest of human experience — its design is much broader than models and interaction, it’s about creating irreplaceable experience by integrating human intellectual, culture, arts and design as a whole.
3. VR / MR has the power to create truly influential human experience in a hyper reality world.
The trend of virtual reality
It has been decades ever since the very first widely presented VR concept appeared in Star Trek Holodeck bringing people to a virtual environment beyond an existing physical space through technical devices. It’s not just about bringing them there, but keeping them there for some purposes.
For now, people in VR want to have different experiences from reality, but later they would go to VR because they need to — either for educational, entertaining, working, communicating or other purposes.
There are things we can’t easily achieve in reality but we can soon do it in VR— such as communicating personally with people far away, participating in an event like nowhere else, exploring enormous possibilities of knowledge or lives, or even changing the way we perceive ourselves from interacting in the virtual world.
From VR experience design point of view, eventually we hope to bring immersive experiences to people so that they fully engage in the virtual world and acquire influential human experiences that make better life of them.
Full body VR experience
Beyond the head-mounted device VR experience like HTC Vive and Oculus, my attention was caught by the hyper reality VR experience brought by The VOID. It is a hyper reality experience which not only engages participants with well-planned story, vivid 3D models and stereo audio affect, but also allows them to move freely, touch objects, feel the vibration and heat, and somewhat interact with the teammates.
It sounds unreal for current technology development. How can we touch the virtual object and feel it? How is it possible to have virtual floor shake and virtual fire to heat?
Basically, it’s a full body VR experience — head-mounted device, VR vest, controller as a shape of gun, and physical environment designed to match the virtual world.
A hyper reality experience- Ghostbusters
The way it works is through designing for specific experience. Instead of hoping to make an almighty technology that creates all six senses in VR, it tailors the details of the experience to fit into the physical spaces, matching the virtual and real objects to make it happen.
Of course there were some magical tricks to hide the weakness— like bending the virtual route a little to make infinite paths fit in limited space, or equipping virtual characters with helmet, body armor and guns to turn the uncomfortable equipments into reasonable protective gears.
The Ghostbusters experience focuses greatly on human experience design, arousing people’s feeling through immersion and empowering their actions through delicate interaction design.
Since I was pretty immersed in the experience while trying to notice the design behind, I might be wrong about some details that I organized below, but I found many VR design best practices presented here greatly contributes to the success of this hyper reality experience.
A design concept behind Ghostbusters hyper reality experience (from my own perspective)
A /Small Room – introduce interactors into the VR world and teach them tools
We as a team of 4 ghostbusters entered the first room by turning a real door knob. At the first scene where we were introduced to this VR space, we got to explore the room freely, looking at the decor and touching objects out of curiosity. Before we were about to get lost not knowing what to do, ghosts came out and flew around. It’s time we remembered we are ghostbusters and started to shoot!
After a few trial, we successfully acquired the skills and got distracted by a scarier ghost. By following it, we were brought to the second part of the experience.
B/ Elevator- reinforce immersion through more details and feel physical shaking
Our attention was attracted by the scary ghost to enter the elevator. Once we were here, we realized we were done with the training and were going to complete our main task- shoot more ghosts!
In the elevator, we squeezed in a small space and got to hear others clearly. We saw ourselves in the mirror in a dim light and felt the shaking of the floor as if the elevator was moving. All these elements reinforced our engagement and belief of the existence of this VR world. Suddenly, a immortal woman ghost appeared, scaring us and scurried into our bodies causing a strong vibrating impulse.
C/ Aisle & Balcony- experience unexpected magical moments and interaction
Being scared by the intense interaction in the elevator, when the door opened, we were not as confident to walk straight out when a dark aisle appeared ahead. We saw the paintings on the wall and the portrait heads were moving. We reached a door to the outdoor balcony. As soon as we stepped out, it was a breathtaking moment — a spacious city night view expanded under our feet.
I felt the heat on the back and the wind blew on our face. I consciously grabbed the handrail when seeing how high we were at. We noticed statues on the roof rim and someone started to shoot at them for fun. Suddenly, they became flying devil and then more were coming toward us. It was a magical moment that we really enjoyed the fun looking at spacious sky and shooting the ghosts collaboratively with the teammates.
D/ Final Battle Room- intense battle with special effects and a final unforgettable surprise
After we made quite an effort to clear out the ghosts outdoor, an unnoticed door secretly opened behind our back as a clue. We were brought to the final battle room.
There were several small ghosts coming out to warm up for the final climax. Before it got too intense, I had a few moments to interact with some random stuffs in the room —like shooting at a deer’s head and seeing it really dropped with proper physical attributes.
Finally, the biggest ghost came out. We fired intensively and saw all the fancy light effect in the air. If it’s all about shooting, it won’t be as impressive — there was a final surprise for us. All of a sudden, the wall collapsed and a gigantic ghost popped outside. It was a hilarious moment when we saw it partly disappeared upon being shot like biting a giant marshmallow.
The power of VR
“Ghostbusters finally got me to believe in the power of VR “
— Wired .
It’s truly an impressive experience that got me deeply engaged into the virtual world and gained one of a kind experience. I still have vivid feeling of those plots and magical moments when I felt so amazed by the surprising scenes or interaction —the strong wind on the balcony or the large scale marshmallow ghost.
As many VR designers are eager to apply the power of VR, it is the ultimate goal that people could fully engage in and remember the experiences, just as any other kind of experience design.
The power of VR exists in the creation of immersive experiences!
The Ultimate Human Experience Design
The horror night experience at Universal Studio, the immersive theater experience of Sleep No More, and the virtual reality experience of VOID Ghostbuster are made possible through very sophisticated technology, arts, design and storytelling, which collectively form the best experiences.
Although they are three very different kinds of experiences, I found them together presenting strong common value of immersive experience design — focus on designing for human experience and never forget to fulfill human needs.
While most people enjoy, feel, and remember great experiences, it’s a privilege as experience designers to think from the other perspective — hopefully with technology, arts and other human intellectual, we can form the power to create truly immersive human experience and bring people into a hyper reality world.
A Hyper Reality World — Human Experience Design Principles & VR Case Study was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.