Designing Mixed Reality Apps That Adapt to Different Spaces

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Designing Mixed Reality Apps That Adapt to Different Spaces

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An In-Depth Case Study of 'Laser Dance'

In a rapidly evolving landscape of mixed reality (MR) experiences, 'Laser Dance' emerges as a groundbreaking game that redefines how we interact with virtual environments. Developed to fully utilize the Quest's passthrough capability, 'Laser Dance' aims to go beyond mere background aesthetics. In this enlightening case study, we delve into the mind of developer Thomas Van Bouwel, who shares his innovative approach to crafting an MR game that seamlessly adapts to diverse physical spaces.

The Visionary Behind 'Laser Dance'

Thomas Van Bouwel, a Belgian-Brazilian VR developer, brings a unique perspective to the realm of MR. While his academic roots lie in architecture, his VR journey has led him to create indie games like 'Cubism' and enterprise software tailored for architects and engineers, such as 'Resolve.' His latest brainchild, 'Laser Dance,' is set to grace the Quest 3 platform in the near future.

For the past year, Thomas has been tirelessly working on 'Laser Dance,' a project rooted in the concept of mixed reality. The game is designed to transform any room within your home into a dynamic laser obstacle course. Players navigate this challenging terrain by pressing buttons, spawning intricate parametric laser patterns with each click. While the game is still in active development, its slated release is set for the year 2024.

Crafting Adaptive Environments

Creating a game like 'Laser Dance' comes with a unique set of challenges, particularly when aiming to accommodate diverse room sizes, layouts, and player mobility levels. Ensuring that the game remains engaging and accessible to a wide audience is a paramount concern.

To tackle these challenges head-on, robust room emulation tools that facilitate rapid level design iterations are indispensable. In this article, we explore the inner workings of 'Laser Dance' levels and discover the developer tools crafted to streamline the creation and testing of adaptive laser patterns.

Deciphering Laser Patterns

To comprehend the functionality of 'Laser Dance's' room emulation tools, we must first grasp the intricacies of laser patterns within the game.

Each level in 'Laser Dance' comprises a sequence of laser patterns, with players shuttling between two buttons at opposite ends of the room. These laser patterns are engineered to dynamically adapt to the room's size and layout.

Rather than predefining laser positions, 'Laser Dance' employs parametric calculations based on the specific room dimensions. Several methods dictate laser placement, ranging from uniform patterns that blanket the entire room to patterns aligned with the orientation of the buttons. The latter approach results in blinking walls of lasers that align perpendicularly to an imaginary line connecting the buttons.

Furthermore, a custom pathfinding algorithm, developed by Mark Schramm, a guest developer on the project, provides versatility in level generation. This algorithm seeks paths between buttons that maximize distance from furniture and walls, ensuring safer routes for players. These paths pave the way for a variety of laser patterns, including tunnels and obstacles strategically placed between the buttons.

Room Emulation: Bridging the Gap

While the methods mentioned above offer flexibility in creating adaptive laser patterns, they may occasionally yield unexpected results or bugs in certain room layouts. Designing levels while considering different room types can be challenging.

To address these issues effectively, a substantial portion of the early 'Laser Dance' development was dedicated to crafting a suite of room emulation tools. These tools allow developers to simulate and directly compare how a level appears in various room layouts.

Rooms are stored as simple text files within the game, housing information about wall and furniture positions and dimensions. The emulation tool leverages this data to spawn multiple rooms in Unity's editor. Developers can then switch between different levels and laser patterns, emulating them side by side within various rooms for direct comparison.

Accessibility and Player Emulation

Inclusive gameplay is a core principle of 'Laser Dance.' Just as rooms differ, players possess varying physical capabilities. The game aims to adapt to both the room and the player, ensuring an engaging experience for all.

Players have the option to set their height, shoulder width, and the minimum crawl height they can comfortably navigate. 'Laser Dance' leverages these values to adjust specific parameters during level generation. For instance, a level designed for crawling can adapt to different minimum crawl heights, making the game more forgiving for players with varying physical abilities.

The emulation tools in 'Laser Dance' extend to player values, enabling developers to swap out different player presets for direct comparisons. This feature facilitates testing the impact of player characteristics on laser patterns. Adjusting player values can significantly influence the game's adaptability and accessibility.

Data, Testing, and Privacy

Designing an adaptive game like 'Laser Dance' presents a unique challenge—unpredictable room layouts and environments may lead to issues in certain levels. To preemptively address these concerns, players can choose to share their room data with developers through a settings option. This data allows developers to reproduce potential issues using the emulation tools mentioned earlier.

However, the sharing of sensitive room data raises valid privacy concerns. Players essentially share details about their home layout, which must be handled with care. 'Laser Dance' addresses these concerns by requiring active consent from players each time they share their room layout. Clear communication about the necessity and usage of this data is crucial.

As the MR landscape continues to evolve, discussions on data privacy become increasingly important. Players should expect transparent communication and strict limitations from platforms regarding how developers access and use sensitive data. Vigilance is key when considering why certain apps request access to this type of information.

Building for the Future

In conclusion, 'Laser Dance' exemplifies the innovative spirit of MR development. Crafting an adaptive MR experience that accommodates diverse spaces and player abilities is no small feat. The dedication to building room emulation tools and prioritizing player accessibility sets a benchmark for the industry.

While building custom tools has its merits, the emergence of mixed reality emulation tools from industry giants like Meta and Apple offers promising avenues for developers. These tools are expected to evolve, making MR development more accessible and efficient.

The development journey of 'Laser Dance' continues to evolve. Thomas Van Bouwel envisions a game that not only provides immense entertainment but also serves as a gateway for newcomers to the world of mixed reality. The investment in emulation tools aims to expedite the level design process, ultimately achieving this ambitious goal.

If you're interested in contributing to the development of 'Laser Dance,' we invite you to consider signing up for playtesting. Your feedback and participation are invaluable in shaping the future of mixed reality gaming.