Designing My First Game in HoloPlayer One: Simian Sphere
My favorite games conjure a space, vivid enough that you can see yourself being there.
I’m Simon, a development intern at Looking Glass where we’re chasing the dream of the hologram. Since joining earlier this summer, we’ve already taken a massive technological leap forward with our latest prototype — HoloPlayer One, an interactive lightfield development kit.
HoloPlayer One effectively offers multiple (32) views with a slanted lenticular sheet on top of a 2560px x 1600px screen with content being generated in real-time with the HoloPlay SDK. But more on that on here.
As a game designer, I’m thrilled about the possibilities of creating and developing content for a brand new 3D interface.
Upon seeing HoloPlayer One for the first time, I felt excited but also a little stumped. My immediate reaction was to question how I was going to create a compelling game that projects a strong sense of space all the whilst bound by a viewing cone of ~50 degrees.
When I first started, I was just making a bunch of different things, trying out different perspectives and shapes to find something that could look compelling inside the HoloPlayer One. In one experiment, I put a small cube platform inside the device from an isometric perspective, and the 3D capabilities of the HoloPlayer One were immediately visible. From this, an idea immediately struck — I could make a rolling ball game in the style of Marble Madness or Super Monkey Ball! This seemed like a great fit.
Enter Simian Sphere
In Simian Sphere, the player controls the rotation of a floating platform. The goal is to collect all the mangoes on one stage before rolling the ball into a gate to proceed to the next. There are obstacles on some stages that can cause the platform to fall away, and careful control of the platform is necessary to avoid rolling the ball off.
In the original gameplay, I had planned for the camera to follow the ball through larger levels (in perspective) where I could perhaps make use of multiple platforms inside of one level. After some deliberation, having each level equate to just one platform just seemed to work better from a level design perspective and allowed me to iterate different ideas for puzzles more easily. This small platform setting is also inspired by a visual style reminiscent of dioramas and railroad sets.
The HoloPlayerOne had one great affordance that I turned into a gameplay mechanic; as you move your head around the display, you’re given different views, thanks to the slanted lenticular sheet rendering the 32 views.
Though similar to a Nintendo 3DS screen (which uses a filter called ‘parallax barrier’ where the images from the screen occupy alternating vertical columns of pixels and are filtered through the parallax barrier), the HoloPlayer One employs a technique that projects a total of 32 views which allows you to perceive multiple views of the same scene.
What this meant was that I could place little easter eggs strategically around the scene (i.e. objects behind other objects) that would reward the player for exploring and making full use of the technological strengths.
While the horizontal lenticular is a huge advancement for interfaces, the nature of Simian Sphere’s aesthetics would have benefitted greatly from multiple views vertically! (Is the grass always greener?) What this means for gameplay is that when the platform is rotated vertically (inwards), the player loses track of the ball and has no way of seeing what they’re doing (i.e. when this happens IRL, the natural instinct would be to move your head up and peer into the scene, but without multiple views vertically, this isn’t possible). During playtest, the feedback seemed to appear that this was becoming a big issue and I needed some fast solutions.
Initially, I had the idea to add camera rotations but that would have ruined the perspective of some of the scenes.
What I needed was a way for the player to see the ball as the platform tilted inwards into the HoloPlayer One without changing the camera. I settled on lowering the opacity of the ground that the player can see through when the camera is beneath it thereby solving the issue and opening new possibilities for different kinds of puzzles.
I focused a lot of my time on making this game feel good to control which was consonant with the playful visuals employed throughout. One of my favorite parts of the project was composing a small music loop, with some cheesy 80's synth sounds. Imagine what Phil Collins would have scored for an Atari video game.
While Simian Sphere was a fairly simple concept in terms of game design, I found it both challenging and rewarding to work on. Developing for HoloPlayer One is such a new approach to game design interfaces and being able to explore the strengths and limitations of a technology so early in its inception is definitely eye-opening.