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Up close and immersive: The future of VR gaming

October 19, 2023
min read
Up close and immersive: The future of VR gaming

The collective goal amongst both VR content developers and hardware manufacturers is to deliver virtual experiences where the end-user feels deeply immersed in a digital world. However, the 2D flat panel display technology used in all current VR headsets is a major barrier to this goal, as users can’t comfortably bring things close up without straining their eyes or feeling nauseous. In next-generation VR headsets, computer-generated holography (CGH) will overcome this significant limitation and deliver levels of unprecedented immersion.

The reason end-users can’t comfortably focus on content close up on current hardware is VAC.

“There must be on the order of a thousand papers and articles on the issue of vergence-accommodation conflict (VAC). Everyone in the AR/VR and 3-D movie industries knows about the problem.” Karl Guttag, 2023

VAC contributes to feelings of nausea and user discomfort with prolonged use of near-eye displays, such as AR/VR devices (you can read more about why here). CGH resolves this sensory mismatch issue by engineering light in such a way that digital imagery can be displayed with natural 3D focus cues. And because headset users can naturally switch their focus between holograms and other digital objects, users won’t suffer from eye fatigue.

At the moment, best practice in VR UI design is to avoid doing things within arms’ reach. Apple’s Vision Pro Design Guide, for example, encourages users to place content at a comfortable viewing distance: “to help people remain comfortable while they read or engage with content over time, aim to place it at least one metre away”. Some research even suggests that the comfort zone actually starts around 1.7m.

However, if you want a player to feel absorbed in their digital world then that world needs to match many of the behaviours of the real world, and the ability to pick up and examine objects is one of those behaviours. If the user encounters something (like looking at items close-up) that they can’t comfortably do, the illusion of immersion is shattered and, in many cases, they feel nauseous and have to take the headset off.

We’ve created the following two videos to illustrate the limitations of the current user experience and how that will feel as the industry transitions from 2D flat panel display to 3D holographic VR.

VR today (above): In this illustrative VR experience the user picks up a book off the table but as they bring it closer to their eyes, the contents become difficult to read. In this video we’ve added artificial blur in order to recreate the sensation that a user will feel were they to try and focus on close-up text. Some headset systems include this artificial blur in order to prevent the user even trying to focus on objects too close.

The only way around this sensation with VR at the moment is to prevent users attempting to look at items too close by adding artificial blur or only allowing the user to select the book with their controller and have it presented as a pop up projected at a distance of around 2m. But both of these options aren’t immersive and lead to disappointing user experiences.

3D VR in next-gen devices (above): In this same scene the book can be brought up to the user’s eyes so that they can read its contents as the book is projected as a hologram. Within the context of the game, this could provide clues to a puzzle or ingredients for a spell. The ability to naturally focus also means that the user can switch their focus from the book to the environment.

An ancient text book in a mysterious library is a great way to highlight the problem with legacy technology and the impact of holography. This ability to discover and interact with objects close up leads to deeper immersion, better gameplay, and captivating new experiences. 

As an example, consider menus. At the moment, menu content is almost always projected as non-diegetic, requiring a pointing device to interact with them. This effect can break the narrative as it produces a scenario that is not always aligned with the theme of the game. Holographic objects enable a user to pick up a book and to interact with a diegetic menu contained within the pages of the book.

Alternatively, within a first-person shooter critical UI elements like ammo or health can be displayed on the side of the weapon. This means that the gamer stays within the illusion and, because it is displayed holographically, can quickly switch focus between the weapon and the targets.

We believe that CGH will deliver on the promise of immersive VR, unleashing game-changing experiences that will define the next generation of gaming.