Scuba’s Ocean Odyssey VR
An educational VR experience about plastic pollution in the oceans.
Immerse yourself into the deep waters as Scuba, an AI submersible, and learn about the effects of plastic pollution on marine life.
Developed by Avolve Innovations and Sunken Games - this prototype aims to leverage the impact of Virtual Reality and generate awareness regarding plastic pollution in the oceans.
To play this VR game, you will require the Oculus Rift and touch controllers.
Concept and Ideation
When we found out about the Great Pacific Garbage patch, we were inspired to use VR as a medium for education. We wanted the experience to feel friendly and casual, without undermining the seriousness of the issue. To accomplish this, we built a fictional narrative around the player’s character (Scuba) and decided to juxtapose real world issues as interactions in the game.
The Story of Scuba the Submersible
Scuba is a sentient AI submersible who has been tasked to clean the ocean floor. Scuba recycles plastic waste at his underwater recycling Hub, which generates energy to recharge the little robot.
One day, Big Business ships pass by… dropping more garbage into the reef. Scuba begins to wonder where the ships come from. He tries to follow them, but is overwhelmed by the garbage in his way. Thus begins Scuba’s ocean odyssey - to find the root source of the garbage. Little does he know - but the journey will also reveal where Scuba himself came from and who put him there to clean the ocean.
VR is a new territory when it comes to what mechanics work well within the medium. For the purpose and scope of this game, we decided to focus on swimming and exploration as the main mechanics.
Swimming in 6 degrees of freedom is difficult in VR - we put a lot of effort in reducing nausea when moving. The speed had to feel just right as well. So for reducing nausea, we implemented a vignette to the peripheral vision when the movement speed increases, and the vignette goes away when the player is standing still. Another key to this mechanic was swimming in the direction that the player is looking at. So the axes of movement are not world-centric but player-centric. This makes it is easier to orient oneself in VR.
Swimming and exploration are two sides of the same coin - one activates the ‘self’ and the other activates the ‘world’. Since education was the aim of this game, exploration contains things like facts (that can be found all over the map), sea creature interactions and two types of interaction with garbage - collection and destruction (using Scuba’s hands and water cannon).
Developing in Unity: Physics, Art style and Optimization
The physics parameters were set to be believable but not realistic to underwater physics. We found that exaggerating things like the water cannon projectile force and reducing the drag on objects that would normally be applied by water - made the game play more fun and the interactions smoother. Animations were done using the Unity timeline.
The art style is geared to feel semi-realistic sci-fi, with a stylized touch. We took inspirations from the Pixar movie Wall-E (since Scuba was a similar character) and Subnautica (game) which is also set underwater with a stylized art-style and rich colors. The game complements a vintage look (rusted parts, scratched metal,etc) with modern/futuristic technology (futuristic possibilities of recycling and garbage collection).
The challenge in optimization was to reduce overdraw calls and get the best latency we can. We used LODs and detailed texture maps instead of high polygon meshes to optimize. Textures from the Megascan library and Quixel Mixer were an important part of the workflow. Particles within Unity were used to make some areas of the water murky and look polluted.
Scope and Scale - What’s next for the game?
The current version is a prototype. It is the minimum viable product with all the key mechanics completed. But this is not the end for what this game could be.
This prototype can be scaled to expand the explorable map and create more levels as Scuba continues his pursuit of Big Business ships through the ocean. More events can be added throughout the map to push the narrative and learning opportunities (egs. finding more facts, saving a turtle, helping a whale, scavenging materials from a sunken ship, etc). The mechanics can also be refined further to adapt to the developments in VR medium (controllers, touch controls).
Since this aim to educate and bring awareness, this VR experience is designed to feel relaxing rather than alarming (which can often be the tone for environmental issues). It is important to be relaxed if we want to foster learning and awareness - because developing the mental state is primary. If minds and attitudes do not change, the required action will not happen.
That being said, there is still much potential to be explored. So keep a look out for more updates - hopefully coming soon!
See what people are saying about the game >>>
This VR demo was showcased at Play NYC 2018 in NYC and also the Spring Expo by Playcrafting in May 2019.