Safety first – How to work with Virtual Reality
Depending on who you believe, virtual reality is either going to transform the games business, or fade away as another industry fad that no one asked for.
We’ll soon find out. Oculus Rift arrives at the end of March. Hype is building for Valve and HTC’s Vive, while PlayStation VR – with its ready-made audience of 36m PS4 owners – is due before July.
Regardless of how well VR will (or won’t) perform, the world of video games development has been working on the technology for years. From indie studios of all sizes, to giants like Crytek, PlayStation, Rebellion and Ubisoft.
And it is a new medium that brings about new headaches (in some cases quite literally), particularly when it comes to quality assurance.
Developers are finding QA even more important when dealing with VR versus traditional games.
“QA is generally only looking for bugs with regards to functionality,” explains Elijah Freeman, executive producer on Crytek’s VR game Robinson: The Journay.
“Now, with VR, it’s about experience. QA is looking at things like motion sickness. If you’re not dealing with VR in a responsible way, you can cause motion sickness quite easily, and that has various degrees of severity. Our QA team is embedded in our day-to-day development. We’ll prototype a mechanic, and from that point, QA will take that and test it and see how it feels and provide suggestions.
“The process has changed because we have QA working on a day-to-day basis giving us feedback, which then gets propagated through our normal sprints. QA is run closer to the overall development process.”
It’s not just user testing where things have changed. In VR, it is far easier for gamers to discover where corners may have been cut.
“The testing plans for VR have become much bigger,” admits Andrew Willans, lead designer at CCP, which is working on VR game Eve Valkyrie.
“Everything that you create and that goes in the game can be analysed from every single angle now. You can’t really hide much in VR because the player can get there and see an object from any given angle – they can interact with it. It’s a challenge because we try to make sure all of the game modes are balanced and that the map design has visual cues, which people can call out.
“Aside from just looking for bugs, there’s also the game play balance side of things which QA is heavily involved in.
“The workload of QA in general has probably tripled because of the very nature of VR and the fact you can’t hide behind anything – it’s all there to be seen, warts and all.”
So testing has become integral to VR game development. And this is where studios and outsource specialists need to be careful. Because just how safe is it to have multiple testers wearing vision-impairing headsets?
And what about motion sickness, headaches and eye strain?
There is currently no scientific safety rulebook to follow for VR. It’s all about finding what works and what doesn’t, with some guidance from the headset manufacturers.
Meanwhile, testing agencies have devised a number of solutions to keep staff safe and healthy.
James Cubitt leads the testing department at QA and localisation outsourcing specialist Universally Speaking. And he says the first issue to address is with the immediate working environment.
“Obviously the space the testers will work in will need to be safe and not cause injury,” he observes.
“Not only is there a risk of collision with their things, but with other people, too. Due to this we have set up an area for VR testing, which is closed off from the rest of the office. This should mean that the testers have the space that they need, and nothing will have changed in that area between taking the headset on and off. You don’t want a friendly colleague making you a cup of tea and placing it on your desk while you’re in VR. We don’t want any burns!”
There may be issues with extensive VR use, adds Cubitt. And staff will be required to take frequent breaks.
“Just like when Kinect first came out, we need the tester to be comfortable using the equipment, and avoid any repercussions from over-use,” he explains.
“This means taking frequent breaks during the testing, which may affect how long it takes to perform the test. For instance, Oculus suggest a 10 to 15 minute break every 30 minutes. This recommendation from Oculus is to have 2 to 3 times more breaks than the current UK health and safety recommendations for traditional VDU work, and it will be interesting to see how this may change.
“In addition, should any discomfort be experienced the tester would be asked to take a break. The cause would then need to be checked by the team, to ensure its not a general issue, and stems from the user.”
QA teams will also be tasked with keeping an eye on any unexpected VR responses from users. Safety is paramount and should rolling backwards in the game cause players to fall over, it will need to be monitored closely and relayed to the develops.
All these practices are being worked through now, and implemented into various health and safety training.
“Any tester who will be spending time working on a VR project, who is new to the hardware, will go through a training and familiarisation process, to ensure they are comfortable with the use of VR,” concludes Cubitt.
Never before has quality assurance played such a crucial role in the establishment and success of a new medium.
Universally Speaking have set up a dedicated testing area for VR and started training their staff. Their multi award winning QA team have always been at the forefront of technological change and this occasion will be no exception.
For more information on VR testing, or anything related to QA, get in touch with Universally Speaking to speak to a knowledgeable team of experts: QualityAssurance@usspeaking.com
All about… Spain
Spain is a growing video game powerhouse in Europe.
In terms of video game revenues (console, mobile and PC), Spain is No.9 in the world (according to international market tracker NewZoo). It also has a gamer population of over 20 million, and is the fifth biggest video games market in Europe.
Its success means that Spanish is a popular language in which to translate games. However, there is definite room for improvement when it comes to localisation – and this could be the key to opening up the Spanish opportunity.
Spain may be No.10 in terms of game revenues overall, but on iPad it is only No.17 worldwide, and on iPhone it is No.18. In fact, out of those 20m Spanish gamers, only 55 per cent actually pay for games.
That means there are a lot of active gamers that don’t spend any money on gaming. So what can be done about this?
Games translator for Universally Speaking, Breogán Zazpe, shares his thoughts on the common issues and mistakes made when it comes to Spanish games translation, and gives his advice on how to make a game a hit in the country.
1. Consider the space available to words. “Spanish translations are, on average, 30 per cent longer than the English source,” warns Zazpe. This means abbreviations may be necessary, which is never ideal for gamers.
2. Zazpe says that you shouldn’t expect British and American cultural realities to translate seamlessly into other languages. Memes such as ‘amirite’ and ‘doge’, and references to cricket or the Superbowl are often meaningless.
3. Be careful not to do “lazy characterisation based on the way someone speaks, such as a character whose main feature is speaking with a certain accent,” comments Zazpe. National stereotypes are also an issue and it’s “especially problematic when these stereotypes are about Spain.”
4. “It’s important not to localise into any Latin American variety,” says Zazpe. “Some developer may compare the price of localisation offered by a European professional with the price offered by a Latin American professional and go for the latter. This is a big no for Spain. It guarantees a very poor reception of your title in the country.”
One example of this is the classic video game Resident Evil 4. The game uses Spanish currency and Spanish police uniforms, yet the villagers and police officers spoke with a Mexican accent. It was ridiculed in Spain upon release as a result.
5. Consider audio translation for your games, because it makes all the difference. ”For every game released in Spain with the dialogues in English, even if the subtitles are perfect, people will complain that it is not dubbed,” Zazpe told us.
“Obviously the cost of dubbing may be hard to justify at times, but don’t expect any dialogue in English to be appreciated in Spain, even if it has been performed by well known professionals. For example, movie star Samuel L. Jackson famously voiced Frank Tenpenny in GTA San Andreas; no one cared about it in Spain, but many people complained that they had to read subtitles. In a game that was so high-grossing, it was surely possible to consider dubbing. So in that sense it was a mistake not to do it. As far as Spain was concerned, the money spent in hiring Mr. Jackson went to waste.”
6. And consider local expertise when it comes to sales and marketing. If you’ve put the work in to supporting a Spanish translated video game, then don’t forget that last part. “Outsource marketing to a Spanish marketing company,” says Zazpe. “There are very good marketing and PR professionals in Spain and this would maximise sales potential considerably.”
Universally Speaking at GDC and Casual Connect Europe 2016
2015 was a busy year for Universally Speaking, and 2016 won’t be any different! We’ll be ever present at all of the major events for the games industry, including GDC and Casual Connect Europe, in the coming months.
Firstly, we’ll be in Amsterdam for Casual Connect in a few weeks, so if you’re around then come and say hello and grab a beer with us! Causal Connect Europe is about matching the creativity of the games industry with new media innovation and investment to find the next big thing, and Universally Speaking will be right there in the heart of it all.
In March, you’ll find us touting our extremely English accents (and the odd Spanish one too) around San Francisco at the Game Developers Conference. We’ll be showing off our localisation, quality assurance and audio services to the masses so feel free to pick the brains of the UK’s longest running, award winning service provider to the games industry.
If your attending either of these events and want to discuss any of our services, or if you just want to grab a drink and talk about games, then just drop us an email. Or, just come and find us at the event, we’ll be the chatty ones manning the bar…
See you all there!
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