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Now There’s a Nausea Dial for Virtual Reality

A startup is building a game that will let you adjust the excitement—and queasiness—of your VR experience.
August 25, 2017

Some people have no problem flipping and flying in virtual reality; others find this kind of activity literally sickening.

The problem stems from a disconnect between your eyes and your inner ear: what you see doesn’t always match up to what you’re feeling when you wander around a virtual environment with a headset on. It doesn’t bother everyone, but it remains one of VR’s biggest challenges to becoming a mainstream technology.

Companies and researchers have been exploring a slew of potential solutions, from beefing up the resolution of the displays in headsets to limiting your field of view when there’s a lot of motion-related activity going on in the virtual world. And a very young startup called VRemedy Labs is working on an interesting fix of its own: a sort of software-based dial that you can turn up or down to raise or decrease the excitement level—and, it hopes, the resulting nausea—within VR games.

The company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is building its own video game to test this out. The game-in-progress, which revolves around rescuing a group of superheroes, includes several kinds of locomotion that tend to make people feel sick in VR, such as flying around with adjustable rocket thrusters in your hands or pulling yourself from one place to another with grappling hooks.

For now, the startup founders are manually controlling the potentially uncomfortable effects that users experience as they try out the prototype. VRemedy Labs cofounder Richard Oates says one of the things they’re doing is starting players at the highest level of intensity and, if they feel sick, slowly dialing it down (over a period of about 10 minutes) to see if that helps. Then they ramp back up in hopes of finding a sweet spot for the player, adjusting things like your field of view and the number of obstacles that rush past when you’re moving. Eventually, they hope, players will be able to make the adjustments themselves.

To come up with different comfort levels, VRemedy labs first built a spectrum of nausea that takes into account existing research as well as best practices at the companies selling headsets, such as Rift maker Oculus and Vive makers Valve and HTC. Nish Bhandari, another cofounder, says they try to make the changes between different levels very subtle.

VRemedy Labs expects the game, which it’s calling I Hate Heroes, to be completed next year. Eventually, Oates says, the startup hopes to work with headset makers or release a software tool that game developers can use so their games can be adjustable as well.

“We want to break the mold of having [VR] experiences that are nauseating and awesome or comfortable and boring,” Oates says. “And instead make games everybody can play and play at their own pace.”

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