SPOV thrives on challenges; especially when those challenges arise from the use of exciting young technologies. Our recent work with Sony on PlayStation VR game Blood & Truth is a prime example.
Client Sony London Studios
Services UI / UX Design (VR)
With VR still in its infancy, our brief from Sony was exactly that: brief. Blood & Truth was to be a groundbreaking release, as the first ever first-person shooter in VR. This meant the client was looking not just for expert creative support, but for a team with proven problem-solving skills, as technological challenges were inevitable. SPOV fitted that bill perfectly.
Our mission was to create a functional, character-driven UI language that could be translated from 2D into a 3D environment, and our design had to be based on the in-game concept that became known as the ‘Military Mind’: Sony’s way of conveying important information directly through the internal voice of protagonist Ryan Marks, rather than via a traditional HUD.
An immaculately informed UI design would be key to achieving Sony’s main objective of fully immersing the player in Blood & Truth’s story.
Wanting to make the player’s experience as authentic as possible, our team’s research began with a detailed look into real military symbolism and iconography. This design aesthetic could then be combined with less formal elements to show off both Marks’ background and his personality.
And, due to the unprecedented use of VR, we also explored less conventional forms of direction to use in the UI language, including light and colour.
Armed with a deeper understanding of military design, we pulled together key imagery to create a series of mood boards expressing our ideas. Seeing everything together in this way – the textures in printed text, degradation in photocopied manuals and various shapes used to convey important information, for example – helped us form a strong basis for an overall concept; something we could confidently show the client.
After generating various assets and design options for the UI, and bringing these to life through animation tests and further explorations, we placed them in the game’s Unreal engine for Sony’s team to experience. We also captured a 360° video of this environment, with our assets included, and provided this to the client as a submission.
The designs were driven by the story and its main character. Sharp military shapes and degraded textbooks gave vital nods to Marks’ relevant background as an ex-Special Forces soldier, while hand-drawn scribbles showcased his spontaneous personality and reaction to duress – all helping the audience to relate while playing.
The character’s voice was another consideration: we designed a UI/UX that matched this audio element, and this also helped to dictate asset sizes, their distance from the player, animation speeds and tone.
We discovered early on that to produce functional and attractive designs we’d need to build assets directly in VR using a range of sketching, simulation and preview software. Working this way came with its own challenges, but ultimately allowed us to improve readability, accessibility, composition and colour design.
Another issue unique to VR content is the risk of causing motion sickness for the end user. We had to work within certain limitations that don’t apply when creating non-VR content, so thorough user-testing was vital. It meant we had to create many of our assets as early prototypes to check that they would function correctly in the game.
Perspective was also a challenge for us. In the game, the main character has no physical form other than a pair of hands at the bottom of the screen, so we needed to find ways to allow the player to interact with items attached to their off-screen body without being too invasive.
We overcame this obstacle by using rendering software (3D Stroke) to test where assets felt comfortable around the body and where they caused the least amount of distraction for the player.
With designs finalised and decided upon, it was time to build them into engine-ready assets.
At this point we started working even more closely with Sony’s engineers to ensure we maintained the textural authenticity of our designs. We also created the assets with multiple layers, meaning they could be spread out across unlimited z-space – the extra dimension added by VR – to really make use of this unique environment.
Once the finished assets were in Sony’s hands, we stuck around to provide technical support and creative direction so that SPOV’s work could be seamlessly integrated with the game’s design.
Having been so involved in Blood & Truth’s aesthetic development, we were well placed to generate ideas for the packaging art, as well as different language versions of the game’s logo design.
We contributed to Sony’s design process by combining our own research of classic gangster film visuals with the unique assets we’d created for the UI language.
Blood & Truth was released to the world in May 2019 and made gaming history by becoming the first ever VR title to top the UK’s all-format sales chart. It also went on to receive the Immersive Reality Technical Achievement prize at the 2020 D.I.C.E Awards – this is an accolade given to “celebrate the highest level of technical achievement within an immersive reality experience through the combined attention to gameplay engineering and visual engineering.”