Owlchemy Labs dives into the deep end of Vacation Simulator's impressive water tech.
Greetings, PS VR fans! I’m Graeme and I’m the Tech Director and All-Hat-Wearer at Owlchemy Labs. We’re excited for Vacation Simulator to make a splash on PlayStation VR tomorrow, and today I’m going to share a bit about some of the most intricate tech in the game — water!
From the beginning, we knew water was going to be a big part of Vacation Simulator. Large bodies of water that the player can directly stand in are featured prominently in all three of our destinations, and each of these brought different challenges to the development team.
Our technical deep dive starts on Vacation Beach. On a beach, having water that both looks and feels good is essential to the vacationing experience. We experimented with different ways of rendering water and learned a lot about how the feeling of water changes when you’re in VR.
Common tricks for cartoon-style water and animation just felt… off in VR. A flat plane of water is uncomfortable to stand in and makes you feel like you’re standing through a solid object, but waves that animate too intensely can also make you feel motion sickness. We had to strike the right balance of transparency, wave displacement, and textured layers of foam to create an ocean that both fits with our colorful art style while still being comfortable to stand — and splash! — in.
Of course, having visually appealing water is great, but if it doesn’t react properly to your hands or other objects in the world, the illusion is immediately broken. At Owlchemy Labs we’re all about physics interactions, so we put together a system that makes items bob around and provides satisfying splash and ripple effects. All of this happens dynamically with all of the objects in the game, including ridiculous player-created objects like giant waffles or custom shrubs. Our system automatically figures out the best way to make things float based on their shape, volume, and other factors, blending realistic physics with those only possible in VR for the most fun.
In Vacation Forest, water takes the form of a swiftly flowing river. The river is powered by the same buoyancy system that makes the beach work, but with a new twist: While the ocean focuses on gentle waves, rivers need to flow!
The forest’s river has lots of turns, rocks for water to flow around, and even a small waterfall. We needed a way for water to flow around all these elements and translate that into water physics motion for not just items floating down the river, but the fish who live there as well!
To do this, we created a map to show how the water should flow — in technical terms, a flow map.
Lastly, the frosty climate of Vacation Mountain may not seem like the most obvious place for a body of water, but we didn’t want mountain vacationers to miss out on any of the fun!
The lodge’s hot tub combines buoyancy with another one of our more complicated systems — temperature. It can be set to cold or hot, freezing items solid, heating them, and even cooking them! Of course, what’s a hot tub without jets? The flow feature we developed for the Forest’s river made it easy to get swirly in the hot tub as well.
Large bodies of water are certainly complicated, from rendering to physics to the way they interact with all of our other systems, but we knew the world of Vacation Simulator wouldn’t be complete without them. Wherever you choose to vacation, we hope you enjoy splashing around and playing with all your favorite items in the water — and remember to stay hydrated!
– Graeme @ Owlchemy Labs
Vacation Simulator is available tomorrow, June 18, for PlayStation VR.