VR Game Review: In Mind 2 with Google Cardboard

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InMind 2 is a simulation of how chemicals inside John’s brain will affect his decision-making process, and have impact on his growth. This game is offered on multiplatform, and what we play is free on APP store. The instrument needed is Google cardboard and a iPhone. InMind 2 has three aspects of content: the neuro-scientific theme, the first person shooter and racing game play, and the meta level of the process of how a boy named John develop his destiny

Intent of the game

In the official website of InMind 2, the studio labeled this game as “educational”. They claimed the game “places emphasis on the chemistry behind human emotion”. That is to say, the biochemical knowledge would be the priority in the educational purposes.
Another intent might have to do with another layer of this game, that is to reveal how emotion will impact on human’s behaviour. Both positive and negative impulse will have consequential effects on our decisions in a crucial moment. As the company shows their goal on the homepage: they are “working on a new ways of mixing science and gaming as well as experimenting with VR and AR devices”.

Lense of elemental tetrad: Aesthetics, Technology, Mechanics and Story

Aesthetics

InMind 2 provides immersive environment for players to experience the adventure inside the character’s brain. As if you were driving on the neuron carefully. The sci-fi vibe of background music and sound effects are also eye-opening to new players, as if the spherical screen is easily presented by smartphone and simple pieces of lense at hand. There is also a robotic voice of narration, which giving a sense that player was driving a spaceship auto piloted by artificial intelligence. The visual and sound effects indulge the players a lot in the lense of pleasure.

Technology

InMind 2 is based on hardware combining smartphone and VR headsets, the nature of toy lies in the google cardboard and smartphone. Google cardboard as a simple and low cost VR gear, the process of assembling is funny as well. With the enthusiastic of playing VR, player would like to spend some time on unfolding, attaching the Velcros, and put it in front of eyes for a while.

Google Cardboard unfolded

We can also analyse from the lense of venture: this game aims for players who own google cardboard around the world. Often they want to play this game solo. And unlike other VR headset, there is no stripe for fixing on player’s head. So the movement in the game are designed as slight head movements, without walking around or even standing up, for ensure the security and balance while playing.

Game mechanics

Lense of infinite inspiration

To start discussing about this three-layered mechanics, we could apply the lense of inspiration to see how this game was created:
First, the studio has developed two VR racing and shooting game: InMind is about shooting(curing) neurons that cause mental disorder while running on the neural network; InCell is a racing game for players to run as vaccine and compete with viruses. The experience of successfully transplanting VR rollercoaster experience into scientific setting lay the solid foundation for the development of InMind 2.

The racing experience is similar to riding VR rollercoaster

What is more, why there are a meta storyline about John’s growth and an inner space for players to explore? The studio claimed that they are inspired by Pixar/Disney movie Inside Out. No wonder the structure of the game is so similar to the movie: storylines about a child outside is actually controlled by the actions inside child’s brain. It also borrow from the concept of red neuron represent for “anger” from the movie. However the other color of the neurons are represented for chemicals.

Poster of Inside Out, different colored character represent one emotion

Three layers of gameplay

To better illustrate the game mechanics, we divide this game as three layers, from the bottom to tops are:

  • The neural network: where emotions are generated;
  • John’s brain: where decisions are made
  • The life of John(which is called “destiny” in the game): a meta storyline

At the beginning of the game, players need to pick one storyline out of eight, all storylines are career goals. Although the interface looks like in the neural network, the player actually need to chose a goal at the meta storyline level. By choosing one job that John would become, players know what they are going to do in the game next, and identify themselves as a pursuer of becoming a scientist.

The second menu of InMind 2

After selected one line, player starts to explore John’s neutral network. There will be narrations explaining what is the situation outside where John lives in. Generally there will be an either-or question for him. And the two choices are closely related to John’s emotion at that time. Giving the player a well-illustrated picture of a situation, players understand the situated meaning of the goal of this level: try to generate the feeling “shame” to encourage little John to study harder and avoid failing again. Therefore to stick to the meta storyline selected before.

The Interface of tutorial

When player select start, s/he need to collect chemicals like Dopamine by shooting at green, blue and yellow neurons as the system requires at the neural network level. However, there is usually only instruction leading to the unknown destiny, and the player need to yield for an indirect path chosen by the game designer. Instead of empowering the player to complete the selected goal, the game is actually excluding player participating in co-design John’s destiny. That is to say player cannot leverage their FPS skills for their own goals. Although twist storyline is often found in adventure games, it is often twisted in the decision making phase. While showing where storyline goes in the FPS would be too obvious, and detrimental to player’s agency.

Only instruction of neron-collecting towards unknown goal is shown

When the mission completed, player will see how which emotion was chosen and hence a crucial moment . Here is in the second layer where decision is made, and destiny often changed into a unknown career objective. I might have to confess that some children are changeable about their future job, but it is still unconvincing and illogical to see how trivial moments can shift one person’s destiny from one to another. Although some illustrations and narrations are hilarious in the lense of pleasure.
In the lense of surprise, VR provides a new way to play FPS. In the 360° world, when one target has passed by, the player can still turn the head around and aim at it. However, this surprise cannot last forever. As the storyline moves forward, the FPS design lacks what James Gee called “the cycle of expertise”, which means not new challenges added and player only shoots the way they practised in the previous level. There is no chance to rethink, and therefore surprise is gradually replaced by the boredness.
Besides, ordinary adventure games often provide archive for players to store their progress, but in the turning points of InMinds 2, there is only continue button. Although players can resume playing after they quit the game, they might have start it over if the app stucks or they have failed in the game. In the lense of endogenous value, players might have to waste time on the repetitive plot.

The Interface of result after the second level completed

Story

If players stick to the instruction in each level, they will likely to complete one of the eight major storyline. However, there are hidden storylines about John becoming unpopular to the society: homeless, street vendor etc. By disregard the instruction, like collecting three red neurons that represent anger, player can reach out to this secret storyline, and “failed the destiny”. As a consequence, they might to start over again.

Conclusion

With the constant development on VR scientific games, Luden.io, an independent game development company has leveraged their experience from previous works to create InMind 2 to achieve mature aestheticism in terms of visual and sound experience. And the Google Cardboard as novel and low cost technology gives player hand-on have a taste of VR. However in terms of mechanics, the gap between FPS and decision making is needed to be bridged more logically. And the the FPS experience of each level could be edited more challenging.

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