Based on the award-winning tabletop card game Lost Cities by world-renowned board game designer Reiner Knizia, Lost Cities VR is a two-player strategy game that transports you to unexplored regions and mythical realms. Can you outwit your opponent and make the most profit as you compete to be the first to discover the ancient lost cities?

Game board concepts

- by Lesley Klassen

By Lesley Klassen

I am working on the Lost Cities table layout as part of our development team. I enjoy creating user interfaces and working on user experience problems. Virtual reality poses interesting challenges in user interface because everything needs to be designed in 3D and cannot be pinned to the display like in traditional video games. Along the way, I made some powerful discoveries.

Starting out, I knew that the final board design had to achieve a few desired outcomes:

  • The board and its cards had to be easy to read
  • Head movement needed to be limited to reduce neck strain and motion sickness
  • The board could not obstruct the environment
  • The player needed to see an opponent
  • The board had to be designed to feel right and look right in the environment

My philosophy is function over form because a gorgeous looking game board that doesn’t function makes for a boring and frustrating game. At the same time, if the board doesn’t feel like it fits in with the game environment then players will feel disconnected from the experience, breaking the sense of immersion that is so important in VR.

I started the process using a 3D modelling program to construct the table. My first crack at it was part art project and part table concept. I was really spending time having fun. After an evening of work I came up with my first game board concept.

Table design #1

I thought of the game board as if it was well recognized, like a chess board, or a pool table. I imagined that the board had a history and a following of players who sat at it to play. It became a character for me.

I explored card placement, table size and low poly modelling. One of the major challenges was making sure cards were easy to read and the head movement was minimized. I like the way cards traditionally stack when they are played in real life. Unfortunately, virtual reality doesn't have the hyper resolution of real life and it became clear that a different system of displaying cards would be needed.

Table design #2

I started to explore the idea of a grid-based design for card layout and created table design 2.

I added an opponent, their cards, the expedition piles, the player's expeditions, the player's hand, and a scoreboard. More elements of the game board were included in this design with the intent of exploring square cards and grids. One choice I made in this iteration of the board design was to move the opponent's expeditions to the left and right of the opponent rather than in front. I did this because I felt that the board interface would become too crowded and I was worried that the player would not able to read the opponents cards.

I felt that layout of the cards in the second design did make it easier to read cards but it added a new interface convention to the game by making the player learn a weird floating board game layout. I didn't like that. Additionally, having a game board like this obstructs the view of the immersive environments we are creating. But more on that in a future post.

I wanted the game board to be more traditional, like the card game, however I feared the cards wouldn't be legible on current VR displays. I quickly roughed out a new design.

Table design #3

Table design 3 was less cluttered. The opponent's head was raised higher and it felt like the player was sitting very low and the table was too vertical. I still didnt like it.

At this point, I was convinced that a traditional table style just wouldnt work in VR. One reason was new research I was introduced to through the University of Manitoba Human Computer Interaction Lab. The Personal Cockpit is a user interface methodology that was researched and developed in their lab. I became obsessed with the Personal Cockpit user interface and I thought the Lost Cities tabled needed to follow the same conventions.

Here are a few designs I made based on the Personal Cockpit.

Table design #4

Table design #5

Table design #6

Design four, five, and six are variations of each other. The only difference is the location of the player’s hand. The game board started to exhibit a futuristic feel. It was designed with the idea that board itself surrounded the player in order to reduce fatigue and follow the conventions of the Personal Cockpit. I fell in love with this idea. I thought we had a design that would work. Now I decided to bring these concepts into VR and test out which worked best.

Lesson 1: Start in VR

I spend my days split between business development and directing production and concept design. I usually do my production work in the evenings and I currently don’t have my own VR development setup at home. I figured that I would start the process by modelling at home and I would bring it into VR at work. I got so carried away in trying to figure out which game board would work best that I spent too much time away from VR and too much time looking at a flat screen.

I imported my game boards into VR and none of them were feeling very good. The Personal Cockpit design was too obtrusive and in your face. The earlier designs felt better but they just didn’t fit in the field of view the way I wanted them to. Then Landon asked me a question about how we wanted connect the game board design to our working command line version of the game. In that conversation we started to talk about scale. It dawned on me that I really haven’t studied the technicalities of scale. After about 15 minutes of reading up on scale I came the realization that my designs were 40x larger than scale.

Lesson 2: It’s all about scale (or at least a lot of it is)

6cm x 6cm Lost Cities prototype card.

So I decided to start from scratch. I took out my notebook and figured out that a 6cm by 6cm square was just the right size for a Lost Cities card. I actually cut it out and held it in my hand. It felt right and it was large enough for the player. As soon as I understood my real life scale, I jumped into Unity. I created a series of 6cm by 6cm planes and started constructing the board.

After a morning of reworking the board in VR, I came up with a design that worked on all levels. The cards were easy to read, the head movement required was minimal, the environment was not obstructed, I could see my opponent, and the game table felt like it would feel right in the environments we are creating. Scale really solved most of my challenges.

Table design #7 inside Unity

Table design #7 concept render

Table design #1

We are now testing this design and I have high hopes that it will work well in Lost Cities. This artwork is obviously not complete and only at concept level, but Rachael and our 3D artist will be making it look gorgeous. The funny thing about the whole experience is that the final game board concept was actually closest to my original idea. You live and you learn.


Command line edition

- by John Luxford

We've been hacking away at the Lost Cities core engine and will be starting on the computer AI shortly too. We wanted to share our first fully playable version of the game, using the command line you can now make it through a complete game!

Here's another screenshot of our Unit Tests all showing happy green "passing" signs, because we're disciplined devs and don't skimp on tests.

Stay tuned for more updates as we get into the AI and other aspects of the game!


We just got featured in Vice!

- by John Luxford

Big thanks to Ian Birnbaum for the awesome Lost Cities feature in Vice Motherboard - The First Virtual Reality Board Game.

We're super excited to be featured by Vice, since we've all been big fans for such a long time!


Announcing Lost Cities Virtual Reality Edition

- by John Luxford

The Campfire Union is proud to announce that we are bringing the award-winning tabletop game Lost Cities to virtual reality! As long-time fans of the original Lost Cities game by world-renowned board game designer Reiner Knizia, we couldn't be more excited about the opportunity to bring it to life like you've never seen before.

In Lost Cities, you are an adventurer on one of 5 discovery expeditions (to the Himalayas, through the Brazilian Rain Forest, the Desert Sands, to the Ancient Volcanos, and Neptune's Realm), which for a tabletop game creates so many opportunities for immersion in a virtual reality environment.

A little thank you gift we got from Reiner Knizia!

We can't say all of the platforms that we'll be targeting yet, but our first target platform is the Gear VR.

We plan our first platform launch in late 2015, so join our mailing list to keep updated on our progress. Experience Lost Cities like never before with the Lost Cities Virtual Reality Edition!

– The Campfire Union


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