VR Game: Nova Asteroids

Dodge, duck, and shoot threats along the asteroid belt in virtual reality


The VR company I founded, NovaWake Studios, first exhibited at the NW Museum of Art and Culture. My goal was to create a fun experience for first-time VR users, while gathering insight into VR usability.

Tools used: Unity, Maya, Photoshop, pen+paper
Target Device: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive
Client: NW Museum of Art and Culture, Spokane, WA

Media: Virtual Reality experience


  • Concept Development
  • Creative Direction
  • Interaction Design
  • Exhibit Design
  • 3D Art

The Challenge:

Create an engaging and approachable VR experience for first time VR users at a museum.

The Game, in short:

Careening through the asteroid belt, the player must shoot asteroids, collect power, and dodge missiles to beat the high score. The core game mechanic requires movement - squatting and dodging side-to-side. Intensity builds through the course of the 3 minute game, until the player is inevitably sucked into a wormhole. 


Competitive Review

I tried all the games I could get my hands on for the Oculus DK2. In 2015, it was a wild, unpolished ecosystem where developers were trying all sorts of things. Whether or not to represent the body was a big question - since many people had a jarring reaction to “losing” their body in VR. Largely, I found that a rough representation of the body distracted the user far more than enhancing the experience.

At GDC, hardware creators like Oculus flaunted high-quality renderings (with high frame-rates and beautiful models) that solidified a feeling of presence - a step beyond immersion. These big companies emphasized environments and scene optimization but lacked interactive components.

I saw room for novel experience design.

User Observation & Interviews

As part of the competitive review, I observed players while in-game in order to see how quickly they understood the mechanic (if at all), in order to identify the friction points. Experiences Tested: The Room VR, Basket Head, and others.

Where did they look? Would they turn all the way around?

Observation: The vast majority of adults would not turn more than 30 degrees in either direction. 

Opportunity: Guide their gaze with motion or sound, as if in the theater of the round.

These initial observations informed our limits and opportunities. 


"What do I do with my hands?"

Oculus did not have a hand-tracked motion controller at the time. Hand interface options at the time were either an Xbox controller or keyboard and mouse. Both options were clunky and broke the sense of presence.


Use your noggin! The headset became the controller: when the player's reticle centered on an asteroid, the laser auto-fired. For another element, you had to literally move your head so that the power-up would absorb into your shield, to score the most points.

Asking the user to stand and move around felt like a bold move for new VR users. I wanted to make sure a persons first experience in VR was a pleasant one. And happily, I found that the vast majority found it was a blast. 🚀


User Testing

Nova Asteroids debuted at the NW Museum of Art and Culture in the summer of 2015. We were pleased to have a diversity of people try the game - of different ages, abilities, and walks of life. The game was facilitated by museum volunteers who recorded memorable quotes.

While the game was designed for player movement (like squatting and side stepping), we found that intensity was not essential to enjoy the game. Two visitors with quadriplegia were surprised and glad to find an interactive museum experience they could play because head movement was the primary mechanic. This was a delightful highlight to our testing.

Our qualitative testing found areas for improvement that we were able to quickly iterate such as the scoring system.


Team: NovaWake Studios
Premiere: 2015 June - NW Museum of Art and Culture, Spokane, WA
Released: 2015 July - Oculus Share
Exhibited: 2015 Oct - 2016 February - Time Traveler Lounge, Spokane, WA

Media: Virtual Reality game

Using Format