Decibels is a first person VR thriller where the player is trapped in a labyrinth designed like an anechoic chamber. Devoid of acoustics, regularly audible noises are gone, and maddening ambient soundscapes begin to creep through the speakers. An evil entity roams the halls, and the player must stay vigilant to avoid or fight it. By using a weapon that helps the player navigate the maze and detect enemies, silence becomes the enemy, and sound become the player’s weapon.
Inspired by real world anechoic chambers, Decibels aims to take the psychological and hallucinatory audio experiences that can be experienced by prolonged audio sensory deprivation.
An anechoic chamber at Microsoft Headquarters in Bellevue, WA
3D assets were handcrafted in Maya and Blender and then imported into Unity Engine for lighting and post-processing.
Early prototype build in Unity Engine
Bloom, depth of field, grain, and more were used to enhance the visual palette of Decibels. A dark environment with stark contrasts in light and color help to further develop the atmosphere.
Atmospheric visuals are a key part of Decibels.
Using Unity's XR Integration package, a VR Rig was built from scratch with unique, visually striking locomotion UI and an environment built from the ground up for Virtual Reality.
Decibels functions as a VR First Person Shooter, but inside of the labyrinth, the shooting only helps the player navigate the environment through light and audio feedback.
When inside of the anechoic chambers, the weapon acts as a tool to help the player detect and avoid enemies that patrol the hallways. Only in areas such as the Pyramid in the finale, can the weapon be utilized for combat.
The prototype version of Decibels focused much more on ambience as well as a literal "loop" of the same hallway (taking inspiration from horror title "P.T.") Based on user feedback, this concept was expanded to create a much larger map rather than different levels, to enhance the level of worldbuilding and immersion.
User testing showed positivity towards the visuals and atmosphere, but dark environments and an overabundance of flicker lights made navigating the environment confusing and uncomfortable. Additionally, visual and audio feedback from using the weapon made combat difficult to comprehend.
Among many others, 2 significant changes based on feedback (from user testers as well as clinical faculty at Boise State) include creating a stronger feedback loop during combat (SFX, Particle FX, Projectile Impact) to the player's weapon, as well as better lighting, the player carries a stronger flashlight, as well as the gun having a flashlight. Less flickering lights were used as well to help with player comfortability.
3D Assets made in Blender ultimately
make the cut to the final build of
Decibels. All assets were made to scale so that building walls, panels,
walkways etc. were as simple as dragging and dropping in the Unity scene.
All audio effects, soundscapes and music were made inside of Reaper, then exported as wave files to make Decibels a high fidelity audio experience. Decibels also makes use of Unity's audio mixer and includes an audio manager script to help trigger the right effects as accurately as possible.
A look inside of the Unity editor reveals the full layout of the main level that the player navigates as well as a peak at a testing room that would later become the final combat arena inside of the pyramid. Several scenes were created for the purpose of testing, or as alternate level ideas.