Art imitates life, but it doesn’t have to be bound by its rules. While natural interactions always begin with real world analogues, it’s our job as designers to craft new experiences geared towards virtual platforms. Building on last week’s game design tips, today we’re thinking about how we can break real-world rules and give people superpowers.

In some of our earliest Unity experiments, we designed examples to reflect real-world interactions, like pressing a button to trigger an action. These design elements were skeuomorphs – familiar conceptual markers to make the interface more approachable and accessible. However, we quickly discovered that these experiences can be unsatisfying, because they adhered too closely to the real world. We want to live in the future, but that doesn’t mean we want George Jetson’s job.

A later set of experiments incorporated superpowers into virtual worlds, such as making fists to levitate objects. These powers augment the user experience and go beyond physical interactions – such as applying force to virtual tables, or flying through the air. These examples were a lot more fun. (Incidentally, the source code for all of these older Unity examples is available on creator Pohung Chen’s Bitbucket.)

LeapForce -- a Unity demo that lets you levitate a table

Leap Superhero -- a Unity demo that gives you flying superpowers

This concept of going beyond real-world simulation can be found in games everywhere. (For example, based on rigorous internal testing, we’ve found that real birds don’t bounce anywhere near as much as Angry Birds.) By tweaking the natural laws that govern interactions, you can make your users feel like superheros. That’s the thinking behind games like the open-source Unity game Telekinetic, which gives you the power to smash evil robots with a simple gesture.


Intriguingly, thanks to the new beta tracking capabilities, the design pendulum is now swinging the other way. For the first time, we’re able to use onscreen hands that directly imitate real-world hand behaviors – a highly intuitive approach that means we can evolve beyond more abstracted experiences that left many users feeling lost. The question of how those virtual hands can interact with the world around them is also evolving, but there will always be a place for superpowers.

Are you a game physics lawbreaker? What kinds of superpowers would you like to see combined with motion control?

Nancy is a Leap Motion UX designer. She believes that well-designed digital experiences can make everyone feel like superheroes.