Completed Water Bears VR demo level for the HTC Vive

Water Bears VR demo level: back view

Water Bears VR demo level: side view

Water Bears VR demo level: top view

Water Bears VR demo level: far view

Early sketch of demo level 

Top-down sketch of the demo level

Previous iteration of the demo level: front

Previous iteration of the demo level: back

Previous iteration of the demo level: underneath

Early sketch of a gauntlet to hold the pipe inventory

Proposal for a rotating table for the puzzle in VR

Flow diagram describing player/water bear interaction behavior

Design documentation for a table-based inventory system: overview

Design documentation for a table-based inventory system: details

VR Design Challenges


  • After porting game architecture to the Vive, we designed a new set of controls, UI, navigation, and environment for VR

  • Developed a set of behaviors for the water bears so that players can interact with them at the end of the level

  • Took the first steps toward the eventual team goal of converting all original levels to VR

  • More info about the original game available at:

Project Scope

  • Worked with a team of 8-12 people to port Water Bears, Schell Games' systems thinking game for the iPad, to the HTC Vive virtual reality system over the course of three months
  • Helped to develop an interaction system for VR and build a new demo level built specifically for virtual reality 
  • Schell Games game design internship 2015 
  • Many of the more abstract UI elements from the original iPad interface (level selection, pipe selection, delete button, rotate pipes button) had to be rethought in a much more physical context

  • The size of each puzzle had to be accessible to both shorter and taller players

  • The new controllers have very few universally accepted standards for control--needed to come up with an new, easy-to-use control scheme and visual cues for picking up and dropping pipes, selecting new pipes from the inventory, interacting with the water bears, etc.

Demo Level Design

  • Constraints: puzzle needed to be at the center of the playspace, reachable by the majority of players

  • Emphasis on walking around the play area, looking above and below the puzzle, playing with pipes

  • Level design involved several phases of iteration, including multiple naive playtests

  • Finished level successfully introduced players to the game mechanics, invited them to get creative with their pipe placements and rewarded them at the completion of the puzzle with playful water bears

Demo Level

  • Player's goal: use a selection of pipes to direct colored water from its source to the water bear of the same color
  • Demo level design: 
    • Provided a fun level that can be completed in 3 minutes without additional tutorials
    • Encouraged the player to walk all the way around the puzzle, taking full advantage of the Vive's available floorspace
    • Invited the player to build interesting structures out of the pipes in their inventory
    • Invited the player to pick up and play with the water bears when the puzzle is completed

Screenshot of the original tablet-based game layout

Image source:

The much-anticipated arrival of the HTC Vive dev kit at Schell