Table Tennis Just Got Fit: Interview with Game Dev About Your Fitness and VR

Check out this game developer's take on fitness in VR!


Admit it: When you think of table tennis, the last thing on your mind is a great workout. We get that. But when you add in virtual reality, table tennis can really be a great cardio blast that can also impact on your arms, traps and shoulders. Don’t believe us? Take a crack at playing Eleven: Table Tennis VR. We had a chance to talk with Hamzeh Alsalhi at  about the game and how it’s becoming a really cool part of a lot of virtual workouts. This is a story of listening to your gut and your market and the result was a really fun game with a lot of replayability and a serious cardio boost! Enjoy!

VRFI: Why a table tennis game? 

Hamzeh Alsalhi: Having just received our first HTC Vive in July of 2016 We were prototyping experiences we could create, and naturally, the first thing that occurred to us to try to replicate in virtual reality is the feeling of hitting a ball. And table tennis turned out to be a great fit for the current generation of virtual reality because the controller was about the weight of the paddle and the force feedback was enough to trick our brains into thinking we were really swinging at a ball. We posted a video of our prototype on Reddit and got a lot more positive attention than we thought we would, so we followed through and released the first playable version within a month of starting to work on the prototype.

VRFI: How important is the user’s knowledge of how to play table tennis in the real world to playing it in your game?

HA: The greatest part about all the current virtual reality table tennis games is they are closer analogs to real life table tennis than any table tennis games that have ever been created before. There is almost no interaction layer as you would experience in a normal game such as press “A” to swing at the ball or increase the power of hit. If you want to hit the ball in our game you simply swing at it and reacts in a purely physical sense there is no notion of a button needing to be pressed to elicit an action. So real world knowledge of table tennis translates very well into our game. That being said we have had many players who were introduced to table tennis through our game and were able to learn it because of the feedback in the form of winning or losing a point, and a few other elements such as a serving wall to show you the zone for a legal serve. These players report being able to play table tennis in real life better than they ever could after training in our game which we find amazing, and it is a testament to how powerful a technology virtual reality really is.

VRFI: Were you aware of how much of a workout the game was going to be when you started?

HA: Definitely not, the idea of working up a sweat in our game was not something we expected starting out because we were only exploring the technology and didn’t understand how accurate the game was going to come to feel. As we refined the physics, AI, and introduced multiplayer it became apparent how competitive and engaging the game could get as a way to get fun exercise. Now it’s almost the primary way we use the game, we think of it like going to play a real match of table tennis.

VRFI: How do you feel about people using this game for fitness?

HA: We love the idea! as desk ridden engineers we frequently find ourselves wanting a way to fit more exercise in our day and we find that our game and games like it are a great way to get in a 15-minute exercise and stretching break. So we identify with the need for fitting in exercise wherever you can get it and are very pleased to see our users think of the game in the same way.

VRFI: Please talk about the increasing intensity of the gameplay and why it’s important to the experience. 

HA: The reason we included a wide range of intensities in the game is so we could provide an experience full of challenges and present the player with room to grow no matter their skill level. The striving and struggle against a stronger opponent are what we think makes games and sports in general so engaging. With table tennis in the form of a virtual reality video game, you are much less likely to ever be short of a better opponent to train against, with our legendary difficulty AI and multiplayer options any user should be able to find a healthy challenge which is essential to giving users an enjoyable experience.

VRFI: Will we ever see a tournament mode where you can play with other users?

HA: We definitely want to include this feature in the game as we think it will add a great deal of replayability and way to track your progress. It will also be a great way to build a community around events that can be streamed or replayed, so we have it on the horizon for the list of improvements we are making to the game.

VRFI: How do you see fitness and vr evolving together?

HA: At the intersection of virtual reality and fitness, we see a rising popularity of esports that can be played from the living room for competition and exercise. Already esports are trending upwards in a huge way without VR, with VR we will be able to bring in athleticism and exercise that is sorely lacking from current traditional gaming. This is particularly exciting because it will blur the line between exercise and fun and games can become a healthy and engaging activity.

VRFI: Do you workout in VR? Would you recommend anyone to do so?

HA: In some sense, we do workout in VR because we use it as a way to get a break from sitting at a desk when coding all day. So getting up and being active and playing a game of table tennis in VR is a great way for us to get our heart rate up and get some minor exercise in. We definitely recommend VR as a way to workout mainly because it’s so fun and interesting, there are an endless amount of experiences that are physically demanding.

VRFI: Does fitness come into play when you’re designing a game? If so, at what point and in what way?

HA: It certainly does, development in VR is unique in that when you make a change it might not always be easy to judge how it affects the gameplay while sitting at your desk. You have to get up play the game and realize that the changes you made are perhaps far too physically demanding, maybe only a super human robot could react in time to beat the challenge you just programmed. And the counter is also true you could design something that looks like it could be engaging but when you play it you see the physical experience is not what you had hoped. In this way our game is really tunned around what we expect players to be able to physically do with their bodies by trying it ourselves and seeing what we can do, so there is a whole element of designing for the constraints of the body.