Master's Thesis

increasing player immersion using the htc vive

Exploring the design of

a vr Operating system


Unreal 4.10.0
5 Months (4 Weeks on the final Artifact)


For my Master's Thesis, I built a small artifact that explores the UI, UX, and application design of a Virtual Reality Operating System using the HTC Vive


Ever since I first experienced the HTC Vive at GDC 2015, I knew I wanted to make content for the VR platform. The hand controllers added a new level of interactivity, which naturally enhanced player immersion. By the time I started work on my Thesis Proposal, the SMU Guildhall (my Graduate Program) had acquired an early Vive dev kit. I used the opportunity to get experience developing for both VR and the Vive in particular. Over the course of the Thesis project, I went through several artifact ideas before landing on what would become my exploration into a VR Operating System. Looking at the Unreal 4 VR Editor and Media Molecule's Dreams for the PS4, I hypothesized that game development tools would eventually rely on hand-based controllers to increase efficiency and accuracy, and I placed a lot of focus on polishing the Vive controller inputs to experiment with this concept.

The artifact, called HolOS (Holographic Operating System), is a small exploration of how users would interact with an OS based entirely in Virtual Reality. The hand controllers were key for this, as they replace the mouse as the primary method of selecting and manipulating objects. Being in an immersive 3D space allowed for all UI and UX aspects of an OS to be re-thought to utilize VR, proving both challenging and fascinating. As of March 11th, I have worked on this Artifact for 3 weeks, and in that time, I have created a basic desktop design and two basic apps: Blockers and Inbox.


Blockers is a simple App that allows the player to spawn and manipulate basic physics-enabled objects. This was the first App created, as it helped to develop the basic dual-manipulation mechanics that formed the basis of how the player interacted with the OS.


The objects can be grabbed with either one or two controllers, and can be moved, rotated, and scaled. Rotating the dial seen on the right changes the shape of the spawned objects, indicated by a translucent shape floating above it. Spawned objects can be deleted by dragging them into the incinerator, or by clicking the Clear All button on the left (deleting all spawned objects). The app opens surrounded by collision volumes that prevent the spawned objects from leaving, which the Player can toggle on and off using the Toggle Walls button on the upper right. 


Inbox, while having no network functionality due to time limitations on the project, is a sample of how the UI for the standard Email Application would be adapted for use in VR. It focused on very basic functionality, such as receiving, organizing, and deleting emails.


Players can click the green button on the right to send themselves emails, which emerge as physics-enabled bubbles from the mailbox mesh. The email bubbles can bump into each other, which prevents overlapping. Grabbing a bubble brings it closer to the Player, allowing them to place it on the viewer and open it. Opened emails reveal the contents, and can be deleted using a trash button attached to the viewer. The viewer itself is fully movable on the surface of the desk, preventing difficulty when attempting to grab email bubbles behind it.



  • Explore the User Interface design of an Operating System built for the HTC Vive

  • Show mastery over User Interface Design by having an intuitive layout of buttons and key items, highlighted using negative space, color, and guiding lines.

  • Increase player immersion by creating a polished and intuitive control scheme using the Vive controllers that combines the user's pre-learned knowledge of standard Operating System UI with natural mechanical actions such as grabbing and manipulating objects. 


I enjoyed creating this sample of a VR-based OS immensely. The scripting and UI design were both challenging and engaging, and I successfully defended my artifact on April 13th, 2016!