Dancing as a Resurrected Zombie

Experience Design/Game Design/3D Modeling

Virtual Reality (VR) provides an incredibly immersive way for game experience. However, an immersive experience is not created merely through the physical medium, but more through the storytelling and interactions in the game.


“The Resurrected” is a VR experience designed for Oculus Rift using the setting of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Hopefully, everyone who loves MJ or dancing will enjoy our game.

Professor: Janet Murray

Timeline: Sep.10—Dec.12  (3 months)

Team Members: Huan Deng, Shengxi Wu, Tony Jin, Yannu Li


Cue interactors to identify their roles & imitate virtual characters

The project aims to explore how to create an immersive and persuasive experience to engage interactors to identify their roles in the virtual world, as well as encourage them to imitate virtual characters’ actions. The challenge here is to use compelling narrative elements to encourage natural interactions without giving any text or audio guidance.

Checkout out our demo prototype here: http://etv.gatech.edu/2018/12/13/the-resurrected/

My contributions

During the ideation phase, I brainstormed narratives with my teammates. I independently conducted competitive analysis to find design alternatives and inspirations for future iterations. As the usability testing lead, I outlined questions for observation and interview, and documented interactors' reactions and feedback with my teammates. I proposed design ideas to my team based on competitive analysis and user feedback. Moreover, I also contributed to 3D modeling by making audience animations.

Design process

Narrative design

We began with brainstorming of compelling narratives that rendered immersive experience for interactors. My smart teammates came up with the scenario in Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video. In the video, MJ turns into a zombie and summons other zombies to resurrect from tombs — it sounds horrifying but when they start to dance, it looks super cool. 


Inspired by the video, we intended to create an experience both thrilling and a little scary (Halloween was coming!). Meanwhile, we aimed to explore ways to facilitate interactors’ self identification & their imitation of other characters in VR.


Insights from other dance VR games

After drafting the narratives, the next step is to consider how to evoke interactors to dance and how to make them continue doing so. To gain more insights, I decided to look at and learn from other dance VR games. 

Insights: Timely feedbacks after taking actions are vital

Rhythm game

Audioshield and Beat Saber are popular VR rhythm games where your goal is to shield/slash the beats as they are coming at you.



Training game

In this VR social dance game, players in two remote locations spontaneously start to dance in order to interact with companions, sometimes mirroring their movements

Social game

A peer/companion in the virtual world is vital to motivate players to move and learn from.

A tutorial in front of a mirror helps interactors know if their movements are correct.

Facing the instructor motivates learning.

Dancing in a group is encouraging.

In Dance Virtual, players could learn different styles of dance from a virtual instructor.



Visual inspirations

The core of our environment was of course the context the player was going to be immersed in. Hence, we created a visual board on Pinterest, through which we looked for inspirations in scene design, stage layout design, light effect design etc. 

Organizing visual inspirations on Pinterest

Organizing visual inspirations on Pinterest


Initial storyboards

Deconstruct the narrative stages for development

Designing an experience in VR cost more time and effort since we had to build a prototype in Unity and then conducted users testing. Hence, we need to deconstruct the story into different stages for each round of development.

Discussion sessions on breaking down story development


Prototype 1.0 — Engagement

To build a VR experience, we need to build and test bit by bit. We started to design the first stage experience for engaging interactors. Both environment and characters designs are vital to generate the sense of being at this stage. 

User feedbacks

We organized the feedbacks from 13 testers and discussed potential iterations about engagement based upon the user feedbacks. Meanwhile, we worked on developing the next stages — dancing recognition and rewards. 

Prototype 2.0 — Dancing recognition & rewards

The user feedbacks mainly informed us to iterate on:

a) helping interactors identify their roles

b) making the dance easier to follow

To achieve these goals, I went back to our competitive analysis and learned from other products. 

Zombies waking up from their coffins
--> same experience
Step-by-step tutorials & feedbacks
--> easier dance
Adding more details to the coffin
--> setting refinement

The second version was relatively complete, with all the three stages done. We would use this version for the external usability testing.


Piloting - Refine interview and survey questions

Before the testing, we had a chance to do an internal testing to refine our interview and questionnaire questions. From the piloting session, I learned that if we attempted to know players’ initial responses and feelings, we’d give least guidance and avoid asking leading questions


Hence, I outlined the interview questions again. The refined questions focused more on individual’s subjective walkthrough of the whole game, including conceptions of the setting, characters, gestures and movements. We asked questions and went deeper based on what players attended to. It’s really hard but important to find a balance between what you want to know and what others know.

External user testing

Altogether we had 6 people for user testing. In this round, we wanted to know if the tutorial was effective & whether interactors identify with other zombies. Below was our process.

Testing results


Make MJ zombie more obvious

Even though MJ zombie is dressed in a distinguished outfit and positioned at the center, interactors could be distracted by other objects, hence may lose track of what’s going on. We watched several talent show videos and brainstormed ways to lead interactors’ sight. Below was our iteration.

Iterated prototype of MJ's show-up

Make the dance more enjoyable

From user feedbacks, the iconic movement was not hard to learn after we added step-by-step tutorials. However, interactors might get bored of the repetitive movements. Hence we decided to allow freestyle dancing after the tutorial. In this stage, the movements would not be recognized and given any feedbacks. 


Moreover, we added audience and a finale scene with fireworks to make it more appealing and rewarding.

Allow free dance or following the whole Thriller dance
Audience cheers and fireworks as rewards

Reflections and future iterations

During our final demo session, most testers mentioned that they enjoyed the game and understood who they were and what they were doing. I realized the power of narrative elements to encourage interactions. Also, it is vital to adjust the narratives based on user feedback, which helps to minimize designers' bias and dominant knowledge.

During the usability testing session, I gained experience in conducting semi-structured interview. We would have a list of open-ended interview questions, but would adjust them based on our observation of testers' actions --we asked questions based on what testers attended to. In this, we avoided asking leading questions and could get real feedbacks from testers.

Furthermore, I learned the importance of prioritizing tasks. Building a VR experience is time-consuming since we had to develop a prototype in Unity to test. Hence, breaking down tasks and prioritizing design solutions wisely with our modeler and developer can accelerate the whole design and testing process.

© Designed by Huan Deng with ❤. Last updated in Oct. 2020.