The Talking Dead

virtual reality game

Client: Twitch

Teammates: Cameron Erdogan, Grace Guo, Tony Wang, Nathan LeBlanc

My role: game design | 3D modeling | playtesting


A vast majority of people experience stage fright. How might a game help these people overcome their fear? How might a live audience on Twitch participate in such an experience?


The Talking Dead is a VR game in which players tell stories to an audience of approaching zombies. When streamed live on Twitch, viewers provide direction to the player's story.


90% of adults experience stage fright.

We conducted a survey of research into techniques that are used to combat public speaking anxiety. Our findings suggested that although virtual reality is used as a tool to treat anxiety, the jury is still out on the efficacy of such techniques. Accordingly, we decided to design our game as a research product to test the efficacy of virtual reality as a form of therapy for stage fright.

We also looked at a number of existing games for inspiration. Here are two examples:

Twitch Plays Pokemon is a pioneer of crowd controlled gaming. In the game, viewers collectively control a livestreamed play session of Pokemon Red. This game inspired us to think about integrating live audience participation into our design.

In Typing of the Dead, the player kills zombies by typing words that float above individual zombies’ heads. This game inspired us to think about the potential of embedded design.


We chose to employ embedded design, a technique in which the true purpose of a product is buried deep within it.

We conducted a round of brainstorming to flush out our original idea. We used a technique called Round Robin, in which a group of designers build off of each other's ideas in a circular, collaborative fashion. At the end of a round robin, all the ideas are presented to the group, and we combined the best elements of the different ideas into a design concept with which to move forward. As shown below, this concept involved a player talking in front of an audience of zombies.

We refined our concept and used it to create a game diagram (shown below) depicting the mechanics of our design. This game diagram details the main pieces of the game, such as the player, the audience, the word queue, and the performance aggregator.

To create a community experience in virtual reality, we decided to introduce live audience participation in the game via a chatbot on Twitch.


Before investing time in development, we decided to prototype and iterate on our game in low fidelity.

A photo from one of our experience prototyping sessions.

We put our game design to the test by experience prototyping different iterations of it. We continued to refine our game diagram based on the ideas that we generated from our user feedback.

We decided to develop The Talking Dead for the Oculus Rift. According to VR Best Practices, heads-up displays (i.e. static objects that move with the viewer's frame) should be avoided since they disorient the user in VR. Instead, game stats should be displayed in world space. For our game, we display game stats on a podium situated slightly below the viewer’s starting field of view. The current prompt is displayed, along with time remaining and number of zombies killed. Here are some wireframes we developed in preparation for prototyping in virtual reality.

The game starts with a prompt that includes a person, a place, and an action. The player's story must be based on this prompt.

The player delivers the story to an audience of zombies. Each zombie is associated with a word. The player must use the words in their story to kill the zombies.

Why virtual reality?

Immersive. Three-dimensional. Real-time community.

We chose virtual reality for our game because we wanted to create an immersive experience for our players. We believed that this feature would recreate the experience of being on stage more accurately than a simple screen-based medium.

In order to further accentuate the immersive nature of our game, we built in the capability for real-time audience participation when the game is streamed live on

The Player View contains no HUDs, or static objects that move with the player. Instead, the stats are displayed on a podium in front of the player.

The Twitch view overlays relevant stats, such as time left, on the screen. To the right, a chatbox allows the audience to input data that affects the game.


We asked our playtesters what they loved and hated most about the game, and what they would change about the game if they had a magic wand.

Once our game mechanics were in place, we create a high-fidelity prototype and playtested it in virtual reality. Here is a video compilation from our playtests.

Final Product

Our final design was a fully functioning prototype of the game in virtual reality.

Here is a description of our the mechanics of our final game:

  • Prompt: Players tell stories based on the prompt that consists of a person, place, and action.
  • Word zombies: Viewers provide words that will be attached to the zombies. These words are fed into a queue, which generates zombies at a constant rate.
  • Kill Condition: Players kill approaching zombies by weaving the corresponding words into their story.
  • Audience Participation: Viewers vote on the player’s performance in real time. These votes are fed into the performance aggregator. The performance aggregator speeds up approaching zombies when viewers downvote player, and slows down the zombies when viewers upvote player.

If I had more time...

...I would conduct more playtests to test the efficacy of our game as a form of therapy for people with stage fright. Our playtests yielded insight into the quality of entertainment provided by the game, but, given the scale of the project, we were not able to test our hypothesis about the game's role in treating stage fright.