True Immersion, Shvitzing, and Some Rug Burn

 
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Hi Heroes,

It's been quite a while since I've been able to sit down and write. Apologies on that front, but I promise I have a good excuse! I am thrilled to announce that I have accepted a position with the amazing Two Bit Circus. In just a few short months, they'll be opening a micro-amusement park in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles. Almost the size of a football field, this park will feature VR arenas, robot bartenders, and everything in between. I'm excited to be a part of this fantastic family of carnies and count myself lucky to be on this wild ride with them.

Even though I've been at 2BC for less than a month, I feel that it's necessary to take a moment to pass on what I've learned. With a background in non-profit, I've had a hell of a time trying to break into the gaming space. I spent so much time in jobs that, though I learned a lot and met some amazing people, didn't fulfill me. I stayed in these jobs thinking that I needed to wait for the "perfect" position to open up. I stubbornly refused to consider jobs that required any sort of salary reduction, paying no attention to the fact that my worth and experience in one area doesn't always translate to another. Learn from my mistakes- jump in head first and don't look back. If it's your passion, just being surrounded by it can help you succeed and propel you forward. Personally, I have never been more excited to come to work on a daily basis. I mean, where else could I have entered a Halloween costume contest during work hours??

I tied for most creative, making articulated fabric wings!

I hope you're able to work in the field you love. It's incredibly fulfilling, and enables you to create a solid network for when your skills catch up to where you want to be.

Do it!

That's not all that's changed since my last post. I finally committed and bought a VR ready computer and an HTC Vive!

 

Crikey! Ain't she a beaut?!

 

The Vive has brought me some of the best gaming experiences I've ever had, which leads us to the meat of this post. 

True Immersion

Having fantasized about owning a VR headset for years, I wasted no time in building a library of games/apps that the community has been raving about: Tilt Brush, Google Blocks, Waltz of the Wizard, SUPERHOT VR, Raw Data, Vanishing Realms, Sairento VR, Google Earth VR, Masterpiece VR, Mindshow, and Virtual Desktop to name a few. Thus far, my standout favorites are Tilt Brush, SUPERHOT VR, and Vanishing Realms

Let's take a look at Tilt Brush. This art application combines an intuitive interface with some simple, yet stunning visuals. One hand becomes the paintbrush, while the other become the palette and menu controls. As someone who has been drawing and sculpting since childhood, I had grand plans of creating beautiful 3D masterpieces, harnessing this tool that combines artistic disciplines and has become a unique medium unto itself. Instead, spent the first few hours drawing happy faces, swirls, and writing "Tom Marvolo Riddle" in the air. I was truly amazed at how much wonder this simple application stirred in me. Not to be distracted from my goal (too much...), I set out to spend a night creating something I could be proud of. Stumped at where to begin, I pulled up the Tilt Brush menu and discovered that they supply translucent objects that you can use as models to paint around. Testing a few out, I discovered that these shapes are subsequently invisible to when viewing your final piece. With that knowledge in mind, I chose a dress form model. Having been interested in pursuing costume design a number of years ago, I was instantly drawn to it. As I mentioned, I had already spent a good amount of time putzing around and learning about each brush, so I decided to start with a thick brush that creates twisting polygonal tubes. Beginning at the neck, I began my work.

I had a few false starts, but after getting comfortable drawing on the form I soon found myself building a dress composed mostly of intricate rose-like swirls. After constructing half of the bodice, I had a moment where I realized that to fully embrace the medium, I would need to discard some of my thinking related to the constraints presented by physical, real-world costume design. Looking at the other half of the bodice, I promptly switched brushes and constructed it out of purple lightning. Since this dress is digital, I thought about creating something that would have a permanent movement to it. In the end, I created a skirt composed of long, rough-edged strokes that are evocative of swirling feathers. Enjoying the asymmetrical aspect of the dress, I added a small shoulder piece made of geometric patterns and swirling smoke for good measure.

Click to examine the piece in 3D.

Click to examine the piece in 3D.

Some of the bodice detailing.

Some of the bodice detailing.

One disappointing thing I noticed when I uploaded the piece to Poly, Google's hosting service for 3D content, I found that I couldn't see a lot of the intricate work I had so painstakingly composed. Above is a GIF showing some of that detail work, but it's otherwise washed out and muddy when viewing the piece as a whole. Turns out, Tilt Brush's provided environmental light is mostly removed when the piece is exported. For my next few pieces, I'm going to paint some scenes to get acquainted with creating environmental lighting. I'm also going to look into cinematographer tools to understand lighting composition for real-world filming.

Anywho, that's my piece, and it's something I definitely take pride in. If you want to see some REAL VR art, check out my friend Estella Tse, as well as Danny Bittman and Liz Edwards. If they don't convince you that VR is a fantastic new art medium, nothing will. 

Shvitzing

Having spent my first night in VR working in Tilt Brush, I decided that it was time to dive into some more intensive games. SUPERHOT VR has been repeatedly suggested to me and I was excited to finally give it a try. The premise is easy enough to understand: you navigate beautifully simple low-poly levels and use your fists, guns, and all manner of objects to defeat enemies. The main gameplay mechanic, though, is where the fun lies- the world only moves if you do. Let me elaborate on that: any movement you make, whether it be with the controllers or headset, is registered by the game. If you stop moving, so does everything else; bullets freeze, objects in mid-shatter are suspended in the air, and enemies seem to watch you as they stand trapped in immobile bodies.

Dodging bullets, snatching guns from an enemy's hand, and even throwing your emptied gun at an enemy is all possible in this game.

Using the control of time to your advantage, you can dodge bullets while delivering your own deadly shots.

It. Was. Awesome. In less than five minutes, I completely forgot that I was just a pudgy guy wearing a headset. Though my movement was restricted by the somewhat small office we have (my amazing fiancé recently announced that I should take the second largest room in the house and turn it into an office/VR cave, so that won't be a problem for long), I was jumping and dodging as if my actual life depended on it. In fact, I even earned a trophy for dodging a barrage of bullets like Neo in his famous scene. After finishing a particularly long level, I took off my headset to find that it was drenched in shvitz. I had apparently gotten quite the workout! After buying a less...absorbent...foam band for the headset's interior, I jumped into what has since become my most immersive VR experience yet.

Some Rug Burn

I only just heard about Vanishing Realms a few weeks ago. I was talking to one of my new coworkers about the different games I've played, and he recommended it to me after hearing about what I was looking for. Intrigued (and more than a bit excited about being surrounded by people who love the same things I do), I bought the game on the spot. Satisfyingly, my coworker was dead right. Let me preempt this next bit by saying that the game isn't perfect. It's not the best gaming experience I've had by a long shot, and the graphics are in the early Zelda low-poly style and purposely not realistic. 

 

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker effectively demonstrates a modern use of the low-poly art style.

 

You might be wondering how a game with cartoonish qualities can feel more immersive than, say, a 360° video. Hear me out. What the developer, Indimo Labs, understood about creating immersive VR is that people want to interact with the virtual world in the same way that they interact with the real one. If I see something on a table, I should be able to pick it up. If I see a candle, I should be able to light it. That's where so many VR games cut corners, and that's exactly why Indimo's experience delivers. My first few hours in the game weren't spent leveling or trying to earn new weapons; rather, I was teleporting around the world, picking up coins, lighting archaic candelabras with my Indiana Jones-style wall torch, and climbing chains to get aerial views of the area. Every single item placed in this game can be interacted with, and it's incredibly fun and satisfying to do so. That fun stems from immersion- I truly felt like I was there. After finally turning my attention to actually playing the game, I soon found myself face-to-face with a large ogre creature. Having no weapons, I swung at the creature with my torch. It blocked my blows deftly, and as I frantically ducked a sword swing, my torch accidentally touched the pile of dried leaves we were standing on. To my astonishment, the leaves caught fire and the creature started taking damage, slowly backing away to try and escape the flames.  Even more surprising was that I took damage as well, being burned by my own flames. My health bar was low and was regenerating too slowly for my liking. I felt a fight-or-flight instinct kick in, again due to how immersed I was, and quickly found a place to hide and recuperate. Though my enemy was slain, I had no idea if more would spawn from that spot or would come looking for me to urge me on through the game. Looking around my hiding place (a small room off the main hallway), I noticed some bread sitting on a table. I picked it up, and took note that my inventory icon indicated I could store the bread, which I did (as a side note, the inventory icon sits around your waist, giving you the impression that you're stuffing items into a pouch tied to your belt). If I could store the item, it most likely meant it was something I could use. Knowing that many games provide food as a healing item, I retrieved the loaf from my inventory but stopped to consider how I was supposed to "use" it. When playing non-VR games, you just select the item and your character eats it, many games either allowing an instant regeneration of your health bar or utilizing cute animations where your character sits and eats for a few seconds, restoring health over time. But I was holding the bread in my hand. And that's when it hit me. I lifted the bread to my face, and to my satisfaction my character began munching on it. I half expected to taste bread in my mouth because of how conditioned my brain is to expect that experience!

It's moments like these that really impress me when reflecting on my experience in Vanishing Realms. So much of the VR content on the market struggles to correlate real world actions with virtual ones, and Vanishing Realms stepped up to deliver. Playing this game really makes me excited about what's next for VR. As the progression of computer graphics has shown us, visuals will only become more realistic as time goes on. While clear visuals are important for any VR game, I think it's important that developers take a page out of Indimo's book when it comes to creating more immersive content. My experience seems to only add support to studies about immersion and presence, and it's time we listen.

What's Next, News, and More

What's Next:

Now that I'm more settled in my job and our house is no longer filled with boxes, I'm going to commit to writing more frequently. Especially now that my days are filled with things like VR tournaments, I can't help but feel reinvigorated to dive back in. Along those lines, I recently tweeted about my friend's experience in VR, and how developers can work on making VR more accessible. I have a call with a developer in Australia who is doing work in this field, and after I speak to her, I'm going to be taking an intensive look at the responses I received and what we as a community can do to create content and hardware with accessibility in mind.

News:

  • Pixar has released a VR experience for their upcoming movie, Coco. Check it out on Oculus.
  • Amazon has announced that they will be developing a TV series based on the Lord of the Rings franchise. They better not mess that up...
  • HTC has officially announced their standalone VR headset, the Vive Focus.

More:

Feedback! I want to hear from you. Do you like the topics I've covered? Do you want to see something different or wish I had talked more about a specific concept? Comment here or click the "contact" button at the top of the page. Being new to writing a blog, I want to make sure I'm creating relevant posts that answer the questions you're asking.

Thanks, and game on!