Getting together the models

So after trying to settle on the exact story before making the scenes, I was getting so caught up that I decided to take a break from it and start building assets for one location that will definitely be present, which is the compound in which I lived in Togo for the second year I was there. I tried finding assets but unsurprisingly there aren’t many good assets to depict a contemporary small African village, and I want to be true to the story. I looked at some pictures I have from my time and began crafting the structures in Blender. As I’m new to the program it has taken longer than I had hoped, but I’m getting the hang of it and it’s going faster. Next steps are to put actual textures on these buildings and put them into Unreal so I can start playing with different storytelling techniques. Some ideas:

  • An ongoing narration as you walk around the scene
  • Using gaze or picking up items to tell short stories about the objects
  • Narration that begins through event triggers and when the user walks to a certain location

There are many unknowns which is why I want to get these buildings done ASAP and start testing. Next week’s Quick and Dirty show will hopefully offer some insight. Here are the models:

Here are a few of the reference pictures for comparison:


Settling on a story

This past weekend I volunteered for Versions, a VR conference hosted by NEW INC and Kill Screen and had a chance to try out more experiences, listen to a few panels, chat with people in the industry, and attend some workshops. It offered a great look at the actual landscape of the industry and while I’m not totally sure it is the industry for me, hearing Robert Yang talk about VR soberly was oddly inspirational. Though he does not necessarily see it as the future, I appreciate his view on getting into VR early to shape its culture (and make sure it’s gay) as well as his point it is easy to go between VR and game development since they use the same tools. To this point I began thinking about the difference of VR and games, especially about the openness of the audience in VR for experimental, interesting, mature pieces. I had the pleasure of helping to demo Tree, an amazing piece from an ITP alum that uses a fan, heat, and even a sparked match that left many people feeling like they had a type of spiritual experience. Though serious games do exist, they are often derided for not being “fun,” while it seems serious VR experiences are met with open arms. Perhaps this is because VR is expensive, elite in a sense, and it has the connotation of total immersion that makes it “profound.” Maybe it is just because VR is in its early stages that people are more open to new ideas.

Regardless, I think this is worth exploring. People have asked me how my Peace Corps experience was and it’s impossible to summarize it in a succinct way. I still have dreams about Togo and my village, my host mom, my dog, and about that life that feels like a dream at this point. I would love to create an experience that allows someone to walk around in my old town, Kadjalla, to talk about my life there, my friends, the culture. To have multiple stories presented probably similarly to Bear71, largely narrative with the freedom to explore and I’d like to add some minor, linear-style game mechanics (move object X to position Y to advance the story). Keeping within the scope of the class, however, I’d like to begin with a story about my dog, Filet. I don’t expect this experience to be “fun,” and I really want to create it for myself. I just need to begin recreating my house and the area around it and begin playing with the story itself. For the graphical style, I really like the low-poly look of That Dragon, Cancer or Monument Valley: simple geometry with warm, light colors.

I tried finding a low-poly dog that I liked but I think I will use this opportunity to learn some basic 3D modeling software and make my own assets. The area that I will build will be relatively small for this story so I don’t think it will be too outrageous.

Throwing around that $$

This week I played around with Tiltbrush and made some bread and dollar signs. I tried different materials and making them more robust, but I did not like the look of it as much; I think I’d prefer to try a hand at 3D modeling in Blender or C4D for my own look. Playing in Tiltbrush was still fun, though, and is really a magical experience. I’m thinking for this class I want to make a project related to my thesis topic – so an experience related to the failures of capitalism that grow more apparent each day. I’m not sure how that will look in VR though. For my thesis I believe I will make a multiplayer arcade game encouraging cooperation over competition, but VR is a singular experience so I need to find a way to leverage that. It is still far more fun to interact with a world, so I know I want there to be an element there. Both The Rose & I as well as The Invasion were interesting shorts, but being a fly on the wall is not as interesting to me. Passage is a good example of feeling like you have more agency as a player while it is still a very linear story which is interesting. I also looked at Bear71 which is a web VR experience that I experienced on my laptop, and I thought it was amazing. The voice-over gave a clear story while I was able to explore on my own and find out more pieces of the story. Though I experienced it on the web I’d be curious to try it in a headset and see how different that is.

Getting back into Unreal

This week we worked on setting up a scene in Unreal using Actors found in Epic Games demos. I added an Actor that should break like a window and I want to see if I could get it so that throwing a rock using a Vive could in essence smash the window, but I can’t seem to get it to work. Unlike my previous work where I just copied over the Blueprint from the example scene and switched out the mesh, this doesn’t work with the rock that comes as Starter Content. No idea why.

For the second part of the assignment I played The Lab, essentially a series of tech demos. Valve does a great job (which they should, it is their product) and really showcases the value of the Vive. Slingshotting objects, exploring spaces by bending down, changing scale, and of course humor make a strong case for interactive VR. I think a 20-30 minute funny interactive piece would do really well with the Vive, and I could definitely see myself getting lost in the headset for a few hours if there was content to support it. Even though it’s room-scale I find myself teleporting far more than walking, but just the act of standing up and being able to crouch and turn is enough.

Henry and Dear Angelica in VR

For our first week in Worlds on a Wire we had to look at a couple pieces in virtual reality with the Oculus and write some thoughts.

I first watched Dear Angelica which is absolutely beautiful. The whimsical stylized paintings flow from one scene to the next with seamless movements, though I chose the seated option and the fact that there were still objects directly behind me making me crane my head all the way around was pretty uncomfortable. I must admit I’m also much more of a gamer than a movie buff and the entire time I desperately wanted to touch and interact with the scene especially as it would get so close to me. At times it felt like the world was teasing me, seeming as if it were interactive when I was really just a bystander.

Henry, on the other hand, was much more interesting despite its lack of interaction. Perhaps because I did not have to crane my neck as much as it kept most of the action in front of me, allowing me to easily enjoy the story. I also enjoyed the non-verbal storytelling better; it was far more immersive witnessing a scene and making my own judgments rather than being told exactly what is happening every step of the way. Not to say this can’t be good, as we will later play The Stanley Parable and it and its successor The Beginner’s Guide are amazing walking simulators games that utilize relatively linear narration, though they offer just enough choice for me to still feel invested in interacting with the work. I wish even in Dear Angelica I could have touched the wisps of color around me as the story kept going.