Three Trending VR Topics from GDC

The following is a synthesis of a talk given by Greenlight Insight’s Alexis Macklin and Unity’s Tony Parisi along with my own experiences at Oculus Developer Day 2017. The notes on VR experiences are important as the industry grows because we can reflect on what strategies are yielding better experiences for our users.

1) Complex Story-Telling

Dear Angelica and Why it Was Ground-Breaking

  • Creators at Oculus Story Studio used a combination of Houdini (cinema), UE4 (games), and Quill (art)
  • Use of Houdini in the flow of VR development is also illustrated really well by Mike Murdoc, Creative Director at Trihelix VR
  • Mike uses Houdini to permute and design VR interfaces check out what I mean.

2) Locomotion

  • Design Standards Don’t Exist Yet The style of teleportation or varieties of movement that are considered correct are still just beginning to be explored and developed––don’t expect to see a consensus on a design strategy
  • An indicator of Motion Sickness Many VR developers identified however that movement in the user’s peripheral vision is a good indicator of motion sickness. So if the user was teleporting from point A to point B and that user saw something moving in the corner of his or her eye that is a scenario you can expect will yield some sickness. This is controllable, outside of individual tolerances
  • Accessibility How to bring VR to those that can’t use VR right now, was a big theme. Different control schemes are to be developed throughout the year

3) Social VR Experiences

  • Sony VR bringing games and multiplayer activities to users. Eye and mouth movements are said to evoke the most emotional appeal out of the users. Do not approach the uncanny valley––in short, this means to stick to surrealism and cartoony type of avatars––the best way I can explain this is with Bitmoji. If you have created one of them, you probably understand, that they are not created to look exactly like you. They are an abstract that might share a similar skin tone to you or a similar clothing style; and, it’s intentionally just enough to create resemblance and purposefully doesn’t go too close to your real image.
  • Simply put, it can become a little messy as your brain develops a picture around all of the minute details that might be wrong about the representation as opposed to a clearly abstract example of a person

Examples

Robo Recall by Epic Games

  • Subject: Similar to Destiny or Call of Duty––stop bad guys
  • Lacked an overarching plot intentionally
  • Users are forced to explore new interactions and environments
  • Hopes to have longer play times Stevi Rex and Alexis both note that for them it’s the first VR title that left them wanting to play more

Sprint Vector by Survios

  • Subject: Run as fast as you can at top speeds to reach the finish line
  • Previously released Raw Data (made $1 million in a month)
  • Throws locomotion standards out of the window and asks you to swing your arms with tracked controllers as if you were on an elliptical machine
  • A lot of people were expecting motion sickness but so far, there has been positive reviews
  • Many many videos of people racing can be found online

Bebylon by Kite and Lightning

  • Subject: Futuristic baby battles
  • Currently, this is in a closed beta
  • 2 different levels of social interaction one is amongst other players and another amongst spectators––it is cross-platform
    • PC VR
    • Mobile VR
    • Console VR
    • Youtube (includes spectator-mode)
    • Twitch (includes spectator-mode)

From Other Suns by Gunfire Games

  • Subject: A four-player RTS in which you fight and try to save humanity
  • A unique movement mechanic combines stepped teleportation with a switch from first-person–you are your character–to third-person–you are controlling your character–to guide your character to his or her next location
  • They have also employed accessibility well so you can choose to opt out of the aforementioned mode of transportation if you’re more comfortable with VR
  • Finally, comfort turning is displayed well in the app–this is where the player can rotate at no less than a 20-degree angle increment.
  • Oculus is the publisher for this title

Brass Tactics by Hidden Path Entertainment

  • Subject: A real-time strategy game that asks you to engage your enemy and conquer territories
  • Most notable perhaps is the paint-brush-stroke-like style that you are encouraged to corral your troops and send them to other territories with the Oculus Touch controllers
  • This is a social app as well, and you can see your opponent across the expanse of the game board in front of you
  • I felt an awesome thrill and palpable sensation of pressure to guard my already captured territories before the game clock ran out–which is undoubtedly because of the fact that you have another player in view

Unity Updates – featuring Tony Parisi, Global Head of VR/AR @ Unity

At the end of the month Unity 5.6 will be released

  • Physics-based rendering and lighting––yielding much more realism
  • Significant optimization and latency reduction with single-pass rendering for mobile
  • Vulcan Support with Unity 5.6

It’s clear that Unity brings a lot of different toolsets together… namely, the gaming and cinematic arts sectors seem to be bridged by Unity

How can those individuals working on VR––coming from Animator and Photo-capture backgrounds––use Unity to optimize their VR experiences and would you please share a few successful examples?

  • Unity is super excited about the cinematic use of Unity for storytelling, that isn’t about leveling up or gaining points. Rather, you have environments where you can explore and video game technology is used to tell stories.
  • This also ties into Unity’s big focus on enabling designers and artists more in the year 2017–as Unity has been more of a programmer’s tool. Coming to the beta of Unity 2017 (will be in beta later this year), there is a feature called Timeline which is all about a keyframe and timeline based animation system in which you can bring in keyframe 3d graphics, skin characters, audio, and video, and even synchronize them all in a linear timeline.

Now there’s a video player that supports 360-degree playback. Also supported is 4K video playback, ingest a 360-degree video and then augment that video for enhanced viewing.

Non-Gaming Examples #MadeWithUnity

Asteroids by Baobab

  • Asteroids is a follow-up to their popular “Invasion” (you can find Invasion on Daydream and GearVR). It’s Pixar quality, looks like a feature film quality piece. They have some novel locomotion mechanics, and you play a supporting character where you have to participate to move the story along. A great full, end to end, narrative where there’s only one way the story ends.

A Price of Freedom by Construct Studios

  • You play a secret agent, inspired by the MK Ultra experiments that the CIA was doing–to use psychedelics to create operatives.

The Life of Us by Within

  • Chris Milk’s shop down in LA, amazing breakthrough-VR-story-telling
  • They created a social VR experience here where you start out as a single-celled organism and move up to larger organisms (fish, primates, human, and finally a futuristic robot) and you collaborate with one other person
  • Use your Vive controllers to swim and fly
  • Tony says he’s never felt so embodied in a VR experience and attributes it largely to the nature of social interaction within the experience

Zero Days VR by Scatter

  • A Brooklyn-based shop focused on Cinematic VR
  • They combine, video, audio, CG, data-visualization, and a completely linear timeline, all synchronized using the timeline product
  • It takes you through a VR version of a film documentary on the U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies trying to sabotage an Iranian nuclear facility
  • It integrates interviews and voice over and is super compelling human-interest and high drama where you can move around with the Oculus Rift

 

In Conclusion

Unity Focus Remains on Core Graphics and Physics

  • The upshot is that the core functionality of Unity will continue to serve clients producing all categories of content
  • There is a long, growing list of customers that are using the engine for non-gaming needs and that informs where the product will go in the future
  • PSVR is pushing a million units shipped, and Vive and Rift are in the small hundreds of thousands of units active respectively
  • Mobile – Cardboard is in the tens of million and the more deluxe drop in headsets with Daydream and GearVR are over 5 million units – the development here is catalyzing the growth of the overall VR industry scale
  • However, you cannot replace what the higher-end systems are doing in terms of interaction and room scale
  • The hope is that the two trends–Mobile and High-End–converge
  • 30+ platforms are supported by Unity which is one of the biggest draws as a development platform for Unity
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