As a production week, I’ve been splitting my time between getting audio set up in Unreal and getting objects made in Quill. The last few days are where I get to put it all together with the last bit of animated assets.
I’m operating a little in the dark right now (pun intended) on what the final look of this piece is going to be. I timed out some atmospheric fog to reveal the scene slowly and made some cues for the sound effects: a match lighting, trees swaying in the wind, ambient noise for the scene around. The narration is in the scene, but I still need to adjust the timing and put it all together.
Quill has been easier for making static objects. I painted the cabin setting for the user - quicker than I expected using the straight line tools and some colorize to get the final shading in. The candle currently in the scene feels a little too bright, so I tried to go darker and see what the lighting in Unreal can do. Something annoying about painting things like this in Quill- if you’re painting a lot with a specific color, the lack of lighting tools in the program makes it really difficult to see the cursor against those colors. I got lost trying to find where my brush was in the cabin sometimes even though my hand was right in front of my face. Click the images below to check it out, though they’re really dark when not in the program.
This last leap is about putting the pieces all together and testing it out. By the end of today I should have all the assets in and will be doing the final bit in Unreal. We were able to get both Quill and Unreal working in the labs, which significantly increased my production time.
Finishing the last few Quill assets
Compositing the 3D and Quill assets
Finishing audio timing
Add a “Restart” button, so that the experience can loop at the viewer’s choice or provide an easy restart between viewers (a reach, but would be ideal)
Throughout this project I’ve been thinking about how to conduct the viewer’s attention to the events you most want them to see, while taking into account that they have agency over the camera itself. Part of that has to do with seeing the viewer themselves as an actor within the scene, and the designer as a form of director. And how that production process would differ in VR compared to the 3D workspace - that’s something I’ve been struggling with myself in this project, finding that path in a very short amount of time. An article about “Cycles”, a VR short that Disney released late last year, came across my path.
“Cycles” has a really interesting visual feature in that, when a viewer looks away from the central action to an area off to the side or behind them, those features desaturate and become darker. I also read that they used Quill to create storyboards for the film and developed a number of virtual tools to experience each stage of the process both inside and outside of VR.
Moving away from the Quill project and towards my Thesis, I decided to use our unexpected Snow Day to conduct some VR research… using my chunk of time to experience the variety of things available on Steam and broaden my understanding of what techniques are being used.
I started with The Talos Principle VR, a game that I enjoy playing on the PC. When VR was first released, many game studios started porting their current titles over to VR by just changing out the controls and letting the content flow just the same. I wanted to be able to do a direct comparison of the two.
What I was really exploring here was how they approached movement. The Talos Principle is incredibly nonlinear, where players generally get to choose how and where they go, and what path they choose to take to get there. It’s a puzzle game with generally realistic assets, and movement to avoid enemies is a huge part of successfully completing each stage.
The player gets enormous amounts of control over how they want to move through the game, showing every option about how you move and how the camera adjusts for that movement. I started with teleporting, which works okay to get across long spaces. But in confined spots with enemies that require you to move quickly, the few seconds it takes to acclimate to your new location tended to result in the death of my character.
Oh yeah - dying in VR? More disturbing than I thought it would be. It’s just a little explosion sound and a fade to black, but still very startling.
Walking using the touchpad didn’t make me as sick as I thought I would be after I adjusted the vignette over the camera and made sure to stay seated. Standing resulted in quick loss of balance and motion sickness, though I noticed that movement in a direction where I wasn’t looking also made me a little queasy.
Overall, I thought the adjustments made to the motion in the game worked well and I was able to play for over an hour before taking off the headset. I’m not sure if the game experience was especially different from playing on a PC, but I’m also aware that I already know the story and it may be difficult to judge how immersed I was when I already know how the game works.
The last thing I wanted to look at was an experience called Where Thoughts Go: Prologue, available in Steam. The user sits in an environment and is presented with a question, where they can listen to the anonymous answers of other participants and then record their own to move on to the next. There are five questions, and I still spent over an hour in this experience.
Each environment changes to suit the question, from the lighthearted first question to darker and more somber for the last. The experience was incredibly meditative - the environments are pleasant to sit in. The little orbs in the image are the responses of previous people. You listen to their voices answering, and I was shocked by how open and honest the answers were. Being able to hear someone’s voice crack a little bit as they talk about a sad event or get higher discussing an upcoming wedding to their love just pulls me further in to the space.
VR can be considered isolating, as for the most part we’re all just sitting by ourselves in a headset in our own worlds. This took an isolating experience and turned it into a communal feeling, a place where you can be vulnerable without risk. There are no usernames or accounts, just a recording. When a user adds their own recording to the space, you pick up the orb you’ve just made and pass it off to join the world. It becomes a sense of closure and just enough participation that I felt like part of the experience.
I realized that I haven’t been very involved in what’s happening in VR outside of the academic research world, and need to continue going through these experiences alongside my own research. As I go through I’m keeping a journal of notes from each experience and what I can take away from them. I would like to play a made-for-VR game next week and see how that feels compared to a port like The Talos Principle, and search for other more community-based experiences like Where Thoughts Go.