03/03/19: Phase 1, Midway

In the last two weeks, the physical production of my Phase 1 project has slowed in favor of investigating the theories and plans behind my thesis investigation. I came to the realization midway through Week 2 that I was approaching this prototype much the same way I was approaching the last three and not weighting my theoretical framework or design goals into the decision making process.

Starting with the main project development, here are some of the achievements from the last two weeks:

  • Fixed a bug where the environment was adjusting to the player height but left behind the Start Point, causing the player to actually appear way off mark.

  • Getting the start point to actually move the player to the right spot. I can move the play space, which at least gets us to the right area. This may be more of an issue in the car scene, but the teleport points will cut down potential issues of running through objects or agents in the crowd.

  • Added teleport points to the scene.

    • This actually checked me on my scale once again. I initially only had three points along the sidewalk, and on testing it in the Vive I found that the pointer from the controllers couldn’t even reach the first point! To compensate for the user’s smaller relative size, I added two extra points, made the space in front of the school a teleport plane for free movement (to be explored in the crowd composition portion of the project), and placed a point on top of the stairs to avoid awkward stair collisions in Unity.

  • Major debugging time with SteamVR Input.

    • This was a huge issue, once again. But I’m slowly getting better at figuring out where the misstep is between Unity and my controller bindings. I brought a project from home to the Vive at school, and that particular computer had bindings that for some reason disconnected. Nearly two hours later, we had them satisfactorily connected and shut off the haptic feedback - for some reason, the default teleport in Unity had the controllers vibrating every 5 seconds.

    • Also came to the realization that controller actions only show up in the SteamVR Input Live window if there are functions in the scene that require the bindings to be active. So if I pulled up the window to check the bindings before, say, having the teleport prefab in the scene… it would look like the buttons aren’t working. But it’s because they aren’t being called! One of those tiny little victorious moments of understanding.

Phase 1: Next Steps

I am certainly behind in development for this scene - I should be finishing up the car animation. Next week is Spring Break and I will be here in Columbus cranking out work for the majority of it, which should make up some of the lost time from this week. Therefore the goals for this week are:

  • Complete the car animation

  • Troubleshoot/Playtest on Thursday with classmates

  • Ensure a smooth transition from the car to the sidewalk

  • Check in with Tori about any potential new data to add to the crowd/car, and be in a good position to move forward next week.

Theoretical Developments

Over the course of last week, I had several meetings about where this project is conceptually and where it’s going. I briefly mentioned this in my previous blog post introducing Phase 1, but want to begin documenting my progress here as I work through the language and questions required to articulate my thesis.

My thesis goal is to articulate a framework for designers of VR narrative experiences based on the weight of specific VR design elements (gamification, user identity, movement, visual design, etc), stemming from my interest in how to direct users through a scene with high levels of implied agency (control over the camera). The Ruby Bridges project is operating as the first case study for this framework as a historical narrative. After completion of Scene 01, I will be utilizing another narrative of a contrasting “genre” - currently thinking about mythological fantasy - to test this framework and compare how it is utilized when presented with two different stories.

A huge part of this is recognizing the specific roles that users and designers take on within the scene. In film, these roles are fairly distinct: the “designers” (writers) operate as the authors of the story being told. The directors and crew operate as the storytellers, visually interpreting the material that has been given to them. And the “user” in this case is a viewer, an audience member whose role is to view the narrative that has been visually curated and placed before them. These lines get a bit blurred when we consider video games. There are still writers and designers operating as the authors and storytellers. Users become players, who function as an audience for the world put before them and, to a limited degree, an author of their own experiences. Players have a degree of agency to them that allows them to function and impart change on this world within the game, though the storytellers can still choose to restrict this agency by placing boundaries on the edge of the world or controlling camera movements. Yet every player will play a game differently.

Virtual reality requires the creation of new roles. Users in a virtual space have more inherent agency than ever before with control over the camera and their physical pose. Designers still function as authors and storytellers, but also as directors are responsible for directing a user through the scene. Users, through their newfound agency within the world, then become part of the world as an actor.

030319_Roles.PNG

With these roles in mind, I’ve begun constructing a loose pathway for defining the goals of the experience and the elements that should be considered when working within VR. I designed this with a top-down path in mind, though it’s brought up some side questions about whether a bottom-up approach beginning with exploration of one particular element would be possible. The map below is a working representation of the pieces I’m currently trying to put together, although I know this is a sliver of the questions that are asked when in the design process.

030319_WorkingFramework.PNG

It was pointed out to me last week that the Phase 1 project is tackling questions of the role of the User as an Author/Actor. I’m focusing on how the user moves through this scene, and whether giving them that agency is right for what the scene demands.

I haven’t added any VR games or experiences to my list recently - moving apartments has me at a bit of a disadvantage in this moment. But I have instead begun tackling a spreadsheet to examine various elements in these games I’ve been talking about and how they compare across a wide range of experiences.

Tori will begin adding her thoughts and experiences to this list. Next weekend I’ll be going to the Rosa Parks VR experience at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and I was given some good references for experiences to examine over the next week - Traveling While Black among them.

Connecting my theoretical framework with my developing project, outlining specific goals, and being very clear about what I want these experiences is going to be the priority here for the next few weeks.