04/20/19: Phase 2 Implementation

PROGRESS

Last week’s successful gaze development paid off. Scene 01 no longer requires the use of controllers!

Big achievement of the week was adding in all the gaze-based teleport points to the scene I constructed for demos 2 weeks ago. The actual script for applying a ray to the camera and teleporting to a point with a trigger didn’t require much modification. The trouble I had was deconstructing EVERYTHING that was attached to the original, time-based teleporting and attaching it to the new ones, then making sure to activate/deactivate the next and previous points to prevent the user from going backwards. I also added a light to each point that increases in intensity when starting at the teleport point as an indicator for myself and other players.

Me testing gaze teleporting in Scene 01. 04/19/19

After adding these features and testing myself, I found a few errors shown in the video above.

The range of the headset was set too short, which made it difficult to reach the next point. It prevents the user from triggering anything too far ahead of their position in the scene, but unfortunately it also prevents me from reaching some of the teleport points. I organized the mob variations before a visual of the next step was actually required to progress, but because the ray only reacts to objects in the Teleport layer, the user can look straight through the legs of the mob and still activate the next point without ever gaining direct visual contact. And the doors of the school are intended to be a trigger that ends the experience - instead, the user just keeps activating the teleport function and re-spawning directly in front of them. After addressing these issues (minus the points visible through the mob’s legs), I added a gaze-based “start” button at the main menu to create a completely controller-free experience and introduce this concept before actually entering the scene.

Script commenting for

For my own process, I realized that many of the scripts I’m writing/using will be useful to us moving forward in development and in various other projects. I took a quick break from scene development to add comments to the scripts for my own sanity and ease of understanding down the line. Just a new habit that I’m trying to develop, thanks to Matt’s Programming for Designer’s class.

We were fortunate enough to host a VR Columbus meeting on Friday evening at ACCAD and demo this new scene with gaze teleportation for the first time. Below is one of the recordings I took of a user moving through the experience from the main menu all the way to the end. Sound from the experience is included below.

User playtest at ACCAD, 04/19/19.

While users were in the experience, I was watching the scene editor (as pictured above) to get an idea of where people were looking and changes that needed to be made for easier gaze detection. Blue lines in the scene above indicate where the ray is being cast from the user camera. When the line turns yellow, the user is making contact with the teleport point.

After watching a few users go through, I think I experienced a case of “designer blindness”, where after working on an experience for a certain amount of time you get so proficient at moving through it that you miss some potential user issues. I was really surprised at how much people tend to move their heads in VR! The teleport points require you to hit the collider for 3 seconds before activating, and for most people they would only manage to make it for two before their head twitched and the count restarted. From this, I imagine making the colliders larger would help. The further they are away, the more difficult it is to activate. Users would tell me “I’m looking right at it!” when really the ray was hitting the floor just below the trigger point. The light cue was somewhat helpful, but I think the user needs more than that to figure out where their gaze is actually falling. I think adding a light reticle to the camera will help this issue, and I’ll be testing it in the next week just to see how it feels. I’m concerned that the reticle is going to add a layer of separation between the user and the scene, reminding them again of the technology and breaking flow/immersion.

I know this is just a prototyped proof of concept, but the teleporting points are not especially obvious in the scene and their function is not clear from the start. Tori and I are still required to brief the user before the experience begins, reminding them to look around, to stand up, and that the points are even there. We’ve been planning on using Lucille Bridges’ character as a means of progression, walking ahead and calling our attention with audio cues, but even then I’m not sure how to transfer these attributes of “focus” and indication of action to a human figure. Or even if it’s required- maybe a glance at Lucille Bridges’ face is enough to move the user forward. This is a point of experimentation for Tori and myself beyond the current prototype.

What’s Next

Overall, I think this is a good foundation to build from. Now that I have an understanding of user action and progression, I feel I can start layering smaller interactions from the user and mob into the scene. This phase is due next week - I’ll save my thoughts on the summer for then. But in the immediate future, Phase 2 requires troubleshooting and adjustment of all the colliders in the scene. I will also be testing some reactions to proximity and gaze with one or two of the crowd members. Ideally, a user will look someone in the eyes and cause an insult to be hurled or an aggressive motion to occur. To aid in user gaze accuracy, I will add a reticle to the camera to see what that effect is like.

OUTSIDE RESEARCH

Research this week included three experiences on the Oculus Rift: Dreams of Dali, The Night Cafe, and Phone of the Wind. The descriptions in all three really drew me to them, as they’re meant to be contemplative experiences requiring you to navigate space and uncover the narrative (or lack there-of).

I started with Dreams of Dali. This experience was on display at The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL for over two years, and explores Dali’s painting “Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet’s ‘Angelus’”. Looking at their page about this experience, I noticed that the experience is available in multiple formats for VR headsets and a “linear 360” view. This might be the first time I’ve seen that much variety available on a museum page. The VR experience was also covered by admission to the museum - nice of them, the ones I’ve done so far on-location have required additional ticket purchases.

“Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet’s ‘Angelus'“, Dali.

I had to laugh when the experience started up. The very first screen was instructions to stare at a glowing orb for 3 seconds to move around, with glowing orb included to begin the game. Interesting case study for the problems I was discussing in my Phase 2 project! This experience required me to move around large distances, and their inclusion of a reticle helped enormously. It only appeared when my gaze was near an orb, which left me free to explore the rest of the world without obstruction. On the actual experience, I was able to navigate in whatever order I pleased. Some orbs were only accessible from certain points, and at other points a new event was triggered. I moved out to the fringe of the desert on the other side of these structures and encountered elephants with the legs of an insect towering over me and making their way past. They continued to walk throughout the scene. Or I turned a corner and encountered a lobster sitting on top of a phone. Audio in the scene included soft rumblings or ambient effects, said to represent Dali’s potential thoughts in the scene. Few words were distinguishable to me but it really added to the dreamlike state of the place.

In the teleport actions themselves, the user actually slides through the space quickly to the given point. There’s no fade in/fade out or blink occurring. You’re able to see the ground moving below you and your destination. The only time this became an issue for me was when ascending or descending the long spiral stairs in the tower - I didn’t realize the next orb would just throw me directly up to the top. Not too dissimilar from when Saruman propels Gandalf up to the top of Isengard in Lord of the Rings: Two Towers.

Anyways. I feel that context is important in this experience. Had I been visiting the museum I would have probably had more of an appreciation for the things included in the experience. I have a very base knowledge from taking Art History in early college, but my understanding of Dali doesn’t go much further than that. As a user at home, that additional information must be sought out independently from the experience itself. I also wonder if the “linear 360 experience” is crafted to form a particular narrative or just a path that covers all of the points. I didn’t have time to go into that this time around, but I’d like to make a closer comparison in the future.

I moved on to The Night Cafe: A VR Tribute to Van Gogh, made by Borrowed Light Studios.

I’m going to have to revisit this experience, as the only way to navigate was using a console controller. Kind of odd to make that the only source of input, but until I can get that set up I’ll just give my static impressions of the first scene. The assets and animations are very beautiful, and the style of the room definitely matches. In the spaces where they had to guess at detail, such as the wall and door behind me, the makers said they took reference from other paintings and were able to match his style pretty well. The intro leading up to this sequence was an image of The Night Cafe painting before fading into the actual scene.

The last experience was Phone of the Wind, an interactive film based on a phone booth in Japan used to connect and speak to departed loved ones.

This phone booth is well documented, actually sitting in the town of Otsuchi, Japan, and built as a way for people to grieve and heal after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In the experience, you listen to three people talking to their loved ones in the booth. I was really surprised by the types of visual content included; users begin the experience from the perspective of a drone actually flying over the booth. As each story begins, the world transforms into an animated scene representing what is being said. At the beginning and end of the experience, the world is made of 3D assets. I’m not sure the transition was smooth due to them being full world transformations, but it definitely added variety and personality to each story.

The interactive aspect of this film comes in at the very end. The user is given the option to enter the booth themselves and leave a message for a loved one. I really love that this was part of the experience, and I can see some similarities between this and Where Thoughts Go. Users can choose to skip though and move on or to take a moment to privately reflect. The few instances of movement in here with the flying drone or the user entering the telephone box is forced, there is little control over your location in the scene.

It was difficult to find any information about this experience beyond what’s given on the Oculus store - the developer’s website is now private. But snooping around the reviews was… its own experience. Some users loved it and were crying, others thought it was stupid and shouldn’t be allowed on the store due to it not being “fun”. From their comments I gather that many, like me, had no idea this was a real place with its own history and meaning to a community, not just a filmmaker’s idea. While I don’t think that information is necessary for the purpose of the experience, I wonder why this information isn’t more readily given and attached to real life events. Knowing the history helped ground the story for me.

CONCLUSIONS

These were very different interpretations of real objects or places. I think seeing how some of the gaps in information were filled in with reference, though for the two I was able to fully experience I think the outside context and experience was not fully filled in for the user. I feel that I needed that additional information to truly enjoy and understand the content to its fullest extent. I think designers are taking these experiences that were initially in exhibitions and putting them on the Oculus or Steam stores, but not accounting for that missing information and how that experience outside of the headset is part of the overall design process. These outside research experiences this week have really made these points clear to me, and have been helpful in clarifying my thoughts about how to organize the content outside of VR in my framework.









04/13/19: Gazing into Phase 2

Phase 2 Updates

Progress has been made! I’ve been focusing on getting gaze detection into the scenes I put together for the demos last week, and I think I finally have some momentum going. Initially my schedule for Phase 2 was to start small- activate a button, make something happen by looking at it. I saw a few scripts included with the SteamVR SDK, but there’s very little documentation on their actual usage. I even looked through the Google SDK for Daydream and the Oculus SDK, but those scripts were not especially helpful.

So I just built it myself. I have a general understanding of the process: write a script sending a ray from the camera to collide with objects, isolate the objects to their own layer, and then have something happen once that collision occurs. In this case, the test was to change a cube from blue to red when looking at it. Initial tests had the raycast changing the color of a cube when pointing at the ground as well as the cube.

Raycast test in Unity - cube still changes color even when looking away from it.

With some research and experimentation, I found out the issue was in my definition of the mask. I want the raycast to only affect the objects under this particular layer, and I wasn’t representing that layer correctly in the script. Everything worked properly after fixing this line, and I was able to move on.

Successful raycast test, with fixed script shown.

This detection is great, and I can definitely use that to trigger reaction animations in the mob characters within our scene. But the next step was using it as a means of transport through the scene. I made another cube and expanded the script to include a second layer specifically for teleportation, wrote a function that would change the color so I knew I was looking at it, and delayed the teleport by a variable time (3 seconds) so it became an intentional action. This script is flexible enough to identify different objects and teleport points, and gain information about those spaces. It also includes a distance cap so that objects beyond a certain point (5 units in the test scene) cannot be activated.

Gaze Teleport Test: 4/13/19.

Next Steps

Troubleshooting. I did notice that the precision of the gaze is difficult in the headset. I suspect that scaling up the colliders to be larger than the objects themselves will make it much easier to move from place to place. I also saw a little jump without a fade that happened when doing the playtest in the above video — I have yet to recreate this, but I’m going to keep an eye out for it.

The next step for this device, once properly adjusted in this test scene, is to bring it into Scene 01 of Tori and I’s project. I have a few adjustments to make there before another demo on Tuesday, but I’d like to have this in as a means of locomotion before then. After that, I’ll be using this to trigger additional animations or environmental effects to see what they add to the scene, and experiment with placement of these triggers temporally and spatially.

OUTSIDE RESEARCH

This week’s outside research was inspired by my Intro to Cognitive Science course. One of my required response papers was based on an article titled “The Mind’s Eye” by Oliver Sacks, published July 2003 in The New Yorker. Sacks, a neurologist, writes about the varying experiences and adaptations of the blind to the loss of vision from the physical world based on personal accounts. He begins with John Hull, who experienced deteriorating vision loss from the age of 13. Hull eventually progressed to total blindness by age forty-eight, and along the way kept journals and audio recordings discussing the nature of his condition. Not long after losing visual input, Hull experienced what he calls “deep blindness”, a complete loss of mental imagery where even the concept of seeing had disappeared. To account for the loss of visual input, the brain (in all of its wonderful weird plasticity) heightened other senses. Sound connected him deeply with nature and the world around him, experiencing true joy and even producing a landscape of its own for him.

Sacks realized that Hull’s experience was not universal. Other accounts are discussed with people who can utilize a mental landscape to solve problems, produce powerful mental scenes, and manipulate this “inner canvas”. He questions whether the ability to consciously construct mental imagery is even all that important, eventually concluding that heightened sensitivity resulting from blindness is just another reproduction of reality, one that is not the result of one sense but an intertwined collaboration of all the senses from all levels of consciousness.

I mention this because I found “Notes on Blindness” on the Oculus store, a VR experience based on the audio recordings made by John Hull.

I have to say, the trailer really doesn’t do it justice.

The entire experience is based on Hull’s strong connection to natural audio. I went through this experience seated, but standing would work just as well. There are six scenes or chapters to play, each themed on a particular point: “How does it feel to be blind”, “On Panic”, “Cognition is Beautiful”. In the initial scene, you appear in a landscape built of tiny dots. I could make out surfaces and the shapes of trees, but overall you are alone. As the audio plays, Hull describes the individual sounds of the park and they build into this thriving scene - with the point that objects only appear if they are making some form of ambient sound.

Since writing this article, Sacks has published a book under the same name discussing broader sensory losses such as facial recognition or reading.

Screenshot from Scene 01: “How does it feel to be blind” of Notes on Blindness.

While the vast majority of this experience is observational, there are points where the user is required to interact with the scene. In one scene, I am given control of the wind to blow and reveal trees and a creaky swing set at a park. In another, I am required to gaze at highlighted footsteps in order to move forward and given a cane in one hand to tap on the ground, illuminating the immediate ground below me. The designers made smart choices with where they implemented these methods - gazing at the footsteps and the cane occur in a scene related to panic and anxiety, one where I as a user feel useless despite being given an action. In the wind, it emphasized the point of the revealing power of nature. All along the way, Hull narrates his feelings about these sounds and how they give him power where sighted people may disregard or even fear them.

The sound design throughout is phenomenal. And in the scene about panic, I absolutely felt it. The sounds that had previously signified a release and peacefulness turned against me and it became a hostile unidentifiable world with unorganized structure and an intense color switch. The visuals emphasized a different kind of seeing, but were still stunning to look at and representative of the descriptions being given. Despite the world being visually beautiful, the sound always was clearly the priority and the emphasis on cognition.

I did have a VR game title that would give another perspective though. Where Notes on Blindness functioned as a storytelling experience, the game Blind utilizes these interactions as game mechanics in a psychological thriller. The main character awakes without knowing where she is and missing her sight, requiring the use of echolocation to visualize the world around her. I thought this shift of focus and mechanic would make for an interesting comparison.

In all honestly, I only played the first 20 minutes of the game due to time constraints. And the fact that I could feel my anxiety skyrocketing the first time I looked down a dark hallway with no indication of what lies ahead. I’ve played enough horror games to want no part in that.

However, I was able to experiment with some of the puzzle solving mechanics and the interactions the user has with sound. Much like Notes on Blindness, when no sound is playing I am unable to see ANYTHING in the scene. No sense of space. That combined with the complete silence makes for an eerie atmosphere. Throwing objects will temporarily illuminate sections of the scene, and in the introduction the user is guided by a gramophone producing sound to illuminate a path or guide the user to a specific spot. I have watched a walkthrough of the entire game and know that later on you receive a cane to use. There is a requirement for environmental interaction that is more present than in most games- without it, the game does not exist at all.

The beginning of the game includes a short story sequence shown in a comic-type format before the user “awakes” in a dark space. In the intro level there are three basic puzzles to complete that introduce the user to the mechanics - a safe, a maze, and sound buttons. In the safe, the user can see two dials but no markings. You must rely on the vibrations from the controllers to unlock them. The maze is located inside of a box- by moving around a handle, you can navigate a small ball through the passages and illuminate the interior of the box. And the sound puzzle forces you to focus on a particular melody and play its segments in order.

Navigation through the scene is a bit odd. Because I was playing on the Oculus, without a third sensor I am unable to turn my back on the two sensors above my monitor. The limited motion was a little frustrating when I just wanted to turn around to open a drawer. And the user walks by pushing the joystick, sliding forward/backward. There are minimal options for user motion beyond turning off strafing.

CONCLUSIONS

I found it really interesting how the designers for both experiences were able to take the same base information and bring them into unique narratives and interactions. I can actually plot both experiences within the framework that I’m building, as far as the roles of user and designer, and the experience definition. It’s hard to find narrative content with the same basis currently, and I expect I’ll start seeing more patterns when I add them into my research experience spreadsheet. I’m starting to see a lot of the same design decisions I’m now making in my own prototypes present in these built experiences, showing that designers are asking themselves many of the same questions along this process.

04/07/19: Rebuilding for Phase 2

Over the last week, the majority of my focus has been on showing demos of our thesis project at the ACCAD Open House and the Student Art Collective. Quite some time has passed since Tori and I were able to show our progress to anyone outside of ACCAD, and as we didn’t have a working prototype from last semester… we needed to make one that was able to be shown and experienced by the public.

I took what was our Fall prototype and completely rebuilt it between Saturday and Tuesday evening. Part of this was to bring the project forward into a new version of Unity, but I also wanted to include the height adjustment from Phase 1 and a different mob configuration. This build would also require the user to begin the experience sitting on a bench before standing to progress, an interaction I have not tested before in this scene.

My Phase 2 project was temporarily put to the side in order to get this ready for public, so I was not able to test out of the gaze-based interaction. I decided instead to hit a middle-ground between Phase 1 and Phase 2- timed teleportations. Not in the control of the user at all, but a little less disturbing than the sliding motion we previously used. This included a fade in/fade out to signal the motion was about to occur - a fairly simple visual, but actually caused a ton of technical issues. The fade would show up on the screen and not in the headset. For future reference, there is a SteamVR_Fade script that you’re required to use in order to make that appear properly in the headset - normal UI settings do not seem to work in this scenario!

The new environment height scaling feature also changed how I put certain assets in the scene and parented things to each other, as offset pivot points and use of a Unity Terrain asset caused some weird placement issues when the scene was run. And through both demos this week we faced some Audio problems, with the volume being either too low or coming out of the wrong ear. Two solutions to this: better headphones, and making sure the VR camera has an audio listener attached. The SteamVR Camera prefab does not have one attached automatically! And yes, it took me way too long to figure that out.

I rebuilt the Prologue sequence based on some feedback from earlier on in the semester, including more images of Ruby and taking into account the order in which the images appear to create better flow in the scene. For demo purposes, I also included a “start menu” triggered by the operators (Tori and I - spacebar to start the prologue), and an “End of Phase 1” scene that loops back to the start menu.

The Student Art Collective on Tuesday went well - we were set up at a space in Knowlton with the Vive Pro and Wireless Adapter. Actually, that was my first time using the Wireless for anything, and it was perfect for this project. Most of the attendees were students, though we did have a few parents/professors show up and try out the scene. It was a 3 hour exhibition, which gave Tori and I a good measure of how long mobile setup would take and get back in the groove of giving a 30 second explanation/VR prep to new users. There was a short calibration process during setup with the bench to make sure users were facing the right way and the bench was in the center of the play space, but it everything ran smoothly after that.

Friday afternoon was the ACCAD Open House. Tori and I showed our Six-Week prototype at last year’s event, and played that video on a screen this time around to show our progress in the year since. We didn’t have the Wireless for this event, but the scene worked just as well with a tether. We had some wonderful conversations with guests about our work and where it’s going. It was easier for me this time around to speak about our project - I felt much more informed and confident now that we’ve grown from the “exploring technology” phase to the “conceptual development” phase.

FEEDBACK and CRITIQUE

Both of the demos provided valuable information. The most common reaction and comment we received after users exited the experience was about the height change in the scene. Having the mob members towering over and changing at users, some of whom are used to towering over others, was intimidating and placed them in the correct mindset for this experience. We also heard that they appreciated the prologue in the beginning as framing for the experience. It seemed that more of the guests this year had heard of Ruby Bridges before, and once teacher even told us she had a classroom of middle school kids who love Ruby’s story.

The main issues we experienced were technical or had to do with user flow in the experience. Audio was a real issue in the beginning - fixed by cranking the volume to accommodate the noise of the space and using better headphones (thanks, Tori!). The fade in/fade out of the scene seemed to be fixed by having both the SteamVR_Fade script active and the original Fade image active, though sometimes it would flicker between teleports. In the Prologue sequence, images appear around the user in a circle - which would be no problem if the user was in a spinning chair, but on a bench it tends to break flow when they have to turn their head all the way back around to continue looking. Some users who stand to get out of the car will continue to walk around, while others stand in place- not really an issue, but it poses a risk of tripping over the bench unless Tori or I move it. This was especially dangerous with the Wireless demo - users without a tether are more likely to forget and take off. The Student Art Collective demo required one of us to stand at the periphery of the lighthouses once a user was in to make sure they didn’t wander off into the crowd or walk into something.

CONCLUSIONS

Overall it was a great experience and I appreciated getting to see how far we came in the last year. And now we have this great demo that I can use to prototype for Phase 2! The upcoming week has calmed slightly in GRA and interview obligations, so I will be able to actually catch up on my production schedule and begin to implement it into this prototype. Along the way I’d also like to polish some of the issues that came up this week and smooth it out, such as the asset pivot problems I discovered and the weird fade flickering.

03/24/19: Phase 1 Conclusions

Reaching the end of my Phase 1 investigations led to the reiteration of one very powerful concept: context is key.

My work over the last five weeks has been investigating how designers move a user in VR, specifically with user agency and how designers can direct the users down a particular path. Within this particular scene, that path was a long sidewalk that takes quite some time to traverse. I experimented with teleporting using the prefabs available in SteamVR, with scale and location of the user in VR, and playing with the transitions between different kinds of motion - from moving car to teleport points to a plane.

Even though I was not able to achieve everything I outlined in my initial schedule, everything was functional and pretty neat in the scene.

However, feedback that I received after demonstrating the scene and then going through it myself was that teleporting actually takes the user out of the experience. The appearance of the teleport points is unnatural in this space that I am trying to create, and using a controller itself is arguably a hazard to immersion. It brings the user’s thought back around to what they’re doing instead of what the people around them are doing. I’m incredibly grateful for that insight - I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective before, but having made the scene I have to agree.

I was really lucky to get to show this scene to Shadrick Addy, a designer and MFA student who worked on the I Am A Man VR experience, who sat down with Tori and I for an hour to discuss our work on this project. He offered much of the same critique about the teleporting, pointing out that in context it doesn’t make sense. Masking this motion with something that fits in context with the story would be much more effective - for example, using gaze detection to trigger the movement forward. A mother urging a daughter forward might look back, gesture, or verbally ask her to keep moving. In this, we could build a mechanic where the user looking at the mother after these triggers would generate their motion forward in the scene and along the narrative.

Using this gaze detection would have the benefit of eliminating controllers completely, something I discussed previously but didn’t fully understand the benefit of until having these conversations. In discussing the immersion this can bring, I asked him about a common structure I’ve seen in VR experiences so far - this sandwiching of VR between two informational sessions. Our project does this with an introductory Prologue as well, but my question was whether to add information in the experience as it progresses or leaving it alone. He suggested that the addition of information would only serve as a distraction from the scene itself, a distraction that might prevent the emotional reaction and/or conversation that Tori and I are attempting to create. There’s some really interesting layers there: in how the main scene is encased in narrative, how the prologue and “epilogue” scenes frame the experience, how the use of VR itself is encased within a system that provides context for the technology, and that space is designated and placed within an exhibit discussing larger themes - all informing each other.

Coming back from the tangent, Phase 1 helped answer my question as far as the type of motion I should be considering within this space and why. I was able to work out some of the smaller technical bugs that will go a long way in the long run. And I was able to spend a lot of time doing some outside research on VR experiences to help understand the decisions currently being made in other projects.

What’s Next

Phase 2 naturally follows Phase 1, and I think here the best option would be to build up. I learned a lot from the last few weeks and I would really love to develop some gaze control mechanics. Being able to move forward in the space powered by gaze in a crowd and testing this crowd reactions that I didn’t get to in Phase 1 would go a long way towards development this summer and in the fall. I’ll be articulating this plan a little better next weekend after I’ve written this proposal and work has begun. I will also be recording Phase 1 for documentation and uploading that to my MFA page for documentation.


OUTSIDE RESEARCH

Spring Break happened since my last post and I took advantage of the time.

Museum: Rosa Parks VR

Over break I found myself at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, OH, where they’re currently hosting a Rosa Parks VR exhibit.

I was really interested in how this experience was going to be placed in the Freedom Center, and what the VR content was going to consist of. This was my first time using VR in a public space, plus I came in not knowing much about the experience itself. I tried not to watch videos or read articles - although looking for the video above I realized it’s incredibly difficult to find any information about it. Up on the 3rd floor of the Freedom Center in a corner to the right are four seats from a school bus on a low platform, and a table for the center attendant to take tickets/give information. The experience was made in Unity, uses Samsung Galaxy 9s and mobile headsets (which were cleaned after every person), and headphones.

Full disclosure, my headset had something VERY wrong with the lens spacing and I ended up watching the experience with one eye closed.

I saw the same sandwich structure here as what Tori and I are using - an introductory sequence, an uninterrupted 360 video experience of the user being confronted by first the bus driver and then a police officer, and then an exit sequence discussing historical ramifications and present day context, all narrated by a voice actor speaking as Rosa. Having the users sit on the bus seats was a really nice haptic touch that I enjoyed - that weird texture and smell just can’t be faked. The user is embodied in the experience, being able to look down and see what she was wearing on that day. Each time slot is 4 people for group every 5-10 minutes, and in our time waiting I saw people of all ages coming over to go through the experience. In order to start, the user has to look directly into the eyes of an image of Rosa Parks for a certain length of time.

I thought that the embodiment was a really effective choice for a static seated experience that requires little to no active participation. The user is reminded by the attendant at the beginning that they can look around in all directions. I was most surprised by how it was situated in the center. Fortunately Rosa Parks is a pretty well known figure in history, but if you didn’t know anything about her there was nothing to inform you in the surrounding area. The informational segments in the experience spoke mostly of what was happening in that time period. Being a standalone attraction sparks curiosity in wanting to know about the experience while being part of a larger exhibition may give greater context in the long run… so I suppose it depends on your goals for the user where this is placed. I think I personally would have liked more information to surround the experience, especially considering how complex the other two exhibits on the floor were.

I think I would need to do this experience again to examine how I felt coming out of it. I wasn’t especially affected - more distracted by the odd 360 video editing happening in the middle to try to increase depth and the funky lens adjustment in my headset - but I did appreciate the nature of the experience itself and its placement in the center. And I was able to find parallels between their development and what Tori and I are working on.

Museum: Jurassic Flight

This was the other VR experience I got to do inside of a museum. We discovered it completely on accident in the Museum of Natural History and Science in the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Me flying as a pterodactyl in Jurassic Flight. Skip to 0:19 for the actual experience start.

After Rosa Parks VR, this was as opposite of a VR experience as I could manage. Jurassic Flight makes use of equipment called Birdly, which I last saw in a video of its prototyping stage. The experience requires you to lie on your stomach on this device, arms out to the side, Vive Pro strapped to your head. You take flight as a pterodactyl, soaring above trees, rivers, and mountains, observing the other dinosaurs living their lives. There is no goal here, no informational aspect to the experience. It’s all about the haptic feedback. There’s a fan at the front of the device that increases and decreases with the user’s air speed, the device tilts forward and backward based on your pitch in the game, and you control direction with the paddles at the end of the “wings” of the device.

The experience is situated just to the right of a big dinosaur exhibit, which provided plenty of context before actually going into it. It’s not particularly thought provoking or educational but it does add on to the content already addressed in the museum from a fun perspective. It’s about 5 minutes, very scenic and peaceful (minus the initial few seconds of motion sickness during a dive), and it was made in Unreal so the environment and lighting was really stunning.

Again, not really able to make a connection here (pre)historically or in structure of the experience, but I was really fascinated by the haptic feedback that occurred and that novel flying experience.

Anne Frank House VR

I found this experience on the Oculus Store and had to give it a go. Unlike the past two, I went through this experience at home on my own machines. I read Anne Frank’s Diary in elementary school, though most of the details escaped me as an adult. This experience recreated the Frank’s annex while they were in hiding from the Nazis.

Again I found the informational sandwich structure. The user is offered the option to go through a story mode or a tour mode through the annex - I chose the story mode. This begins with a fairly long narrated introduction with historical images, followed by the exploration of the annex. The user requires very little interaction beyond pointing and clicking to the next point. Once there, narration begins, and we hear Anne Frank telling us about her daily life in each of these spaces. It’s a linear path through the space and the only interaction is really moving from point to point.

It’s beautifully recreated. The quality of the environment really called me to examine it closely. I wanted to see the pictures on the walls, the books scattered over the bed, what crossword questions were in the paper. Each progression revealed a little more about the family and what their everyday life was like. Hearing these stories in contrast with the empty spaces the user explores creates a wistful mood. I didn’t want to make any noise myself due to the emptiness and hearing about how the family had to remain quiet during the day to avoid rousing suspicion.

The whole tour took me around 20 minutes, and I felt like I really did learn a lot just from seeing the space and hearing fragments about life related to each segment of the house. The choice of motion seems to come from the fact that this seems to be an experience made for mobile and thus requires a controller of some kind. Beyond the point of the cursor, I never see the controller itself. It seems like a good compromise that doesn’t threaten the immersion in the experience.

Traveling While Black

I’ve been meaning to do this experience for the last three months. Now that I have, I can almost guarantee I’m going to need to do it again.

Traveling While Black addresses the issues faced traveling across the country in the past by black Americans, starting in the 1940s and ending in 2014. The interactions and interviews all take place in Ben’s Chili Bowl, serving as a hub and safe space throughout the course of the experience. Every interview occurs in a booth, with the user switching locations from one seat to another with each new person. The visuals themselves are beautifully executed and edited, running strong parallels between past and present. At the very end of the experience, the user sits across the table from Samaria Rice as she speaks about the day her 12 year old son was shot by police in Cleveland, OH.

There was no embodiment, no interaction - the user is watching and listening throughout the whole experience. Placing the user in an intimate setting like a diner booth and in close proximity to those being interviewed allows the user to feel like part of the scene. It’s a 360 video that’s about 20 minutes long, ending with the point that safety is still not guaranteed for black Americans.

I came out of the experience strongly emotional and had to sit for awhile to really absorb everything. Truthfully, I’m going to need to do the experience again to actually analyze the structure and think about the decisions being made and how 360 decisions may differ from animated VR. But I do know that this is the kind of effect I want to have on the viewers of our project. And I wonder if anything stylized, not film, could create that level of personally jarring human connection.

Conclusions

Having gone through a few historical VR experiences now, I’m seeing this sandwich pattern of information more and mode. And I think I understand for the most part why this is occurring. I’m also seeing how multiple narratives are being organized cohesively as well as how one narrative can be distilled to give a whole picture without saturating the user with information. I’m going to continue with this next week and see what other kinds of narrative thought-provoking things I can find, as well as any other museum VR exhibits existing - of any kind - that I might go and explore.

03/08/19: Video Update on Phase 1

This is going to be a relatively short update on how far Phase 1 has progressed in the last few days, but finally including some video footage of the scene working, along with some of the tools I’ve been brushing up on to apply this week.

The above video is a quick demo of the teleport point placement and scaling in the scene.

What was most surprising for me was just how long the sidewalk actually became. It felt like our last prototype was dealing with issues of time because the walk down the sidewalk was too short or the walking motion was too fast. At the height of a child, the building itself becomes this mammoth imposing object rather than just a set piece or a destination. The teleporting really emphasizes the distance too, all of the points are just at the edge of the teleport curve. I think I got lucky there. Overall this layout feels smoother and I’m excited to start putting in the other scene elements.

On some technical notes:

  • During our demo on Thursday it was pointed out that some objects aren’t keeping scale with the ground or street planes. In the video I can definitely see the lamp posts hovering off of the ground- this may just be a matter of making sure the final assets in the scene are combined into one set object. Still experimenting with that.

  • I found in this scene that the teleport point on top of the stairs was actually really hard to get to - you can actually see me struggling with it in the video. I underestimated how large the stairs would become at that height.

  • Which leads me to the suspicion that this height ratio isn’t quite right. I recorded this experience while seated, so I thought it might just be something wrong with the math. I repeated the same thing while standing and had the same issue. I can play with some numbers to get that right.

  • This was my first time testing SteamVR with a headset other than the Vive. Up until now all of my development has been using the Vive headset and controllers. Oculus is what’s available to me in this moment so I took the opportunity - it connected no problem! Teleport was already mapped to the joystick on the Oculus Rift controller. Cue my sigh of relief for a more versatile development process.

I have begun working with the car animation, starting with placing the user.

030819_Phase1a.PNG

I made the loosest possible version of a block car in Maya with separate doors and brought it in just to have something to prototype with. This is where the user’s location in space is going to become an issue- I have to make sure they’re aligned with the driver’s seat. We’re going to have the user sitting in the demo anyways, so we might be able to just calibrate the seat with the environment and have the user sit on the bench.

Working on a GRA assignment this week I also learned how to use the Audio Mixer in Unity. Turns out I can group all my different audio tracks together and transition between various parameter states. Who knew!

Apparently not me. I suspect this is going to fix A LOT of the audio issues we were having in the last prototype, especially having to do with consistency - some of the volume levels were… jarring, and not in the intentional design type of way.

Critique

In class, I think I opened up the wrong version of the project, because all of the environmental objects were scaling without the teleport points attached. When I got home I realized that it was all fixed on my current version! One less thing to tackle.

Going away from the technical for a moment, Taylor posed an interesting question to me: how do we categorize this experience? I realize I’ve just been using the word “experience” but we’ve also discussed “simulation”. Adding that to the long list of queries for this open week ahead of me - confirming a proper term for what we’re working on, and justifying that definition.

What’s Next

  • Car animation

  • Composing Crowds

  • Connecting theory with my actions

  • Resuming my lineup of VR experiences

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.

02/10/19: Reviewing Orion

After five weeks, the Orion project has come to a close. And as with most project, the final result was vastly different from what I anticipated when I began.

Textured image of Orion in UE4 editor

Textured image of Orion in UE4 editor

PROCESS

When I began Orion I anticipated a fairly straightforward process. I would be working with Quill and Unreal to learn the pipeline for each and between the two. What I had forgotten is that I have never created an observational narrative experience from scratch in VR. I am usually planning for some form of interaction, or in the case of my thesis project the narrative and environment are already described for me. Traditional storyboarding and animatic techniques were not going to work for me, which is where my foray into Maquette and Tilt Brush came in. Every step of the process was steamrolling through technical issues to see what worked and what didn’t work.

Process path for Orion

I realized that I really just needed more time to learn the painting and animation techniques for Quill along with all its quirks. I was excited about painting the cabin last week, but ultimately the asset ended up not working and I still build the asset using Maya and Substance Painter… I have never been so happy to be back in Maya, to be honest. I used the terrain tools in UE4 and the “Forest Knoll” asset pack purchased a few years ago to build the rest of the environment. I used a few Quill animations, such as the candle and the stars, as “accents” to the rest of the scene.

On a personal process note, while putting together the scene I made the decision not to use any visual reference at all. This was for two reasons: to avoid hyperfocus on unnecessary details, and to operate within the essence of memory. The project description was to show the essence of our memory in 15 seconds - well, 15 seconds is a very short time in VR. That’s usually the amount of time it takes for a viewer to orient themselves and focus in on the story. I didn’t want to overwhelm with an overly detailed environment that misses the point of my memory. And if I used visual reference, I would shift focus from my own memories to what it “should be”.

CONCLUSIONS

Even with all of the roundabout processes, I felt the final result was remarkably close to what I remember. Closer than I expect the original storyboards would have been. I think those would have been visually exciting and fun to watch, but that’s not what this moment was about. It was a quiet fifteen seconds on the deck in nature with just the stars and the sound of the trees. I have yet to share this experience with my partner to see how her memory might differ from my own.

I also learned a lot about the technical aspects of these tools, and personally did not enjoy using Quill for most of my painting time. It was fun to make some looping animations, but I doubt I’ll ever actually use this again for a project in the near (or distant) future. The final result was something I probably could have made in three or four days of work in Maya and Unreal, but I feel that I’m at a good point to move forward if I want to use Unreal for future VR experiences and feel more informed about the pipeline options available to me.

NEXT

  • Documenting Orion. I’m having a difficult time getting a video of the full experience because the scene is so dark. In the headset it’s easy to see, but the screen recordings I have taken so far have been really low quality and dark. I’m currently working on some rendering options in Unreal that may produce a better result.

  • Begin Phase 1 Project. I will dedicate next week’s post to the Phase 1 project centered around my thesis, but currently I’m still working out a final plan and some language to describe the project itself.


OUTSIDE RESEARCH

Continuing my theme of playing VR games and experiences for research, this week I went for a bit of a different track. I did some digging around in the Oculus and Steam stores, and I was able to play four of the games I had lined up.

BOARD GAMES IN VR

I think the initial question here for me was “why”? I enjoy board games, specifically the social aspect. Sitting around with friends chatting, accusing each other of hiding cards, accidentally bumping the board and sending pieces flying. It’s all part of the experience. I noticed on the Oculus store they have several Chess applications, so naturally I had to download one. And I also found a Catan VR app that I wanted to try.

(I found out while writing this post that both applications are made by the same studio called Experiment 7)

The only real difference we have between a board game in VR and a board game in real life is the social aspect, which is really what these games are trying to create. Catan’s environment looks like a mountain lodge with scenes of mountains outside and a nice soundtrack, with four chairs sitting around a table. Chess is similar, taking place in a library by default. I played against the AI for both, which in Chess produced a little robot figure watching me across the table while the Catan foes were painted portraits that had moving eyes and facial expressions. That bit was a little unnerving, to be honest.

I got absolutely destroyed in both games, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed the experience of sitting in a chair interacting with other “players”. The animated board in Catan was a nice touch, although things move so quickly it took some getting used to. Being able to physically pick up a chess piece and hesitate or fiddle with it before moving was great improvement over playing typical browser games. I felt present in the world and able to interact with the other players, feeling real frustration with them when I lost resources or had a bad roll. I was worried that these games would simply animate the board and leave it at that, but the efforts made to engage the players in the space and with each other made for a much more effective experience.

EXPLORATION and PUZZLES

The first game I played is called “I Expect You to Die”, where the player is a secret agent going on missions where the path forward must be determined by actions and clues in the space, and often the process to figure out this path results in a gruesome death. I played the first level of this game a few years ago, but since then they’ve added a beautiful animated introduction and several new levels. This game is meant to be played seated with the player reaching out or leaning to move or using their telekinetic prowess to bring objects to them.

In this case, the lack of locomotion around the scene increases the challenge and still makes for an enjoyable experience. It becomes accessible for all kinds of players and play spaces, and the missions themselves have good variety… though the deaths are still extremely startling in VR. The controls especially seemed to work and I enjoyed a great level of dexterity in the scene switching between objects and using them with ease.

The last game was “Internal Light”, an escape room style game where the user must navigate a creepy dark building to make it to the outside with a tiny ball of light as your guide.

Now, when I started this game, I didn’t know what it was going to look like or what kind of gameplay there was going to be. You start off in a cell chained to a bed in a scene that looks like its out of Resident Evil. There will be a week when I go into horror games, but I was not planning on it to be today and, well, I’m a chicken. I immediately started sweating and wanted to leave (escape?). The game itself is not a horror game, it’s just creepy. But the environment was effective for building suspense and tension.

What really sticks out for me here is locomotion. The player moves while holding a button and alternately swinging your arms back and forth in a skiing motion. I have NEVER seen this before and it was oddly effective. To navigate the player is required to be crouching and dodging security, and there’s a special kind of anxiety when swinging your arms to move from one cover to the next, hoping you’re moving fast enough. Even though I was standing I didn’t get motion sick, and was able to run through most of the game fairly quickly. I didn’t see any options to adjust these settings.

CONCLUSIONS

All four experiences used their environments to create presence in the space, and included a level of AI “social” interaction. Whether it was the calm atmosphere conducive to board games, the action hero inspired music and imagery, or the anxiety-inducing horror themes, the environments were really the selling point for the experience. The social interaction between computer and user (with the potential for multiple users) negates the isolation that VR can sometimes induce as discussed last week. I’m still curious about why that form of motion for Internal Light worked so well, and I am curious to see if any similar methods are used as I continue to explore what VR experiences are out there.

2/3/19: Painting and Planning

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.

What’s Next

  • 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)

  • Troubleshooting


Outside Research

NARRATIVE

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.

Disney’s “Cycles”, from AWN article. Source

“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.

GAMES

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.

Screencap from Youtube playthrough by Bangkokian1967 ( source )

Screencap from Youtube playthrough by Bangkokian1967 (source)

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.

EXPERIENCE

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.

Where Thoughts Go: Prologue, Chapter 2.

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.

Where Thoughts Go: Prologue, Chapter 2

Conclusions

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.