Category: Blog

Porting Hyrule into VRChat

This weekend I got a small taste of how VR could impact communication on a game changing level. Long story short, I 3D modeled a world, uploaded it to my account and explored it with people from all over the world within the span of a few hours. This could really impact notions of ownership, property and material possessions in a huge (and I think beneficial) way. (But more on that later.)

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We’ve been blown away by the community from Reddit, to UploadVR to Twitter to the Nerdist – our passion project surpassed beyond our wildest expectations and we decided to share it another way: on the social platform VRChat.

Speaking of, we’ll be guests on their upcoming show TONIGHT! – Tuesday, February 21st at 7PM Pacific. Keep in mind that you can install VRChat and watch, even without a headset! (Cool, eh?) You can check out archives of the show here and follow them on Twitter.

Why not re-purpose again?

I didn’t model the environment with game engines in mind. My work flow in porting it has largely been the path of least resistance (i.e. putting mesh colliders on any of the huge/complex object the players should be able to stand on and ignoring colliders on the thousands of individual objects). Exploring the map with an enthusiastic group on VR Chat showed me just how many places a user could get stuck in a pit or run into an invisible collider that stuck everyone to the ground like glue. Despite these bugs, running around the world still felt like a huge adventure, and made me reflect on a fast approaching future in which engineers or designers will explore structures collaboratively in a group. Or Minecraft.

The Unity hurdles and Experience with the VRChat SDK

Unfortunately we encountered some problems using our current Unity version 5.6, and found that we had to downgrade in order to use the VRChat SDK (which it kept telling me in a warning message, but I’m stubborn and getting really tired of computers telling me what to do).

Luckily Unity keeps an archive of older versions of their application, and we were able to get it working fairly quickly. The VRChat SDK is really well designed and intuitive: its clear it was designed for creators of all skill levels, and I would highly recommend checking it out!

For this version of the model, I removed the post processing look and locomotion code from the scene (it’s good practice to make the build less than 200MB). VRChat has its own incredible locomotion options, so everything hooked right into that.

Gunter, a really great member of the VRChat community who has been helping me develop the map, suggested that I add portals, as well as a high vantage point to ease in allowing users to find each other, and facilitate easy movement across the vast expanse of digital space.

What struck me was that VR enables layers of communication that aren’t present in any other medium (or in life itself). Players changed their avatar to suit the environment: a huge area that would be well beyond cost prohibitive for me to build to scale in real life. We can design spaces, write code and alter ourselves in a really full expression of creativity. It’s not just virtual reality: it’s a shared reality, and it’s one that we can shape to our hearts’ content.


VRChat on Steam: store.steampowered.com/app/438100
Official VRChat website: www.vrchat.com
Gunters Universe on Twitter: twitter.com/guntersuniverse

The Legend of Zelda: LTTP World Map VR

‘There’s not that many unique objects… shouldn’t be that hard to make.’ -A Fool

‘There’s not that many unique objects… shouldn’t be that hard to make.’ -A Fool

It’ll Be Fun They Said

One of my friends sent me a link to a sketchfab contest that challenged creators to make a VR-ready model inspired by the Legend of Zelda.  I’m a big fan of the series, and I have been dying for an opportunity to port one of the MANY Game of Hyrule models I made into virtual reality.  The project seemed like a perfect fit…

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My creative process.

And it many ways it was, although in practice it was also a harrowing exercise in extreme tedium and madness.

Hyrule Hysteria

The original map was painstakingly built up using manually drawn splines, extrusions and box modeling for each of the 50+ unique objects in the set.  There might be a few errors, but nearly every element on the overworld map has been recreated and placed in 3D space.  While this process was laborious, it doesn’t even compare with the optimization process.  Well, I say that because I built the map a year ago and the pain is mostly gone.  Mostly.

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It makes sense, trust me…

I got the impression that having over 5 thousand individual models, grouped under a multitude of nulls and hiearchies would probably kill real-time performance (gotta hit that 90 fps), so I decided to merge all the geometry that shared a common texture.  This way, retexturing the model would also be way easier to do in subsequent engines, as you only had to apply one material per piece of geometry.

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For more information about the map, click here

It turned out to be a huge ordeal to combine the thousands of individual meshes as some of my models had their own hierarchy, or polygon selections that applied two different materials to one object (perish the thought).  In the end I had to manually combine, change texture tags, and clean individual objects for a full day.  Luckily some of the objects were instances, so I could fix up and ungroup the original model, but even still there was a mountain of mind-numbing monotony ahead.

Even getting the file size down to the Sketchfab basic (‘I haz no monies’ version) requirement of below 50mbs was a horrifying task.  I found that deleting some of my textures and UVs freed up just enough space for me to get a barely passable version up on Sketchfab.  N-gons (polygons with more than 4 verticies) saved space, but became digital nightmare shards in my uploads to the site, so I had to convert critical objects to tris.

 

https://www.studentnewsdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/clowns.png

Only slightly less scary than trying to fit over 1 million polygons into a sub 50mb file.

But hell, I slogged through hours of optimization and tidying, and I wanted to see it in it’s full VR glory.  Unity to the rescue.

Help me Unity3D, you’re my only hope

I was able to rebuild the textures from my original Game of Hyrule map intro using the incredible UBER shader by Tomasz.  I was expecting a performance hit from the complex, multi-texture shaders I built, but everything worked flawlessly… so I wasn’t satisfied until I threw as much post processing/image effects onto the camera as possible.  I used the godlike Volumetric Fog & Mist by Kronnect to create some atmospheric perspective and even a subtle amount of sunshafts (dare I say ‘tasteful amount’).  I added filmic post-processing from Scion to the camera, and found the performance hit acceptable for how cool it made everything look.  Oh yeah, and I added AO because bitches love AO.

As far as the ‘coding’ I used VRTK for teleportation and Playmaker for the player scaling.  I’ve been spending so much time working on learning ‘code’ and game logic for other projects that it was a welcome excursion to just make something look good (often the only requirement in 90% of my freelance work).  Coming from a VFX background, I am still shocked at the real time performance of modern game engines.  1-3 hours per frame?  What is this, 2015?  I’ll render in Unity, thank you (well, Unity or Octane, OR BOTH #LaterThisYear #OctaneInUnityForever).

Anyways, all the boring, mindnumbing work was worth it if you guys enjoy playing around with the map!  I hope I can export some other models for you to play around in soon… I just hope someone invents some crazy, flawless texturing baking solution for C4D/Octane in the meantime.

The final product

You can download the small Zelda map experience on itch.io, or navigate to the Downloads section.  In the meantime, here’s a quick look:

 

Unity VR Development: Scope, Tools and Limits

thefutureofsexyA World Without Limits

Congratulations!  You are one of the adventurous few, daring enough to explore the infinite reaches of VR: a bold new experiential platform that some have called ‘The Final Medium.’  No other art form I have seen requires as many disparate and varied skills to pull off, but it is my hope that through this series that I can elucidate some of the more powerful tools and techniques I have found that allow you to realize (a place others into) your vision as fast as possible.  Before we get virtual, however, let’s take a moment to go over our unfortunate IRL (meat space) limitations.

Scope (A World With Some Limits)

The tools and pipeline of content creation will vary greatly on what kind of project you are making, but one of the consistent challenges is reflected in the inescapable triangle of compromise:

thatdamntriangle

Just as a note, the triangle is relative: if you are a skilled artist working for yourself you can do great work quickly at low cost, however you won’t be as fast as TWO or THREE skilled artists working on the same project.

Anything you make costs something, but not all costs are worth taking.  A project can cost your good health, finances, opportunity for growth/expansion, personal relationships or your confidence in the very fabric of reality.   Limiting the scope of your project early on can hopefully prevent you from sacrificing anything of value down the line.  Making something is almost ALWAYS better than making nothing unless you are endangering something important in your life.

The Tools (Each Software Has Its Limits)

Most VR experiences are developed using1044718_10101281695494028_346839149685239778_n1 game engines such as Unreal or Unity.  Coming from a VFX background, I was shocked to learn that these programs are essentially free to use, often only requiring a small licensing fee if you make over $100,000 in annual revenue from use of the program (sounds like it won’t be a problem for me).  Personally, I use Unity for 3D animated experiences, and will speak to that pipeline throughout this series.

There are a ton of Unity tutorials out there, but I like Brackeys because he sounds nice: https://youtu.be/IlKaB1etrik

As impressive as these engines are, you often have to make art assets in an external app.  I love using Cinema 4D for creating 3D models, but really you can use almost anything that exports a mesh to an obj or fbx (Unity can import a staggering amount of file types).  If you aren’t comfortable with 3D asset creation or simply don’t have the time, there’s a ton of great places to find models like the Unity Asset store, Turbosquid and tf3dm.com.  Costs, aesthetics and usage right might vary per model, but depending on where you sit with the triangle of compromise, these cheap/free assets can be your fastest way to a product or protoype.  Hell, you could steal crayons from Denny’s, draw assets on toilet paper, scan them in at the library and have 2D cut-outs placed in 3D space for characters if you wanted to.  This is VR.  There are no limits (#ThereAreActuallyLimits #StupidTriangleOfComprimise).

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To me, VR is about interacting with a digitally generated space, so I decided that I want to focus on roomscale experiences with head and hand tracking.  Rather than learn a traditional scripting language, I opted to pick up Playmaker from the Unity Asset store which is an incredibly powerful visual scripting tool based on functional state machines.  Some ‘pros’ swear against using visual coding add-ons, but I find the solution fits my typical fast/good triangle considerations and $65 dollars is a steal for such a robust and fun system.  Who would have thought that making games feels a lot like playing a really satisfying puzzle game?  In future articles I will elaborate on how you can use Playmaker, but if you are eager to learn about the system in a game design context I highly recommend Mdot’s incredible tutorial series: “The Strange School.”  Just don’t parent the VR playspace to the character motor script (or go for it, #nolimitsVR2017).

I actually wouldn’t have learned 3D modeling if it wasn’t for M dot Strange, and I definitely wouldn’t have got into Unity without him!  He’s a great guy who really seeks to empower the artist in everyone (on top of being an engaging/hilarious teacher).

I develop for the HTC Vive, so I use the SteamVR package on the Unity Asset store combined with Frame Tale Studios SteamVR Playmaker Toolkit, which allows you to easily map controller inputs to your state machines.  This will allow you to shoot cats out of your hands when you press the trigger.  It might have other uses, but for now that’s all I can think of (#TheOnlyLimitIsImaginationAndRentMoney). Another amazing tool is the community project headed by TheStoneFox, VRTK, which is a collection of scripts and interaction systems made by developers for developers.  VR is challenging enough: why try to reinvent the wheel when you can focus attention on to making that deep-sea dating simulator you’ve always dreamed of making?

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Sorry, no relevant links for this one, I just think deep-sea fish look funny.  Also, you can call your game ‘Another Fish in the Sea.’  Title’s on me.

The World Is Yours (Within Limits)

Obviously, there are as many tools as there are workflows and aims, but with a VR Headset and $100 USD you can get started developing VR RIGHT NOW (even cheaper if you learn C# code)!  The experience of walking through the halls of your own digital creation is exhilarating, cathartic and mind blowing.  Subjecting other people to the horrors of your digital Garfield and Saved by the Bell Crossover Museum: priceless.  Follow along with this blog as we delve more into my ever-evolving workflow, and specific tools that help you git’er done.  Just remember to design responsibly, because…

TheNewGod.jpg

Well… you know what could happen.

 

Habitica – Review and Thoughts

“Motivate yourself to do anything.”

The above is what greets you when you first load up the Habitica (formerly HabitRPG) page. (Daunting, maybe.)

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I remember my partner sending me the link and I passed at first. I have Google Calendar, wayy too many email accounts, and along with maintaining multiple blogs, personal Facebook, Facebook pages, multiple Twitter accounts, the occasional Instagram, checking out Reddit for the latest and greatest… Who has the time? Another site that I have to log onto every morning when I start my routine? No way!

It wasn’t until my brother sent me the link again and he said he was going to sign up. There is something certainly special about a bond with your siblings and where you once were able to spend a lot of time with each other growing up, that ‘luxury’ comes scarce as we get older. My brother isn’t a fan of social media – we chat on texts and Discord so as soon as I see another opportunity to connect – I take it. And so we signed up… Little did we know, we also became each other’s “gym buddies”.

As of today, we’ve both been using Habitica for nearly 2 months.

What my Habitica dashboard looks like as of January 2017.

What my Habitica dashboard looks like as of January 2017.

So, how exactly does Habitica work, any way?

I will say first and foremost that Habitica takes some effort from you when you initially set things up. Like most self-help methods and goal planning, Habitica requires you to do some thinking. However, they’ve made it extremely easy by setting up 3 major categories:

  • Habits: What kind of changes do you want to make in your life/lifestyle?
  • Dailies: What do you want to accomplish in your daily life?
  • Tasks: What are some things you need to complete?

It took me approximately 2-3 hours over 48 hours to come up with my initial goals and most recently I spent another hour or so revising for the new year.

What my Habitica dashboard looked like when I first started. Huge difference from then and now.

What my Habitica dashboard looked like when I first started. Huge difference from then and now.

While I use Habitica mostly for this trifecta backbone of tasks… The biggest selling feature of Habitica is the community, and the fun ‘gameification’ of your own life. Many companies find success with making consumerism into a game: sometimes Starbucks will reward you with points if you buy a coffee on the weekend before 10AM, Shoppers Drug Mart will offer bonus points if you spend a certain amount on a certain item. Not just companies, but mobile games such as Hearthstone, Tsum Tsum and Pokemon Go utilize the concept of ‘dailies’ to keep their users logging in. With Habitica, the better you do with keeping up with your dailies, and checking off your tasks – the more your character will level up, and gain currency that you can use to purchase new armor, and a chance to open up a chest that can grant exclusive items, experience points, or items for pets. (Oh yes, there are pets…)

An example of the experience, mana and items you receive upon completing your tasks.

An example of the experience, mana and items you receive upon completing your tasks.

In addition, there is a party system (of course there is) where your friends can create a party, and fight against bosses for bonus points or exclusive items. Some of the bosses have rules like everyone in the party must finish their dailies, or everyone in the party takes damage – another incentive and mechanic to keep everyone in your party motivated and on top of things.

Interested? Feel free to check out the official HabiticaHow it Works” page.

How does it work in your life?

In a world of online validation, I really enjoy that Habitica works precisely against that idea.

Your habits, dailies, and tasks are up to you and the satisfaction of achievement from completing the things that you have decided to work on is your own. No one can see what you are supposed to be working on. It encourages support, and not competition.

I’m unfortunately one of those beings attached to their mobile phone so for me, being able to check off dailies and double checking the tasks that I am supposed to be working on comes naturally to me. As someone who is in technology and computing technology, Habitica suits my lifestyle almost perfectly.

An example of the iOS Habitica app, care of the official Press Kit.

An example of the iOS Habitica app, care of the official Press Kit.

For my own personal planning, I used to use exclusively Google Calendar and I would plan out my day with exactly what I needed to do. At 10AM, I needed to call my doctor to make an appointment, at some point in the afternoon – day between 2PM and 3PM – I was to pay off my VISA bill, in the evening, I would need to vacuum, and in the late late evening, I would have to do a batch of photo culling and editing… But life gets in the way, and soon, I forgot to vacuum on one day and forget all about it…. Then I would try to move the appointment to the next day, and then again, I wouldn’t get around to it, so I would have to move it another day. And then again. You get the picture.

That’s what Habitica has been great for: reminders (for self-care and multiple project completion) and my to-do list (that never ever ends I swear).

OK, let’s start with the “Pros” – what’s Habitica great for?

This is probably the weirdest thing I will ever say but: I love having a never ending to-do list. What I really mean is that I love having a concise to-do list, being able to break it down into sub-tasks, and continue on. Typically in my solo Google Calendar days, I would have a paper to-do list and once that was done, either the list would get lost, or that I would cross everything off and then not add to it. Habitica gives you a very visual representation of what you have on your ‘plate’.

It looks like the devs have done the research as well: you’re rewarded with achievements once your dailies hit a 21-day streak. And as researched before, it takes 21 days to make something a habit. For a while anyway.

If you’re not too sure where to start, many Habitica users create community challenges if you need some support and direction.

An example of the community challenges, care of the Habitica press kit.

An example of the community challenges, care of the Habitica press kit.

Another vital element to successful games is constant updates. Habitica always offers something new and fresh – the devs are always actively trying to get users to get involved, and for Christmas, they rolled out items exclusive for the winter season. I also decided to subscribe for a year to get gems, and access to exclusive items/backgrounds. I also wanted to support the devs since Habitica is a FREE service!

While I think the pixel art could leave something to be desired with the avatars, I do love that there are many representations from different skin tones (even some rainbow, fictional colours), as well as wheelchairs, and animal ears. As someone who is a closet neko girl and used to wear cat ears out in public in high school, I think it’s great that you can create an avatar that you feel represents you. Customization is always important in games!

An example of the equipment available, care of the Habitica press kit.

An example of the equipment available, care of the Habitica press kit.

What about Habitica’s “Cons”?

While I have next to no complaints about Habitica, there are a few shortfalls. The most major one doesn’t have anything to do with the Habitica app itself, but it relies purely on your own motivation. Because you are creating your own boundaries, it’s possible that someone won’t be challenging themselves as much as they are able to. I know for myself, I should probably add more negative points in my ‘Habits’. I should…. But I also worry for myself that I will feel defeated and punishing myself all the time would be awful. It’s up to the individual!

Another shortfall of Habitica is again, not Habitica‘s fault: it’s also possible that someone would be relying on Habitica to remember all the things they need to do. Maybe that’s not so much a bad thing, though. I’m of the belief where the human brain can only hold so much, so if you can offload your mind of “things to do” on your plate, and focus on putting that energy into productivity, maybe that’s better energy spent.

As of today, the current version of the app (I use the iOS version) is not the best. I wholeheartedly suggest to use the website version to set up your Habitica. The app can be a bit buggy and I have experienced my tasks being out of order, which can be aggravating for me since I intentionally have my tasks in a specific order. Hopefully this can be resolved in the future.

Lastly, even though my love for Habitica is fairly high, I can’t see it being the most optimal tool for long term projects. Sure you can use Habitica to break some tasks down, but for a very large project such as KonMari, making a game, writing a novel… I’ve been using Trello for a week, and I think Trello is a better tool for keeping track of project aspects. Habitica can certainly act as an aid, though, as you can make it a ‘Habit’ (or ‘Daily’ if you’re a boss!) to work on your long term projects.

Ready to dive in?

If you’re having troubles focusing, enjoying gaming, don’t have any current productivity tools, Habitica is an amazing beginner’s tool to taking on the things you need to do in your life.

While the tool itself won’t magically improve your life, it will certainly aid your own sense of improvement if you are willing and follow through with putting in the thought and time for it. With that said, (and all I can think of is the Netflix show 3% when I say this) you deserve it.

If words and screenshots aren’t enough, here’s the official Habitica trailer, released last January in 2016:


Habitica Official website: habitica.com
Habitica Official Press Kit: habitica.com/static/press-kit
Habitica Twitter: twitter.com/habitica

Squanchtendo Inspired Holiday Virtual Reality Nail Art

I didn’t think it could be done but… I did it… My first… “Virtual Reality” inspired nail art. I used the characters from Squanchtendo’s ‘Hanging Out‘ shirt on Zen Monkey Studios and put Santa hats on them, as well as making the headset cords into Christmas lights. (Full confession: before VRMY of DARKNESS, I ran a nail blog. I’m entering this nail art into Nail Polish Canada’s Holiday 2016 Nail Art Contest. Vote for me?)

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Is it stupid?
Yes.
Are they still awesome?
Yes. (Sort of.)

Squanchtendo is Justin Roiland and Tanya Watson’s Virtual Reality Studio. In the last few months, they teamed up with Crows Crows Crows to create Accounting VR – one of my fave VR experiences to date. Think you’re ready to crunch the numbers?

If you’re a Rick and Morty fan, you gotta play Accounting VR. (Like right now.)

(It’s free. Who doesn’t like free?)

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Do you want to get this hawt look?

Here’s how I created this work of art:

  1. Apply base coat.
  2. Paint nails with pale blue/periwinkle polish. Let dry.
  3. Using a white polish, lightly sponge a slight gradient from the base, half way. Let dry.
  4. Using a dotting tool, create small snowy dots. (Don’t go too crazy!) Let dry.
  5. Using two different pastel colours, paint the “shirts” of the guys on the tips.
  6. Using a nude/tan colour, paint the faces.
  7. Using a darker grey colour, paint the two headsets.
  8. Using a red and white colour, paint the Santa hats.
  9. Using the same darker grey for the headset, paint the cord across your nails.
  10. With your patience, steady af hand, and some 90s background music, outline EVERYTHING with the TINIEST brush you can find ever. Not even joking – GET THE TINIEST BRUSH. I started from the headsets, to the Santa hats, to the faces, to the face details (nose, mouth), and then outlining the cords (UGH.)
  11. Using a dotting tool, make light/bulb shaped lights on the cord, and if you are feeling brave enough, you can use the dotting tool for tongue and teeth details on the mouths.
  12. Let everything dry, then apply a thick af top coat of Seche Vite for that extra glossy, smooth finish.

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Products used:

  • Seche Vite – Dry Fast Top Coat
  • Nail Inc. – The Thames
  • Nail Inc. – Hyde Park Base Coat
  • Color Club – Chelsea Girl
  • Color Club – Nomadic Nude
  • Color Club – Almost Famous
  • Color Club – What a Shock
  • Joe Fresh – Cherry
  • Sally Hansen Xtreme Wear – Black Out
  • Sally Hansen Xtreme Wear – Mint Sorbet
  • Essence – If I Were a Boy
  • Fine tip brush (could have been finer…)
  • Cosmetic sponge
  • Dotting tool

Happy Holidays from me and my left hand!

Quick, Draw! by Google – Thoughts and Review

Do you want to teach robots?

(I know I do.)

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Well, now you can with Quick, Draw! a small web app by Google Creative Lab and Data Arts Team. You can use your PC or mobile device to contribute to teaching an AI neural network how to identify doodles.

The first time I tried was on my iPhone, check out the results:

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I was pretty fascinated that some of my less-than-artistic interpretations were guessed in a matter of seconds, all from my uncontrolled fingertip on my (relatively small) mobile device screen. However, I was not impressed that my fish wasn’t considered a ‘fish’! I drew bubbles! And fins! In either case, that drawing will end up in the archives so that perhaps if someone else draws a fish similar to me, that person’s fish will be recognized.

Curious to see if there was a difference between the mobile interface and a desktop interface (there’s not much), I went for a second go.

This time, all my drawings were guessed correctly.

Taking a look at the data that the guessing is based on is really interesting as well – the analysis shows other drawings that your doodle could be:

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There’s also a small sample gallery of other people’s drawings. (Let’s thank the people who can’t draw skulls, as I definitely needed their data to have mine guessed right!):

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All in all, if you’re bored on transit, need a break from holiday shopping, or are just too curious to see if the robots are smart enough to guess your drawing, have a look at Quick, Draw!. It’s free and fast and won’t take you more than 3-5 minutes of your time.


Official Quick, Draw! Link: https://quickdraw.withgoogle.com/ (works with mobile and desktop)

Black Mirror Season 3 Review and Thoughts

I was first introduced to Black Mirror through – (funnily enough) – the news of Brexit. All my English friends were at home, tweeting their angst and anxieties, and one tweet stood out: *”This is the worst episode of Black Mirror.” Black Mirror? I looked into it, and it hit home – Charlie Brooker is inside my head! Originally a primarily English show, it’s now a hybrid of American and English due to a recent Netflix deal.

“If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.” – Charlie Brooker

Bryce Dallas Howard in 'Nosedive'. (Photo: IMDB)

Bryce Dallas Howard as Lacie Pound in ‘Nosedive’. (Photo: IMDB)

Down to business, the thing I like most about Black Mirror is the unsettling, uncomfortable feeling I get after I watch the show. I love the haunting nature of it. It’s also impressive the team manages to tackle issues surrounding: social media, virtual/mixed reality, human condition, LGBTQ relationships, desensitization, mob mentality. So for my personal ranking (and it seems like no one can agree with what’s the strongest/weakest episode), the way I am ranking the shows is mixed on:

  • Strength and execution of themes
  • Entertainment value and engagement levels
  • Story structure

To be fair, I found Season 3 to be extremely enjoyable, thoughtful and entertaining. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but production and execution would make up for it in small gaps.

With that said, here’s my personal ranking of Black Mirror’s Season 3 from Best to Worst

  1. San Junipero
  2. Nosedive
  3. Playtest
  4. Hated in the Nation
  5. Men Against Fire
  6. Shut Up And Dance

If you are strapped for time and want to check out Black Mirror, here are my top picks (in order) from what’s available on Netflix: White Christmas, Nose Dive, Playtest, San Junipero.

Interested? Check out the official Black Mirror Season 3 trailer:

SPOILER ALERT.  Thoughts on individual episodes below

Just to confuse folks even more, I’ll talk about these episodes in cannon order.

Nosedive
A strong season starter. Immediately intriguing and hitting home for so many of us (all of us) who are on social media. This is definitely an attention grabber and will get anyone new to Black Mirror hooked. Sprinkled with “Pleasantville” aesthetics, the obsessive, controlling nature of a person’s social media ratings and influence is shown as a norm, leaving it to the viewer to feel how they relate. (I would probably be a 2.832 by that society’s standards, haha!) We’re shown a world of people who act and live their lives solely for their ratings whether it’s composing that perfect Instagram latte/biscuit photo, siding with the right group of people, or keeping yourself in the closet. Check out Charlie Brooker’s AMA on Reddit for the rating ringtones for your own mobile device.

Playtest
This is the most entertaining episode to me, but funnily enough many people list Playtest as their last choice. Wyatt Russell’s performance was outstanding, being able to convey an extremely likable character dealing with an unfortunate passing of his father and best friend, but also nailing the physicality of stress and horror. The concept of a horror game that learns from your own brain’s registered fears in a virtual/mixed reality ‘game’ is jsut so fascinating and scary. I loved so much of the story structure, ideas, and pacing, but the ultimate ending was unsatisfactory despite the last “called mom” jab that albeit wrapped up things up quite nicely.

Shut Up And Dance
Although somewhat entertaining, it was stressful and the ending had no payoff – only lingering cynicism. However Alex Lawther’s portrayal of Kenny’s character that seemingly had done nothing wrong (the whole episode, I was thinking it was no big deal and he should just let the video leak), had the tables turned. How quickly a viewer can see a character as likeable, but turning so quickly after it was revealed Kenny had a wank over child pornography. A frustrating episode, but still engaging.

San Junipero
One of the best episodes of Black Mirror in its entirety, but also required trust from its viewers. As a strange aside, I was so excited to watch Black Mirror on Netflix – San Junipero was actually listed as the first episode around midnight Pacific Time. Thinking that this was the first episode of the season, I was pretty surprised – it definitely makes sense as mid-series episode. The pacing for the first half was unconventional and very slow, subtle. Definitely would not appeal to all viewers, especially those who may be new to the series. Upon a second viewing, I noticed so many more details that escaped me the first time. I think about virtual reality as therapy a lot, and this one nailed the concept. And then some. The reveal that the characters are old – the deathbed kind of old – floored me. I had such an emotional connection to the characters, and such sympathy for both characters: the backstory of homophobic parents, to what it’s like to be in a long long “till death do us part” relationship. San Junipero hit so many marks.

Men Against Fire
This one is oddly enough, the most UN-Black Mirror episode, if that can make sense at all. This episode had a lot of action and violence, as well as a great appearance by Michael Kelly (House of Cards fans may recognize Stamper). I am not a huge fan of military themes but the concept of changing human enemies into something non-human was a fascinating twist. It’s something I think about when it comes down to animating targets that you shoot in virtual reality games – somehow it feels weirder to shoot at a ‘human’ target than it is to shoot a cartoon character or monster. With that said, I think if ‘humans’ are the targets in virtual reality, it’s very possible to “get used to it”, essentially becoming desensitized.

Hated in the Nation
I swear this was just a Scott and Bailey episode (which I welcomed since I almost miss that show). I love seeing women in the face of responsibility and this episode tackled the consequences of Twitter’s “mob mentality” online in an exaggerated, but effective way. The bees situation was sort of… strange? They took an environmental issue that makes me paranoid: bees and their role in food production, but then added killer robot bees in the mix. Silly but OK. The two lead actresses nailed their parts, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting).

*Normally I would embed the original tweet but I can’t find the original author of the joke! My apologies.

Full Indie Summit Vancouver – October 22, 2016 – Personal Thoughts

On a busy weekend, I attended the Full Indie Summit in Vancouver. I was looking forward most to Kayla’s presentation but being up working on a cosplay (yeah, I’m THAT person) until 3AM unfortunately got to me and I only got to her Q&A.

I’m really glad I got to see her Q&A because I think she touched on something that I somehow always had trouble admitting: looking forward (and yet not looking forward) to multiplayer experiences in virtual reality. I can’t help but want to share so much virtual reality with others concurrently, but at the same time, being misgendered to a lower registering vocal tone is disheartening and it makes me not want to speak to anyone in VR.

Immediately all I could think of was the (unfortunately fictional) customer service voice altering technology in Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One”. I know the book has been relentless beaten to death by VR enthusiasts, but it did scrape the surface on things/dreams like this.

I also extremely enjoyed Kert Gartner’s presentation on mixed reality trailers because a lot of what he spoke of lingered in my mind when I did a brainstorm on how to stream virtual reality on Twitch. He mentioned that one of the trailers after the dual square headset mirror view (tragically unappealing to consumers), was Sony’s announcement trailer for Playstation VR:

Now what makes this trailer so different is that it allows viewers to “emotionally connect” because you can see someone’s eyes. I thought about this a lot when creating a VR stream – what makes streams so enjoyable? Being able to connect with the streamer? I think for the most part, that’s it. When your eyes are covered, you feel like you don’t have that connection. I thought to have multiple people commanding a VR stream but I’ve yet to figure it out. If I do, well, I’ll stream it!

Loved the nod to altgames by Claris Cyarron. I think alternative experiences (non-conventional games) is perfect content for virtual reality. Creating the abstract into something with presence is what I look forward to most! Imagine this in VR:

Steve Swink’s talk covered some elements of game and puzzle design where you create your own components of why something works and how to improve your workflow. I wish I was more conscious for his talk but it was fantastic.

To close things off, Ryan Clark gave a presentation on how to make an indie hit. It came down to analyzing trends (which he streams live on his Twitch channel), finding a niche, and proper marketing. An extremely relevant talk – and easier said than done. Ryan has been analyzing trends for over a decade so it’s interesting hearing his expertise on game trends in the last few years.

It was my first Full Indie Summit and it was pretty fun! I just wish I had some more sleep, haha. (But at least I finished my cosplay… Right?)

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A CVR attendee tries out Mutato Match at the Emerald Activities booth. (2016)

I think about VR every day.

But it wasn’t always this way.

It’s been almost a year since I was introduced to the current room-scale virtual reality technology and it blew my mind. How did it go from seemingly impossible to a reality? I grew up with technology – one of my first favourite things was playing Commander Keen with my cousin on his computer, then some of my formative bonds with my brother was through NES and SNES. In high school, I started blogging at the age of 12 and started coding websites at an early age. Maybe it’s not impressive anymore because the tools are so readily available for everyone (even this blog took no time at all to set up), but I’m getting nostalgic for that exciting new tech feeling with the potential of VR.

I think the worst part of this obsession with virtual reality is feeling somewhat blocked from being able to create for virtual reality. I want to make something so badly in VR – but I feel walled off, due to a lacking skillset.

And if I feel this way, then how do we make the idea of virtual reality appeal to more people than just the virtual reality enthusiasts?

I created this blog because I want to personally keep learning, keep creating, and keep sharing – but at the same time, I want to make virtual reality accessible to everyone. Because simply put, you don’t have to be a gamer, or a tech enthusiast to enjoy virtual reality – you simply have to be human.