Webcomic Name Fan Comic Competition: Virtual Reality

I’m a pretty big fan of Webcomic Name comics.  Such a simple concept, but yet reflects so much of my own life. (See: Eyeliner.)

I’m super humbled that the guys over at NVRMIND gave us the opportunity to try out their new app (which is in beta) called ANIMVR.  It’s super cool, and it just cracked open the door of what stop motion could look like in the very near future.  So obviously when I saw that Webcomic Name was having a fan comic competition, I just had to give it a shot of my own.

And virtual reality themed too (obviously).

Ready for the “mind-mushingly bad” from us over at VRMY of DARKNESS?

Well, you asked for it! (Say that in the Jaina from Hearthstone voice.)  I owe it to Megasteakman on killing that ANIMVR animation and my pink blob dude looks terrible because it was the first ever time I ever used a WACOM tablet. (I’m not used to it at all!)


Webcomic Name:  webcomicname.com
NVRMIND: nvrmind.io

Full disclosure: The ANIMVR beta key was provided, enabling our team to create this content.

Animating in the Air: The Magic of ANIMVR

Animation is tough.  Like REALLY tough.  Like most other creative endeavors, the techniques to learn and possible workload are endless, but animation is also magical.  NVRMIND has brilliantly designed a VR animation program that captures and streamlines the magic of animation in 3D space.  ANIMVR succeeds in bringing the difficulty of making animation down while still keeping robust features that make the process way faster.

It’s harder than it looks!

While I’m not an animator personally, I’ve used countless animation programs with varying levels of success.  Creating a good animation interface is extremely challenging: there’s a ton of tools, settings, keyframe interpretations, modes and other options that can really clutter and distract from the process of creation.  ANIMVR excels at keeping everything out of the way, while keeping important options easily accessible.  The button layout was perfect, and after 15 minutes everything became second nature.

Since I’m pretty bad at making traditional animation (the kind that doesn’t interpolate a model or rigged 2D drawing between keyframes), I was quite intimidated at having to redraw the character in 3D space on every frame, but luckily the inclusion of ‘timelines’ allowed me to break up the characters I made into different objects which could be cloned and moved independently per frame.

The ANIMVR interface

I wished there was a way to group these timelines together so when I cloned or deleted a frame it would do the same for all the other pertinent objects.  I found the best way to work was to animate one object until the end of my project, remember the amount of frames and then animate the other objects for the same amount of frames, but I found everything would often get out of sync (thankfully the developers put in a frame offset for each individual timeline, so I’d often be able to put the elements back into sync).

The ‘timeline’ layers were extremely powerful while being incredibly simple and easy to understand (everything on that timeline layer flashes when you select it, so you can see how many objects you accidentally drawn on that layer).  Everything on this the app had an incredible level of polish, although I had problems with the eraser tool not being able to destroy small sections of my lines, and the colour brush lacking some important customization like brush size (or at least no feedback for brush size).  Overall, nothing got in my way of making some really fun stuff in under an hour.

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I was surprised it turned out as well as it did: my first hour in the program!

While I really enjoy VR gaming and experiences, my real excitement for the technology is in making computing more natural and less abstracted.  The mouse and keyboard, while extremely efficient and precise, don’t feel as fun (or as healthy) as manipulating objects through more human gestures and actions.  Crouching, reaching, stretching, walking as you draw an animation in the air not only breathes life into your creation, but into your body as well!  Here’s to the future!

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Yahahaha! You animated me!


ANIMVR is currently in beta and looking for other artists to try out their app!  See more details on their Twitter:

Full disclosure: This press key was provided for the creation of this content.

Pokémon GO Plus Review and First Impressions

As we are celebrating Nintendo Switch Eve, I’ve got my lawnchairs at the ready (if needed), not one but two mobile chargers, a warm coat, a scarf, and the latest and greatest to my queue survival pack: a Pokémon GO Plus.

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The Pokemon GO Plus package: wrist strap, and the Pokemon GO Plus device. Not pictures: Quick start instructions.

I tried my absolute darndest to avoid spending my REAL monies on Pokémon GO, but I couldn’t help myself. The way I justified it was that I don’t have a gym membership. I just found out gym memberships can cost anywhere from $25 a month to more than $60 a month. Not that I am knocking that – I think it’s great to invest in health and fitness… And to me, that’s what I paid into when I pulled the Amazon Canada trigger on a Pokemon Go Plus on a Saturday night after midnight. (Because if anyone knows how to party, it’s me.)

So how the heck does the Pokémon Go Plus thing work?

To actually use the device, you’ll need the following:

  • Pokemon GO app installed on your phone
  • Enabled Bluetooth
  • Pokemon GO Plus device (obviously)

While I am not entirely sure if you need to pair the device to your phone in your Bluetooth settings beforehand, you can definitely spot the device in your Pokemon GO app settings:

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Pokemon Go settings screen for the Pokemon GO Plus

Once you see a Pokemon GO Plus device under ‘Available Devices’, you’re ready to connect it using the Pokemon GO Plus icon in the upper right hand side.

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Ensuring your Pokemon GO Plus device is connected.

Note: If you accidentally connected your Pokemon GO Plus device, you can always disconnect it by tapping the icon again. It will be greyed out again.

Once the device is connected,  you will be along your merry way. Unlike your usual routine, you won’t need to have the app open – you don’t even need your phone to be unlocked! Just go for a walk, and the device will buzz/vibrate with a different coloured light, depending on whether it’s a PokeStop, or a Pokemon:

  • Flashing green: Pokemon
  • Flashing blue: PokeStop
  • Flashing once red: Pokemon GO does not have reception
  • Rainbow with long pulsing: Success with catching/getting items
  • Long red after pressing on flashing blue: Pokestop too far
  • Long white after pressing on flashing blue: Your bag is full
  • Short red after pressing on flashing green: Pokemon fled

Once an action is confirmed, your mobile device will get a notification


The battery for the device reportedly lasts about a month with daily use and uses Cr2032 type batteries.

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How do you use it and what benefits are there?

If you are a transit commuter, you’ll know that catching Pokemon may be a part of your daily routine. I commute with a car, and here if you are caught with you phone while driving, you will have a $500+ ticket slapped on you. Not worth it.

I’m the type of Pokemon GO player that actually has to make the effort to go for walks on my lunch break from work. (But with that said, I love that it does force me off the computer and get some fresh air.)

All you need to do is press a button when the device flashes green (for Pokemon) or blue (for PokeStops) and the whole “gameplay” (if you want to call it that) is automated.

With that said, the chances of catching a Pokemon are about 30% and it will only catch Pokemon that you have already caught.

Experience wise, you will receive 25 XP for Pokemon that have fled, 150 XP (100 base XP for a successful catch and 50 bonus XP for a first throw). You will also receive 3 candy, and 100 stardust.

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Wrist strap option beside the back of the Pokemon GO Plus.

I just carry my Pokemon GO Plus device on its own. I may or may not pay for it in the future, but the strap is so unattractive and cheap that I would rather clip it to my sweater when I am not using it. It’s also inconvenient to require a screwdriver to attach the device to the strap. Design-wise, it would be easier to have slots to feed the strap through.

So, is the Pokemon GO Plus worth it? What’s the verdict?

If you are looking for something to help you play the game without being attached to your phone, I think it’s worth it. I find that my daily walks at work have allowed me to walk faster and maintain my heart rate because I am not tied to constantly checking my phone. All the Pokemon I catch are the icing on top of the cake, and the device really shines in keeping my bag well-stocked.

If you’re expecting to come out on top, or use it as a replacement for playing, this device won’t do it. If you’re looking to keep your bags full, maintain your pace and speed when going on your “PokeWalks”, enjoy the 30% of Pokemon that you get without even trying, the Pokemon Go Plus does the trick.

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Official Niantic Pokemon GO Support pages: support.pokemongo.nianticlabs.com

Photos: Taken by me with a NikonD700 and Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and makeshift light box

Pokémon GO: Party Hat Pikachu Inspired Nail Art

Who else here has spent money on Pokémon GO?
*crickets*

Well, in either case – full confession: I have spent REAL money on Pokémon GO in the last week. I finally got my hands on a Pokemon Go Plus. I’ve been using it this week and I’ve been really (yes, really) enjoying it. I’ll be posting my review and first impressions tomorrow but I figured to celebrate, of course I had to do some Pokémon GO inspired nail art…

Pokémon GO is nominated for the Best VR/AR game at the Game Developers Choice Awards 2017. This week we also saw Pokémon Day on February 27th, which marks the anniversary of the original Japanese release of Pokémon Red/Green.

As an ode to Pokémon Day, Pokémon GO has released a bunch of Pikachus wearing party hats into the wild until March 6th.

I’ve attempted to re-create the party animal on my nails… Ironically with a bunch of Poké Balls flying at him. It took me approximately two and a half episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which is about an hour in normal people time.

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Ready to get this hawt look?

You might want to queue up your list on Netflix! Here’s how I created my Party Hat Pikachu nail art:

  1. Apply base coat.
  2. Apply a thin layer of light blue, or periwinkle nail paint. Repeat.
  3. Let dry.
  4. Using a white polish, carefully apply 1-3 “ball shapes” to the thumb, index, ring and pinky nail. Ensure that at least one half is opaque and has clean edges.
  5. Using a yellow polish, create a ‘half moon’ shape on the tip, and carefully paint long ear shapes.
  6. Using a fine nail art brush, paint red polish to the “worse” half of the white ball shapes. The shape of the Poke Balls should start to form.
  7. Use a fine point dotting tool to apply white polish to the centre of the Poke Ball.
  8. Use a fine nail art brush to carefully outline, and define the centre shapes of the Poke Balls. This step requires the most patience and a little goes a long way. Do not have too much polish to your brush as this will create uneven linework.
  9. Use a medium point dotting tool with black polish to create Pikachu’s eyes. Feel free to use an image for reference.
  10. Use a medium point dotting tool with red polish to create Pikachu’s blush dots.
  11. To bring Pikachu to life, use a fine point dotting tool with white polish to add eye catch lights to the black dots. (Doesn’t it make a difference?)
  12. Add a small nose by adding the slightest fleck of black paint with a fine nail art brush.
  13. Use a fine nail art brush with a pastel purple to create a triangle shape for Pikachu’s party hat.
  14. Use a medium point dotting tool with pastel turquoise/blue to create the base decor of the party hat, and top of party hat. Again, feel free to use an image for reference.
  15. Use a fine nail art brush to add some pastel pink strokes to the triangle party hat shape for more details.
  16. Use a fine nail art brush with white lacquer to slightly outline the party hat. It’s meant to make the hat pop, not define, so do not worry about the lines being perfectly opaque.
  17. Use a fine nail art brush with black lacquer to outline Pikachu’s head, and lightly outline the party hat. The party hat should look softer than the outlined, defined Pikachu head. Add Pikachu’s ear tips with the same black paint and brush, using a slight angle to separate from the rest of the yellow ear.
  18. Optional: Use a medium point dotting tool to create dots around the Poke Balls, and then use a fine point dotting tool around the medium dots. This is a filler technique and not required.
  19. Let dry and use a healthy amount of a fast dry top coat to seal off your work, and give it a glossy finish. You’re done!  (Was it worth it?)

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Products used:

  • Dotting tool with medium and fine points
  • Fine nail art brush from Daiso
  • Nails Inc. London – Hyde Park Basecoat
  • Barry M Gelly Hi Shine Nail Paint – Blueberry
  • OPI – Pine Snow
  • OPI – Black Onyx
  • Essie – Where’s My Chauffer
  • Pure Ice – Jail Bait
  • Sally Hansen Xtreme Wear – Coral Reef
  • Color Club – Almost Famous
  • Joe Fresh – Cherry
  • Seche Vite Top Coat

Stay tuned for my review and first impressions of the Pokemon Go Plus tomorrow!

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Taken from the official Pokemon Go website. My reference image.


Official Pokemon GO website: www.pokemongo.com/en-us
More details on the Pokemon Day event: www.pokemon.com/us/pokemon-news/pikachu-parties-in-pokemon-go

Photos: Taken by me with a NikonD700 and Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and makeshift light box

A Sanic is Born: Custom Avatars in VR Chat

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The cold never bothered me anyways.

Do you want to build a Sanic?

There are those who would blame digital anonymity and online handles as a major enabler of cyber bullying and harassment.  This may very well be, but I feel digital personas and avatars can also be very beneficial in allowing us to express and reinvent different aspects of ourselves, as well find common ground with other users.  Right now it feels like hyper-Comicon, and users can share their love of a character even if they could never cosplay as a 30 foot tall Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (actually, someone might have already tried that: cosplay is crazy).

In setting out to make my own avatar, I decided I wanted something approachable, funny, and physically impossible for me to otherwise be.  I dug deep into my childhood, and realized my spirit animal is Sonic.  Well, not really, but I grew up with Sonic.  The character has really transformed over the years from a cool dude with a ‘tude, to a dude with a ‘tude who liked chilly dogs, to a cartoon dude who likes human women, to a meme dude who likes Shrek.  I think most of us feel sympathy for Sonic: he is Ozymandias fallen, the mighty brought to ruin simply by the ravages of time (well, a few terrible games and the Internet).

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Look at my works, ye mighty, and despair

Despite my love of the original character, I felt like Sanic, as portrayed in hilariously bad fan art, was more fun to be in a digital metaverse.  I modeled my version off of this piece of fan art, which M. Lovecraft improved upon with masterful placement of offset, asymmetric googly eyes.

 

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The gift that keeps on giving.

3D Modeling: Gotta Go Fast Edition

The original basemesh took me around an hour or two to make.  The shapes are really simple, but took a lot of soft selection editing and ironing (smoothing the verticies of the polygons to get good flow) to get something that looked cute yet derp’tilda.

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Not pictured: existential dread

When modeling a character, you have to make sure that the topology (how the polygons are structured over the mesh) has organic looking loops.  For example, its often best for the polygon vertices to form an even ring around the circumference of the arm.  Sanic loves rings.  Also, try to put more loops where the model is likely to bend or deform (like elbows and knees).

I like to keep things as low poly for as long as I can, using what C4D called a ‘hypernurbs’ object (don’t ask) to smooth put the polygons further and add more mesh detail by subdividing the mesh.  They actually call this a ‘subdivision surface’ now, but I just like saying hypernurbs because it sounds like I’m doing something cool. (They’re so cool that I actually forgot to add them in the end. Whoops.)

 

Boning Sanic

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You get used to it.

After using C4D’s UV Wizard and body paint to slap color on the model, I grabbed a rig from one of the Unity Adam models and started deforming the joints to fit the cancerous blob that is my Sanic.  I used that rig hierarchy so that everything would be compatible with the Unity Mecanim Humanoid Rig, which you need to ensure is referencing the right bones in your rig.  After that I put a VRC_AvatarDescriptor component on the model from the VR Chat Developer SDK., and uploaded it from within Unity (props to the VR Chat devs for making this so easy!)

Within a few hours I was ready to paint the virtual town red!  Most other users found me repulsive and definitively ‘not sonic,’ but it was super fun to run around the environments and chat with others about the importance of going fast.  I set the character height to around 3.5 feet, which forced me to look up at other users (probably good for my back after spending all day on the computer) and had the unintended side effect of making lots of other characters chase me around, attempting to pick me up.  Special thanks to Poplopo on VR Chat for snapping some amazing pictures of me at the Majora’s Mask Milk Bar.

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Even Sanic Can’t Outrun the Past

In regards to web anonymity and bullying, the issues are extremely difficult to tackle. The VR Chat code of conduct is a great manifesto, but even Socrates (it’s under ‘so-crates) and Glaucon were talking about digital anonymity in their ancient Greek debate on the web-ring of Gyges.  I have the feeling this struggle between absolute freedom and accountability will persist throughout the ages… well at least until Facebook or some hacker turns on your Oculus Constellation Sensor and spies on you.

 

Doritos VR Battle – VR Experience and Game Review

People think I am joking when I say that one of my favourite virtual reality experiences is “the Doritos game”, but I’m not. I’m really not.

There’s a few things to note here:

  1. Yes, there is a Doritos game.
  2. Yes, there is a Doritos game that is built to use ground-breaking technology.
  3. Yes, there is a Doritos game that is built to use ground-breaking technology and it’s really fun.
The title screen. Simple and tells you exactly what to expect. Check out your hands!

The title screen. Simple and tells you exactly what to expect. Check out your hands!

So, there’s really a virtual reality game based on those flavoured nachos? What exactly do you do?

Doritos VR Battle is a game that requires almost no explanation but the rules are simple as displayed underneath the title screen:

  • Grab Doritos
  • Avoid dangerous objects

There’s no teleportion mechanics, just you in your playspace as the game moves you at a leisurely pace through an obstacle course polluted with flying glowing Doritos – an MLG meme dream come true.

It’s a short but sweet experience – raking in approximately 5-6 minutes of gameplay, but does a great job managing the level difficulty during progression while incorporating other worldly elements for a rather quirky experience. While the first two levels focusing on grabbing Doritos, the next two levels use a laser gun, shooting Dorito shapes in grids. By allowing the player to only be hit once (literally YOLO), every move and choice matters.

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What does Doritos VR Battle get right for virtual reality?

While I could see many complain about the length of the game, I see Doritos VR Battle as an excellent way to introduce someone to the possibilities of room-scale virtual reality. The game makes you move, and the presence of the obstacles is very convincing. I’ve put several new-to-VR friends into “the Doritos game”, and they’ve all shrieked with “OH MY GOD!”s as giant obelisks would swing at them from the walls.

Without needing complicated controls, it’s very easy and intuitive to for a person who is just introduced to virtual reality to pick up the game. There is no need to use the trigger to grab objects, which is a more natural interaction (however yes, you do use the trigger to shoot the laser gun, which again, makes complete sense from an intuitive design view.)

There is no motion sickness because the pace that you move through the levels is so slow. Your body has the time to “catch up” to the movement and isn’t working against you.

I always ask myself: “Does this need to be in virtual reality?” when I am designing for VR, and when it comes down to Doritos, I say – Sure! Why not! This game is fun, simple, and the graphics put you into a world that we saw in the 80s movie Tron. Your hands even become a part of the fractal universe, and I enjoy the gender ambiguity as sometimes I get a bit weirded out when my hands are a man’s model hands. With that said, virtual reality is a technology we were all dreaming of, so it’s not perplexing why we are aching for neon grids et al aesthetics. We want to be a part of that world.

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The final verdict

I personally loved Doritos VR Battle. The game retails for $2.99 USD on Steam, but boasts a lot of replay value when it comes down to doing demos for friends. (Because let’s face it: Anyone who has an HTC Vive wants to share this technology so much!) It’s definitely on the beginner’s playlist for us.

For more VRMY of DARKNESS culled recommended experiences for beginners, check out: Recommended Experiences

If you’re good to go on a short and simple experience, and whether or not you are in with the cool meme kids of the Internet, Doritos just makes sense either way. Your Facebook friend who is constantly sharing Shooting Stars memes, or your own mother – they will get it. It doesn’t need to make sense and this game knows it.

Think you’re ready? The Dutch made trailer is ready for you too:

(Note: The gameplay footage appears to feature an earlier version of the game.)


Doritos VR Battle on Steam: store.steampowered.com/app/523180
Official Capitola VR Website: vr.capitola.nl

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.

 

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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:

 

Sky Sanctuary by Glitchr Studio – VR Experience and Game Review

Chillin’ by the sakura, plucking out falling hens with your bow and arrow, and slicing up tatami poles: all in a day’s life of a samurai.

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Take a stroll in a peaceful VR sanctuary high in the clouds. Empty your mind, focus and unleash your combat skills. With your robot companion, explore the archipelago to reveal its secrets and become a true samurai. (Glitchr Studio)

In a world of short attention spans, Sky Sanctuary stands solid in its focus on mastery and progression with its training simulator for those who dreamed of becoming a samurai (and I may or may not be one of those kids growing up with the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.) The environment is absolutely gorgeous and achieves the virtual reality experience of zen. For those who feel somewhat isolated in VR, you are accompanied by an adorable robot named Delios-sensei, who encourages you to be your best (gambatte!~).

Note: Sky Sanctuary is currently in early access, and will be developed and refined further by the 3-person team with the aid of community feedback.

So what’s Sky Sanctuary all about?

Extremely friendly for VR beginners, you’re welcome to a calm and peaceful landscape by a floating robot, similar to the aesthetics of Portal (nothing can go wrong here, right?). Controls for teleporting, grabbing objects, and mechanics for menus and pocket storage are easy to follow and gentle for VR users from all experience ranges.

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Still in its early development, the Sanctuary that’s placed above the clouds in the sky, there’s three main areas:

  • The temple, where you can view leaderboards
  • Kyudo: Bow and arrow training
  • Tameshigiri: Katana training
  • (There’s also a small area for tutorial training)

As you wander around, there’s a handful of interactables such as smoke bombs to toss and the ability to light up some fireworks in the air.

What do you know about that bow and arrow?

Possibly my worst skill yet across all of virtual reality would be the bow and arrow (I wished my Green Arrow cosplay good-bye at this point) and unfortunately Sky Sanctuary was no different but it didn’t take away from the fun and upper arm work you can get.

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There’s four modes, all unique:

  • Precision: Stationary targets
  • Dynamic: Moving targets
  • Skeet: Hens that are shot from cannons
  • Triathlon: A mix of all modes, one after another

I could definitely feel my upper arm get sore after half an hour of play time. For those who want to utilize the game for a work out and want more of a challenge, I would suggest even adding some glove weights.

Time to slice and dice boys

The katana exercise is not for the faint of heart – you must be precise, quick and attentive. Big moves are encouraged, and small flicks won’t get you far. Be sure to keep your distance as you will be swinging your arms!

Mind the angle of your blade with your controller and be sure you slice within the guided angle of the hitbox. It can be pretty tricky, but although a simple game, it has a high replay value and I found that time flew by as I pushed myself to do better. Delios-sensei, I’ll do it for you!

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You can check out a preview of the gameplay here:

What does Sky Sanctuary get right for virtual reality?

Glitchr Studio kept VR users from all experience backgrounds in mind with a top notch simple and easy-to-follow tutorial, and could very well be in the list for introducing new users into VR. Virtual reality allows you to be in the presence of the unreal, and being in a well-designed Japanese-inspired zen temple in the sky takes full advantage of being immersed into the fictional realms.

Smaller details like weapons not being affected by gravity make it easier to switch weapons, as well as not having to hold down grip buttons, or any additional controls. Very user-friendly and holding both the katana and bow and arrow feels natural. Physics are important in VR, and having it feel good makes it easier for the exercises to come naturally.

I’m hoping to see more sandbox objects (it’s in the plan) as anyone knows that throwing objects and lighting things on fire is oddly so entertaining. There’s a little bit of our inner child in all of us!

The final verdict

While I would have liked to see some “quality of life” changes such as an unlimited practise mode, I also think that perhaps it would effectively ruin the main theme of the game which is progression and growth. When visiting the temple, you’re presented with a graph of how you’ve performed in all the areas. It’s interesting to note that multiple users for a Steam Account may affect the graph.

For those looking for a deep narrative experience, Sky Sanctuary may not fulfil that desire, but for those who are looking for another game to add to their VR winter work out regime, and enjoys improving upon their skills, Sky Sanctuary is a step in the right direction.

As someone who enjoys mastering a game (former Tetris champion here), I really enjoyed what I saw of Sky Sanctuary and I’m looking forward to seeing what the devs have in store as they come to finalizing the game.

You can check out the environments you can be a part of in the teaser trailer here:


Sky Sanctuary launches on February 15th, 2017 (tomorrow) for early access.

Official Sky Sanctuary website: www.sky-sanctuary.com
Sky Sanctuary on Steam (early access): store.steampowered.com/app/526130
Glitchr Studio on Twitter: twitter.com/glitchrstudio
Photos provided by the Sky Sanctuary press kit

Full disclosure: This press key was provided for an unbiased review.

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:

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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…

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Well… you know what could happen.