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…
And it many ways it was, although in practice it was also a harrowing exercise in extreme tedium and madness.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?)
Is it stupid?
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?)
Do you want to get this hawt look?
Here’s how I created this work of art:
- Apply base coat.
- Paint nails with pale blue/periwinkle polish. Let dry.
- Using a white polish, lightly sponge a slight gradient from the base, half way. Let dry.
- Using a dotting tool, create small snowy dots. (Don’t go too crazy!) Let dry.
- Using two different pastel colours, paint the “shirts” of the guys on the tips.
- Using a nude/tan colour, paint the faces.
- Using a darker grey colour, paint the two headsets.
- Using a red and white colour, paint the Santa hats.
- Using the same darker grey for the headset, paint the cord across your nails.
- 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.)
- 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.
- Let everything dry, then apply a thick af top coat of Seche Vite for that extra glossy, smooth finish.
- 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!
I’m a fan of Ricky and Morty and I’m also a fan of weird friendships forged through chance so with that said, I figured Accounting by Crows Crows Crows and Squanchtendo (new VR studio from Justin Roiland) would be something I would look forward to.
… That feeling couldn’t be more right.
So, what’s Accounting all about?
You’re an obedient office worker who gets instructed into doing tasks that aren’t your usual TP report. You may or may not get somehow roped into uncomfortable scenarios that involve meeting the King of VR, stomach acid, and tiny lawyers… That escalated quickly.
On the Accounting VR website, it describes this application as a “game”.
I’m always reluctant to calling virtual reality experiences as ‘games’ because I feel like it would involve some form of problem solving or activity, but the thing with these experiences (and the same goes for Accounting VR) is that you are actually living it… So in that sense, maybe life is just a game… Just maybe. There’s some minor problem solving in Accounting VR, but it’s no more challenging than finding where the bagels are in a CostCo. (Sorry that was the best example I could come up with…)
Regardless, Accounting VR throws you into an intense world – the strange limbo that bridges the gap between Office Space and well, literally Hell. It all seems reminiscent of the same humour that Rick and Morty fans are used to. (And as a warning, if you aren’t used to it, it’s probably best to watch the show as a pre-requisite as the presence of some of these characters can be overbearing to the unfamiliar.)
Think you can handle it? Take a look at the trailer for yourself. I personally couldn’t stop watching it – perhaps this says too much about me as a person but my immediate thought was, “finally – someone is using virtual reality for the things I want!”… Yup. That’s what I said. Take a look for yourself:
Did I play Accounting VR, or did Accounting VR play me?
This game might be an experience without major objectives, or mechanics, but I found this to be enjoyable – It’s one of my favourite virtual reality experiences to date: it’s whimsical, chaotic, and unique. I’ve never seen anything like it, or been a part of anything like it for that matter.
Definitely an intermediate experience, I wouldn’t advise anyone to go into Accounting VR as their first VR experience as the characters you meet are quite intense.
Also if you ever wanted to see which of your friends you’d want to hang with you on a deserted island, maybe this would be a show of what exactly their moral compass is.
Recommended play time: Approximately 20 minutes.
Take. Your. Time.
I’ve seen several folks go into this experience, really enjoying it but perhaps because we are using it holding down buttons on our controllers, we aren’t really listening to the characters. The script and dialogue in Accounting VR is absolutely hilarious. Some dialogue doesn’t happen at all if you move too quickly, and I would urge everyone to not miss out.
If you hate Rick and Morty, you might not appreciate the humour in Accounting VR, but on the other hand, I would probably still put someone who doesn’t like Rick and Morty humour in the Accounting VR world because it would be funny to me.
Accounting on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/518580/
Photos courtesy of Crows Crows Crows’ press kit