Virtual Reality Conferences & Tech. Notes

I attended VRDC 2016 in San Francisco and enjoyed some demos and sessions from some of the more seasoned (>1 year) developers in the VR/AR space.  These are in no order of importance or time, just things I happened to take note of as part of the experience.

The flight from SNA to SFO is easy.  My flight was delayed so that meant two beers instead of one.

Google Daydream and Tango demos were available and are definitely appealing, given the img_20161101_140557amount of freedom you have to move without a cable and a heavy headset weighing you down.  We’re all rooting for a device that feels comfortable and light like Daydream, and the phone capabilities get better each time a new model is released.

Zotac was showing some small form factor VR capable PCs.  The one they showed had a GTX 1080 and an Intel i7.  They also have straps for these things so you can carry them as a backpack.  I did not try this, but they certainly seemed small and light enough.  Liquid cooling is used to keep the GTX 1080 temps down, but other than the thermals, it is a full spec 1080.
img_20161102_092212Others in the third-party booths were Intel, showing some VR optimized laptops with Oculus Touch controllers, Microsoft showed the Surface
PC and Hololens, Fove eye-tracking headsets, Qualcomm wireless 6-degree mobile VR, Morph3D showed some exciting VR avatar morphing, CCP showed some beautiful EVE spin- offs in VR, and there was much more.  See the full list of VRDC sponsors here.  I didn’t get to try everything, but it was great to see all these things really working because they’re all going to just improve the VR experience as they mature.  I also have a note about checking out Google Spotlight Stories, but I didn’t write down how that relates to this.  Huh.

img_20161102_092123Pullstring Inc. showed some pretty great tools for scripting game characters using voice recognition and voice cues and other actions that move the story and dialogue along.  They emphasized that the workflow can work in environments where multiple layers of approval are necessary, but also how quickly it can move from writing the words down to getting it into its final ready state.

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Nicole Lazzaro shared some of the research her company (XEODesign) did in what makes VR fun & engaging.  She showed portions of Follow the White Rabbit and other projects and gave lots of great tips on what works and what doesn’t and what to consider when building a world in VR.  Super speaker!  See The 4 Keys to Fun for more.

Playful did a session on how they prototyped a whole bunch of Oculus games when partnering with Oculus to get an idea of what worked and what didn’t.  When one of their team members built a third-person platform game that they thought wouldn’t work, they ended up choosing that as their launch game.  The big message was do a lot of prototyping!
img_20161102_104955Beobab gave some background on the creation of Invasion, a cute animated VR experience.  The director of the Madagascar movies is at work here and the visuals and animations look great.  I downloaded the VR “game” when I got home, but was disappointed that there really wasn’t any interaction.  They shared some tips about how they used heat maps to track where people are looking during the sequence and how they used a lot of play testing to tune when things happen, where they happen, and how you draw the player’s attention away.

I only attended one session on mobile, and it was a strange one.  Woorld is an AR game that uses Google Tango to map out a room space and provide a full AR experience on the phone.  The speaker walked through a bunch of technical details about what mechanisms they did to keep performance up while keeping the graphics quality good and the player engaged.  A lot of good tips on how to engage the user and draw their attention, good tips on what touch gestures work and what doesn’t.  Some things I wrote down: use atlas stories, texture crunching, async audio loading, Leantween for UI animations.

Morph3D showed some of their exciting work on avatar customization and real-time morphing.  Their demo consisted of showing Ready Room, a customizable space where you can fully customize your VR avatar and also decorate with objects that you bring in from connected VR expereinces.  They showed integration with High Fidelity, a VR metaverse project by Philip Rosedale, who created Second Life.  The full body avatars seemed to behave fine (using HTC Vive with controllers) — arms, torso and legs all behaved normally, but it’s not clear what control you have over those parts.  I plan to take a closer look at Ready Room when it is available.

img_20161103_152724I attended a couple of sessions focused on audio in VR.  Chanel Summers (Syndicate 17) shared lessons from building completely wireless VR experiences using VRCade from VRStudios.  These experiences are played at theme parks, such as Universal Studios.  The HMDs are just screens that receive images wirelessly.  They have tracking balls attached to them and cameras are used to track them in large spaces.

Some notes I took:

  • Spatial audio using wwise 3dception — this is now owned by Faceboox/Oculus, so not available for Vive (see below)
  • Use high frequency audio for spatial, like[???] frequency should be stereo.  Makes it easier to locate. 

In his session “Hearing is believing in the Void,” Chance Thomas showed some videos of “The Void,” which is called a “Hyper Reality” experience, because it makes use of actual physical objects and the players and objects move around in the space.  The big notes here were as follows:

  • Unity for static positional mono
  • 3dception for dynamic positional mono*
  • Pre-rendered to extend spatialization and improved effects for room time, music

* Recommended trying VisiSonics for 3d spatial

The last session I attended before heading back home was “Prototypes and Tears: Surviving the Early Days of VR.”  It was a panel of some very enthusiastic VR developers who have had some measure of success in building viable VR applications.  The speakers were all over the place, but I think the point that came across is that VR development is still in its infancy and now is the time to prototype until you find something that sticks.   Another big point was to join in the community and share what you’ve learned.  I hope to do a better job of that now that I had a chance to meet more of the community.  Now it’s time to go back through the GDC Vault to see the sessions I missed, not to mention I have to catch up on Steam Dev Days videos and try to find out more about what happened at Unite.

-Tony