We were recently awarded a development stipend and equipment budget to create an "Early Innovation Project" with a VR Backpack! The challenge was to come up with something that could only be possible with an untethered VR setup. Below you’ll find a bit of documentation around the concept for the project, what we learned, and where we hope to take it in the future.
Inspirations behind Project: One Door
Earlier this year, our team attended the Resident Evil Escape Room in Portland. Being huge fans of the franchise, experiencing that world in a totally new medium was really exciting, and it got us thinking about what other experiences could cross over in a similar fashion.
At the time, we were also trying out as many VR experiences as we could get our hands on. When we heard about the opportunity to work on an untethered VR experience, we knew there had to be something interesting we could bring to the table.
We’re currently working out of a co-working space with some friends who lead a variety of VR projects. The WILD crew had some experience in merging real space and VR, so I asked Gabe Paez if he remembered any specific challenges he encountered during that project. “Doors,” was his response, and I decided to chase after creating a “VR Escape Room” experience, with the idea of move through doors as the core concept!
The scope of this project was to create a “proof of concept” VR application using the MSI One VR Backpack. We’re attempting to create a unique experience that’s only possible using this hardware, specifically, an un-tethered setup.
Right away, we knew this project would require an installation, and because of this, we’re not considering this product for mass market, though there are workarounds. This will likely be interesting content for exhibitions such as GDC Alt.Ctrl, Unite, VR LA, etc.
One Door Game Concept
Players are in a completely virtual space, interacting with a physical door installation. They will be wearing the MSI One VR Backpack with a single Vive Controller and a Vive headset.
Upon starting the game, the player is in a small room, featuring one puzzle in 3D space. Each level will contain a simple puzzle or action the player must complete. Once completed, the player will be able to open the door, and physically step through to the next level. At that point, they will be presented with a new puzzle/action, and the game will progress in this fashion, moving back and forth through the same door and witnessing rooms dissolve behind them and form in front of them.
The player can open the door at any time, but if a puzzle/action is incomplete, they will see the same level/door on the other side of the installation. In the future, we’re considering using a Vive Tracker for the actual door handle, so that we can easily track and calibrate where the player needs to grab.
This project was VR development 101 for us in many ways. This was our first-time developing on a Vive, and adding the additional physical buildout for a new interactive experience added a bit to the learning curve. I feel like a majority of our hangups were typical of any virtual reality developer, but we of course created some unique challenges for ourselves that we're happy to have experience with now. I would definitely recommend that virtual reality developers explore the below topics with caution and learn from our assumptions and processes before kicking off a project of their own.
Our First Time with Vive
We've played with the Vive a ton, but this was our first time developing for it. Setting up the general developer environment and Unity plugins didn't take much time, but we had to think very strategically about how to develop and test more seamlessly past that point. Very commonly, it saved us an immense amount of time to have two people on site at a time - one person tending to Unity, the other being available to move controllers and trackers, re-adjust Lighthouses, adjust room scale, and be a second pair of eyes. With regard to hardware specifically and our project needing to use a physical prop, we went back and forth on many choreographies for how Lighthouses were able to track devices.
We were introduced to more new experiences during this project, like being able to remotely work from home and use Unity's Collaborate feature, explore how awesome it was to experience VR without being tethered, and become very familiar with how to quickly we’re able to kick off a VR project.
From a consumer standpoint, we know that room scale VR is unrealistic for many, and we still ran into a few issues as we planned for and worked on this project. One of my biggest recommendations to other developers working in room scale VR would be to buy a tape measure early and make sure you have space solely dedicated to your project for the entirety of its development. We share a coworking space with about 20 other local virtual reality developers, artists, game makers, and web designers - so needing to push our build out to the side of the room at the end of every dev session added to our overall setup time. It did give us a lot of practice with setup and familiarity with devices, but another interesting revelation was that we would have never been able to do this from any of our homes!
Unique Build Out
Since our project involved a prop (a full-sized free-standing door) we had to make obvious considerations around moving it, storing it, and occlusion for the Lighthouses. When we think about taking our project beyond a prototype, there are so many more issues that become apparent. Thinking about how this project would likely continue in the future as a tech demo, festival/museum installation, or resume piece, we also had to consider that we would need to show it to more people than ourselves and direct supporters. With this comes an additional consideration: safety. We definitely cut corners to very quickly build a functional prototype, but thinking around polish and transportation readiness, we would definitely recommend spending more time and resources towards creating a safer experience catered to those unfamiliar with VR.
As we prototyped, we were able to remember to pick our feet up in order to not trip, slowly move forward to avoid bashing into an outcropping in the door, and find the door handle without any problem. What we've made serves as an excellent tech demo, but we would definitely take another pass at the door prop before considering it any sort of consumable, public product or experience. To make transportation easier, we would also build the door differently so that we could disassemble it on the fly.
We're confident in what we have as a technical demonstration for how easy, interesting, and liberating it can be to use the MSI VR Backpack, and we're also very proud and excited of what we were able to learn and accomplish. So much so that we'd like to continue implementing simple puzzles, art, voiceover, and accessibility features to make it more presentable. After some additional testing and polish, we'd like to shop the prototype around, searching for a sponsor related to content & IP, VR tech, interactive installations, or trade shows so that we can share the project with a wider audience! Intel is a prime candidate for this collaboration, and we'd love to follow up after giving another round on the demo.
Thanks to the Intel Innovators Program for letting us be a part of this!