Monday, August 22, 2016

2016 VV-Williams-NVIDIA VR Hackathon Results

The Machinis Ludo VIII game jam was a very special event. We spent a 12-hour day on VR demos and VR prototyping. Due to the large amount of technology and technical knowledge required for the event, we restricted this event to invited staff and students of Vicarious Visions, Williams College, and NVIDIA. Our equipment was provided by those institutions, with additional head mounted displays donated by Oculus and Google.



We began the day with an impromtu IT jam: creating a pop-up lab and makerspace in an hour during breakfast provided by Williams. We extended the existing McGuire Graphics Lab facilities at Williams College with five new VR development stations and a second analog and hardware bench. We're grateful for technical support from Mary Bailey, Steve Amann, and Todd Gould at Williams College for the prep work that made this possible.

    

We then ran demos of VR experiences on Vive for attendees who hadn't tried it before and brainstormed new projects. The group quickly divided into three teams and executed on combinations of our ideas:

  1. Two-player networked tennis (VR pong!)
  2. Real-world temperature feedback for virtual events
  3. VR plugins for social interaction

We built these out during two development stations using the Unity engine with an open source custom starter project I wrote using the SteamVR and VRTK asset kits, and then demoed them at the end of the day. Because Williamstown is a vacation destination during the summer, we also took advantage of the beautiful surroundings for a picnic by the river and then dinner in town sponsored by Vicarious Visions.

   
Essential VR Essential Equipment

   
The final experiences were all impressive returns on the time invested, and indicate great directions for future exploration. The networked tennis used the HMD to directly control position, so the players actually had to dodge back and forth. It showed that even the barest element of another person in VR (here, just a cylinder) creates a powerful sense of sharing a space due to telepresence. This was the first networked VR experience I've tried and it made clear how imperative multiplayer will be for future VR projects...as well as how challenging low-latency synchronization can be.


  

The temperature team built a cardboard weapon mockup with electronic elements controlled by their program. It could heat up or cool down significantly in about two seconds. The hot end of the spectrum felt like touching a toaster and the cold end like holding an ice cube. In VR, you saw yourself holding a flamethrower or "ice gun". Pulling the trigger would shoot fire or ice via a particle system. The combination of holding the tool, visuals, audio, and temperature made the effect surprisingly convincing. It was my favorite experience...even without any other mechanics, I still wanted to keep playing with it for an hour.

    
 

Alas, I knew him well.
The social group built out three features. The first was a system for generating random NPCs with complex relationships similar to those from a murder mystery. The second was code to generate random bodies for these NPCs, and then animate them to maintain eye contact with the player. The third was a navigation system where looking at an NPC and pressing a button would teleport the player to a comfortable conversation distance, without the need for explicit teleport lasers or feedback. Part of the great promise of VR is making games that take advantage of presence and embodied gaming to create the social mechanics lacking in most traditional games. These systems are a great start and I look forward to working more in this space.

  

  


If you'd like to participate in an event like this, check out the upcoming VR hackathon at MIT in October 2016.


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