Real & Virtual Worlds — Week 11 (Viewing / Reviewing)

This week on the Real & Virtual worlds unit, we were tasked with reading a short extract from a book written by our course leader, Camille, as well as listening to episode #607 of the voices of VR podcast, alongside the normal mentions of project work.

New Directions in Mobile Media and Performance

This one was an interesting read — Though I’m somewhat stumped as to what to write here, as some of it quotes from and re-caps areas that had been touched on in previous sources, while in some cases citing from readings we have previously done. The chapter strikes me as more of a review of sorts of different famous approaches to VR pieces over time, referring to pieces like “Ephémére”, which sounds like something really unique, and I can see why one would want to experience something that utilises something as unique as using the body “as a mouse” so to speak.

I wholly agree with the quotation provided from Andrej Karpathy regarding VR, in that if done well it can ensure that the participant has a full body experience. That said, “full-body” seems somewhat vague — Is it referring to the use of body parts in the medium, or all of the senses? If it’s the latter, I doubt that fully immersive virtual reality in the sense quoted will be perfected just yet (though I’d love to see it within my own lifetime). Specifically giving the player senses of touch and smell within virtual spaces appear to be the hardest right now, but I’m sure this is something that is being explored.

This might just be me mis-interpreting the meaning behind the words, but the way part of this chapter is worded suggests to me that the writer feels that artists, designers and psychologists being preoccupied with abstract concepts is a negative thing, partly due to the use of “preoccupied” specifically, as I feel that these are concepts that are worth exploring, especially due to the strange nature of the medium and how intertwined it appears to be with abstract concepts and exploration of our own being, in a sense.

Something that’s not specifically unique to VR that is mentioned, but is relevant, is the imperfections within our technology. We’ve come a long way from the consoles of the late 20th century, but virtual reality often requires quality higher than that of even some of the top specification PCs. I don’t necessarily disagree with the notion that we should focus more on creativity within the bounds of what is currently possible, but often trying to push the technology we currently have to the limit of our time period is what can create something amazing or memorable.

While not VR specifically, I have really fond memories of seeing Avatar (The one with blue aliens, not the last airbender) in cinemas, because for its time, it pushed film technology to its limits, and while this obviously isn’t something applicable to every game or film, it’s something that’s worth doing at least in the eyes of those who are willing to attempt it.

Some other parts of this chapter also covered things we’ve covered previously in lectures, such as vr performance work which we briefly covered (Specifically: “The machine to be another” performance). While an interesting subject, I’m not certain what to add to this, but I’d love to see this kind of concept in other games or experiences especially regarding the concept of seeing through another’s eyes, outside of just the more philosophical lens of it.

Voices of VR #607

This episode of the voices of VR podcast focused a lot on the principles of immersive sound design. Something they focused on a fair bit was some of the pipelines that currently exist for 360 degree sound, and honestly these are things I’d like to work more with — I remember doing some research when I was on the BA course about this, and came across the steamVR audio plugin, but never had the chance to properly play around with it. I’d definitely like to have the chance to implement this kind of stuff into my current project and see how it feels.

The way she talks about ambient audio and how it can be optimized was really interesting — It’s definitely true that if something is really close to you, like she mentioned a zombie, you don’t need to use as much computing power on far away sounds like a bird as they’ll be partially drowned out by the close-up sounds, so assigning less computing power to those makes a lot of sense.

The Museum of other realities

I thought I’d add a small note to the blog regarding this, as it was a small activity we did as a class after our lecture last week, and it was noted that we should include some of that here. Overall, it was a pretty fun and informative experience, and I absolutely loved the ability with some of the pieces to essentially travel “into” them by having the player shrink when they stand on them. This obviously is something that can’t be done with art in more traditional formats, and it feels a lot more immersive.

A lot of the art felt almost eerie, in that a lot of them weren’t particularly natural or normal shapes or materials. This feels like it’s the artists trying to explore things in the medium that might not be doable in traditional forms of art like sculpture. One that particularly stood out to me (though its name eludes me) was essentially an amorphous blob of spheres that you can interact with, by pushing your hands through it to change the colour and shape of it. While I’m sure there are ways to interact with some traditional art in a similar way, it’s usually in tandem with technology to a degree anyway.

Project Work

On the technical end, I’ll be making another blog post to re-cap what’s happened on that end this week, as I need to keep better track of it (Though a lot of the progress I’ve made has been occasionally shared on my twitter). But I finally feel that I have a solid grasp on my concept, following further talks with both Andy and Chris regarding my thoughts. I ended up shifting the focus of my project towards the theme option we were provided to do with COVID, and in a way translating my idea to be about that topic.

The new gameplay will be that you’re playing essentially as an entity managing an area (level based, with different size areas for each level, starting small and scaling up) that is afflicted with the COVID virus, and having to manage the spread of this versus the output of money of the households, essentially functioning as the score mechanism of the game. I’ll go into more detail on this on the technical posts I’ll be making about the technical side of the development.

The idea is that this reflects the complexity of such a situation, in that our governing bodies have to essentially weigh the value of human life against the livelihoods of others in a given area that aren’t afflicted, as well as the overall growth of an area or country. I’ll have to re-make my immersion plans and the like from previous weeks for this, so I’ll add them to a future blog post as an addendum to show that I have changed them.

On Tuesday of next week we’ll be testing the games on campus, but right now mine definitely feels like more of an environment than a fully fledged game, as I’m still working on implementing the mechanics — I have the “spread” effect of the virus in its basic form, but the player’s interaction with it right now is quite limited. Hopefully I’ll be able to change this beforehand, but having changed my concept somewhat I’m actually fairly happy with where it is right now given I’ve worked on it for less time than I would’ve liked.

(What the first level looks like — The little huts have since changed, but you can see the “spread” effect I’m referring to. I’ve had a fair bit of fun using shaders on this to get the visuals where I’d like them to be, some of which being from my experience with shaders on the BA course.)

I also threw together an audio plan of sorts. I probably need to make more for UI elements that might make sounds. I’m not a 2D artist, which might be obvious.