On March 24th, Oculus announced their call for entries to their Launch Pad program which is designed to support promising VR content creators and help them bring their ideas to life.
On May 21st 100 designers, developers, filmmakers and creatives walked in to the first ever Oculus Launch Pad Bootcamp at Facebook HQ.
Fortunately I was one of the lucky few, and extremely grateful for this rich opportunity to not only meet world renowned Storytellers, Directors, Producers, Developers and Founders, but to join a class of innovative VR Creators.
I’ve taken extensive notes and tried to capture as much of the knowledge, insights and even questions shared. I hope this is useful and helpful for those who are interested in Virtual Reality in any capacity.
No one in VR is an expert
So get ready to learn, test and share.
It might appear complex, but VR needs you
Even though the industry is growing and full of incredibly talented creators, it needs everyone to join in and take it to new heights. We have the capability to shape it the way we want.
People need you to help tell their story
There are people who have stories that need to be discovered, experienced and shared.
VR is connecting us
The nature of VR requires new skills, new thinking and new ways of making. It's connecting all of us creators with each other in ways I've never witnessed before.
It truly is the dawn of a new era – The Age of Experience.
The Full Recap
Upon arrival we were welcomed with gifts and open arms and were quickly humbled by the breadth of experience, work, challenges and accomplishments our Speakers have achieved.
Needless to say it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I only hope to do them justice by sharing some of their insights and lessons so that others may join the VR (for good) movement.
Amy Thole is our Launch Pad Ring Leader and has been devoted to our group – I am truly grateful for all that she has done for us. Never forget the ones who take the least spotlight!
Anna gave us an inspiring talk about her personal journey into VR. I regret not having taken more pictures at the time because she showed us the video game art she and her dad used to play when she was a kid. She shared the fact that she was not expected to play games, not expected to study gaming and yet in her heart she knew it was the right path. She is now Head of Developer Strategy at Oculus and is making sure everyone who wants to follows their own true path.
Carl gave us a great introductory to game development with his “Getting Started in Unity” workshop. He provided an overview of what is currently being done today, considerations and best practices to be aware of and how think about the viewer's experience at all times.
Carl prepared a project file in Unity for us to get our hands on and start scripting right away.
He wanted to make sure we had a teaser into the key concepts when designing in 3D in VR.
Yelena’s talk was a great introduction to the art of Storytelling in Virtual Reality – most riveting given her role at Oculus Story Studio. She started off by giving us a brief perspective on the history of virtual reality by reminding us that the idea of immersion is nothing new, but is integral to the way one builds their story. She demonstrated this by sharing a number of examples such as: a “Virtual Travel” post card from 1787, the MoMA architectural design of their terrace, the experience at the planetarium. All of which took people into the artists’ imagination and connected with the participants‘ worlds.
My take away was that in each of her examples, the creator captures a story they want to tell or guide the participant through, but in one way or another the participant ultimately creates their own, unique interpretation.
Yelena asks us to think about how might you guide people into a story when you as the Director are losing control? There is not only the absence of the frame, it is in fact completely immersive. So the key is understanding the need to dial in and out of that immersion-state.
If you haven't yet experienced Oculus Story Studio‘s Short Film Lost, you should. You should see for yourself how they try to do this, and how in Henry they apply their learnings and deepen the emotional ties to the storyline and leading character even more. I highly recommend reading their 5 lessons learned on their blog.
Yelena refers to “Audience Aware Storytelling” and “Spatial Story Density” and explains how they were driving forces for them when making Henry. It was a key principle for them and how they made the choices they made when bringing the viewer in (and out) of the scene. For example, at one point they break the fourth wall by actively engaging the viewer and making them feel present and acutely aware of both themselves and the storyline.
She shared with us the internal production tool which the Oculus Story team developed in order to make their film “Dear Angelica”.
Yelena encourages everyone to follow their Oculus Story Studio blog so that you can stay on top of their latest developments and releases.
Bernie is the Executive Producer of the Game Farlands, and generously gave us not just the micro-talk on “Game Design – Agency vs. Narrative” but later, the insider scoop on how a team takes “Game Production from Idea to Creation”.
Now I’m not a game designer, but loved the way he thinks about the strategies and game plays that are behind-the-scenes. Game design is definitely a highly conceptual process where the designer, like an artist, has to reconcile the role of what is best for the story vs. what is best for the player.
I also liked how Bernie opened up his micro-talk with Complex vs. Complicated. I usually bring up simple vs. simplicity when referring to design. In his words, complex, for all intents and purposes, means it's your job to find, devise, develop the solution from scratch while complicated means their is a way, a manual, a blog post out there but it's going to be hard work building the solution. So for example: How do you define a game? Is there a sense of mastery? Is there collusion? Implicit rules? Why is it important to have a vocabulary? Because it's not just about having fun, it's a craft.
In his closing discussion, Bernie reminds us that there are Player-driven Games which only exist with player input and let the player take the stage. Versus Story-driven games, which require making lots of content. So be aware of your choices and make them right away. Social games or multi-player games are not typically story driven (ie Farmville).
I thoroughly enjoyed Barry's talk on “Storytelling for Live Action VR”. People often ask what was your first VR experience, the truth is, for me, it only gets better the more you learn what it is you love. So when I first saw Barry's piece he did at VRSE Works, I was convinced that if pieces like this could help improve lives, real VR For Good, then I'm in.
I highly encourage you to explore the content VRSE is putting out via their apps on android and iOS and even the google cardboard app on iOS. While 2d/360° representations aren’t nearly as immersive, they do capture the heart of the message, which you can find on VRSE’s sites. But really, don't miss “Clouds over Sidra”. I believe the power of VR will bring voice to millions of people like Sidra and remind us of the power of humanity. In his words, it can change people‘s conversations, actions, behaviors – and most importantly their decisions.
Now for Barry’s talk! He said that VR now is like when radio was on TV. We are definitely not there yet and not complete sure how to embrace the medium yet. When he first got start, he was asked to take other stories and translate them into VR. It just doesn't work, it’s not right.
He gave us some solid fundamentals around designing the experience for the “Human Camera”. He reminded us that the camera is in fact the equivalent to the viewer's head and you must always be mindful of that, and when possible utilize that. To demonstrate the idea, he showed us an example of a camera he set up in New York Central Station.
He shared with us a piece about when he was Director of Photography on a piece he did with VRSE Works called My Mother‘s Wing. It is remarkable what he can do with the camera.
He gave us great advice from the inspiring Jessica Brillhart, Principle Filmmaker at Google VR. She is the closest I've seen to an Experience Designer/Filmmaker. She thinks about the focus and how you want to guide the viewer deeper into the film much like painters create focus, print designers use pacing design in books and UX/UI designers think about interaction design. Check out her extremely detailed post on Medium.
His advice, look at great examples, study them, learn and try it out yourself!
Omer‘s talk on “The Painful Introduction to Virtual Reality – Designing for the Senses” was not just lecture, but interactive! As you see in his diagram below, he also talks about the spatial reality viewers have, but they don't just rely on their vision – audio is key.
Omer divided us up in teams and gave us specific challenges, for example: design a photo app in VR or in our case, a magic carpet ride. Now blind-fold the designer and take notes on stickies of what they would want and where. One person had the job to record the overview. (None of the designer assistants were allowed to talk).
The exercise helped us to actively recall how we experience something – wind in our hair, the sensation of flying, the sound of birds, the visual of the horizon – all elements we wanted the viewer to experience in order to truly feel present. He then talked about how he thinks about the space around the viewer.
Omer showed us an example of what Presence can ‘look’ like with this prototype created by Hiroshi Ishii. You can learn more about his project InTouch here.
Omer’s key message was that when we are designing realities in VR, to remember that our entire sense of perception of space is not seen, but that we get 3D Vision through our ears. Think on that!
We were lucky enough to have Bernie come back and give us an in-depth lecture on “Game Production from Idea to Creation” – and the specific role of an Executive Producer.
He joke that he was going to give us a crash course, and that he did. He walked us through three key aspects: prioritization, analysis and process. He talked about the Utility of Pillars, in a word – Planning. Planning includes setting the goals of the project so that you can have a razor later. His real responsibility at the end of the day is being the true north for his team.
Soft skills include mediating conflict by taking ego out of the equation. The more you can think about your goals and your team goals, the more powerful the result.
As mentioned earlier, a Game Producer’s job requires a lot of Analysis of data. Understanding the cost/ratio. “Don‘t bite off more than you‘ll gag on”. Whatever you work on, thinking about the costs – people’s time, team capacity, what they can build. 80% accuracy is great – don‘t have to be 100%, but you do have to track and be accountable. Project management is necessary.
Then Bernie shared with us a game called Three Musketeers and had us pair off and try it out. Afterwards we reviewed our collective experiences. I believe the game was designed by Richard Garfield, and Bernie wanted us to understand how a game designer thinks about how rules intersect goals.
I liked his discussion on Process. The truth is there are endless approaches to process, but the best one is the one that works for your team. So be mindful to constantly re-evaluate your progress over milestones because teams get good after doing a thing over and over.
“Process is most useful not when a thing is easy, but when things are hard.”
Basically, planning is a huge part of the Producer‘s responsibility, so get your team involved so they can better understand the value of the plan.
I really enjoyed how Chris shared with us very finite and detailed information around game-mechanics in VR and how to design for the Oculus Store.
Chris has an extensive background in developing games and was emphatic about designing for the viewer‘s comfort in mind. There are endless considerations to keep in mind, but to name a few: avoiding forced rotational movement, sacrificing frame rate, making transitions that are more than five seconds.
“80% of UX/UI design is the camera, 20% is UI and input device”
In VR you want the UI elements to be integrated into the environment as much as possible. And there is no getting around it right now, text looks bad in VR. Think about audio spatialization or other cues to help the user. There are definitely instances when text is necessary, for example when turning on your Gear VR and going through the tutorial. Just try to be mindful of the tension between sexiness and usability.
If you didn‘t know already, Palmer is the original founder of Oculus. He was available for available briefly for Questions and Answers, but the best was his quote –
“This is the worst VR we will ever have.”
I hope you found this helpful, if anything, you've seen how passionate the VR community is to help people like myself help build the future of VR.