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Linking TVGS & TVCOG: Games & Business

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“I enjoy working with people of all skill levels and disciplines. You don’t find an environment like that often in the workforce or school. My most successful project, SlapFriends (Slapfriends.com,) couldn’t have happened without the help of the Makerspace members.” SlapFriends was selected as “the most engaging, intriguing, and well-executed game using unconventional, accessible or alternative physical controls,” by the Game Developers Conference in 2016. This west coast conference is the world’s largest professional game industry event.

John’s main concerns in choosing a project: can he remain enthusiastic about it for several months, and can he do the majority of the work on it by himself, if he has to. Working with teams at SpaceoutVR, Inc., John applied his skills with Unity3D, and expanded his skills on-the-job to get assigned tasks made. Like 85% of Virtual Reality (VR) companies producing free apps for the Google Cardboard VR goggles ($15 at https://vr.google.com/cardboard/get-cardboard/) the SpaceoutVR app is made with the Unity3D game engine. Unity3D is a now-free suite of computer software making and support materials, with an active open community, serving all skill levels. John learned to program games in Unity3D while majoring in Computer Game Design And Development. At Rochester Institute of Technology’s Magic Spell Studios, John worked with teams on two computer programming and graphics projects.

“I had a weird upbringing,” John reflects. “I studied a non-traditional curriculum at home. I was able to follow my interests in movie direction, and in robotics. When I combined these two interests – creative and practical – I came up with video games.”

As a member at TVGS, John volunteered to organize their web presence. That way he could participate from home; he lives in Schuylerville, which is 30 miles from Troy. John was introduced to TVCOG by his mother, Kathy Ceceri, who regularly meets there with all sorts of Makers who help her invent projects that can be made in an afternoon. She assembles these short projects in books published by MAKE magazine.

The industry making VR games, experiences, training, and portals frequently releases experimental work, including prototypes supporting larger VR projects. The computer game industry thought there was no place for an experiment called SimCity, which, like much current VR, also is more of a playful experience than a traditional, goal-oriented game. The “Sim” franchise – now marketing SimCity4 and TheSims4 – went on to become the most successful PC gaming franchise in history, with revenue in the billions. The necessary killer VR app has not yet been made – there is no software driving customers to buy hardware at the high-end of the market, e.g., the $800 HTC Vive and $600 Oculus. Google’s handheld VR viewer, Cardboard is dominating the low-end , but it is also considered experimental, despite being on the market for 2 years.

According to EdSurge, “Virtual Reality (VR) may be the type of educational breakthrough that comes along once in a generation, heralding a tectonic shift toward immersive content for teaching and instruction.” This shift into immersive content makes opportunities for subject experts and creative writers. To interact with VR tech development teams, build team-working skills alongside interests in high tech communication. VentureBeat says “pressure is now on content makers to make the immersive medium stick.”

Presence Capital’s Phil Chen cautions against stereotyping this fluid industry, “it’s a mistake that 360-degree video and VR are almost synonymous now. … if you want to truly tell a story – to zoom in, zoom out, gauge reactions and create empathy and emotions – it’s terrible for those things.”

John was tasked with exploring game mechanics in “The Garden,” which mirrors the Hieronymus Bosch painting, “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” He designed and invented different ways for the player to interact with the game’s story. A player’s needs to solve problems in mini-games to escape from traps in The Garden, for example. To escape the Prison of Hell, a player must score points in a drinking game with knives and increasingly blurry vision. John’s tasks included making the scene blur.

John’s work to improve VR focuses on the virtual environment, the player profile, and interacting with friends. For example, exploring a friend’s profile might lead the player into a new VR experience. Also, there’s a common WOW reaction to the uniquely futuristic experience with most VR apps. A virtual lobby could serve people who want to chat in real-time, especially to connect newbies who might otherwise feel disoriented and lonely immediately following a game’s conclusion. Disorientation and even nausea were problems with VR which companies tried to solve for decades. The contemporary solutions require doubling and even quadrupling the display’s frame-rate. This extreme approach was inconceivable just ten years ago, even on professional developers’ computer systems. Only the most expensive graphics processing computer boards in today’s gaming market, fitting into machines designed to handle VR, can produce these speeds for high-end VR goggles today. VR-ready systems cost upward of $1K, though Xbox and PlayStation have proprietary goggles which make their VR systems cost significantly less. For free, the public is invited to try VR goggles at TVGS.

A project John began developing at a recent TVGS Ludum Dare Game Jam, is a VR app game called Crystal Cry. It builds on his unique VR interface control method, using microphone input to control the game environment. His long-term goal is to apply it in the more powerful, computer-driven VR headsets. “When I first graduated, I only had small class projects under my belt. At TVGS I had the freedom to choose what to work on and to work at my own pace. I gained confidence in my skills and my work.

“I think a project is successful if everyone can feel proud of the work they did. Being around a Makerspace, you see a lot of projects that start and stop, or get refactored to be the next big thing. But the projects that had a set goal from the start that’s met, those are the ones I’ve seen do the best, those are the most fulfilling.

“We’re streaming YouTube in VR at SpaceoutVR, Inc. now. I had some experience with that, but most of what I’m doing on the job, I had to learn on the fly. There’s so much tech out there. It can be intimidating to apply for jobs. But you don’t have to know everything, and even learning a hot programming language can’t guarantee you a position, because the field is so fluid, that hot language might disappear. Learning how to approach new tasks is key.”

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