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Here's my latest VR scene, this one was inspired by early 3D graphics. The goal was to make a VR experience that would run well on PCs that are far below the minimum specification for the Vive. This also allows newer GPUs to run the scene with increased supersampling for crisp visuals. I think the result looks pretty good and I'm excited to start targeting standalone headsets as they hit the market. Take a moment to explore and interact with the scene: launch
The Folded Castle
Here's a new short VR experience with a horror theme. The concept is to allow the user to explore multiple locations without teleportation controls or jarring transitions. There's also a new batch of meshes included to use in your own projects. Take a look at the .obj files and see if you get some ideas.
The Folded Castle
If you enjoy this VR prototype or make use of the models please consider supporting my work on Patreon.
Kodon Beta Update
Here's a bit more sculpting done with Kodon. The application is progressing well, I'm very pleased that the developers added a soft-selection Move tool. Most of the work on these meshes was done in the new beta version with just a bit of tweaking in Blender.
The meshes are from a new VR project, I'll be making that and the meshes available on itch.io next week.
Polygonal Editing in VR
I just noticed that ArtStage has been updated with a bunch of mesh editing tools. I tried the tools briefly and they are a lot of fun to play with. If you own a Vive and have any interest in low-level mesh editing I definitely recommend giving it a try.
Here's a small VR scene. I wanted to try a different relocation system and play with a faceted look. It should run on PCs well below the minimum specification for the Vive so give it a try even if you have an older setup.
I'm making the models I used for this project available for free. There are also a lot of meshes that didn't end up in the final version so take a look and see if there's something you can use. The models are .obj and scaled for direct import into VR scenes. You're welcome to use them for your own prototypes or full games.
I've been playing around with Kodon, the sculpting program for Vive. It's pretty fun, here is a quick bust made from a simple Blender mesh that was subdivided and then imported into Kodon for finer detail. It's a bit of thrill to sculpt in VR after years doing 3D modeling on traditional displays. I like that Kodon allows moving of individual vertices for low-poly editing as well.
Here are a couple of new VR prototypes. One is a simple art style test and the other lets you examine 3D photos. Vive required for both.
Virtual Reality and Art Direction
*2017/6/7 - update
*2016/10/26 - update
Three major virtual reality headsets have been released and I’ve been thinking about various approaches for art creation in this emerging (re-emerging?) medium. While there has been a push to market 'VR-ready' PCs to consumers I believe an interesting and ultimately more sustainable approach is for developers to creatively limit themselves and succeed through art direction. Here are a few of my thoughts along those lines.
VR development is still in an experimental phase but there is no doubt that high frame rate is critical for comfortable VR experiences. While the cost of high-end PCs needed for rendering realistic scenes at 90+ frames per second is coming down it will remain an adoption barrier for many users. However, low-cost, standalone VR headsets with positional tracking are becoming available. The trade-off is that such systems do not allow for extremely realistic visuals. Despite that, I believe such hardware will attract a larger number of users due to the lower price, ease of setup, and portability compared to desktop VR. Wireless video transmission solutions which allow for untethered play are making desktop-based VR more appealing but the cost and setup hassle remains. A standalone headset, executed properly, will allow a user to simply turn the device on and start experiencing VR.
I propose that developers alter their approach to creating VR applications by making use of stylized artwork to target these standalone headsets. Players will happily engage with a game as long as there is a consistency of world behavior and the game's interactive systems provide depth of play, even if the world is presented in a stylized manner. Consider the cartoonish and blocky worlds of Mario and Minecraft and how players accept the look of those games without a second thought.
It may help to look at older games to see how developers used art direction to creatively overcome hardware limitations. A skillful artist can suggest details with a few triangles and texels and imply environmental depth with a handful of rough shapes. Simply draping bold shadows over surfaces can describe forms, provide parallax information, and convince a user that she is in a true 3D space.
Another thing to consider is that the more visually realistic a world is the more the user will be distracted by unusual behavior (e.g. AI glitches, collision errors). Even if you take care to prevent such occurrences, you are better off not presenting your world as strictly realistic in the first place. VR is also a potential uncanny valley amplifier. Ultra-realistic yet slightly wrong looking human characters already make some users uncomfortable when viewed on traditional displays. Seeing similar characters at close range in three dimensions is likely to be disturbing. The creation of low-poly, stylized characters sidesteps this issue. VR users are now embracing simplified hand models as well, often preferring them over detailed and specific hands that jar with expectations of a virtual self.
Scenes can be easier to read without extra details and clear outlines make possible interactions obvious. Polygonal edges, contrast, and shading gradients are often enough to draw a user’s gaze to important points within a scene. Users are likely to immediately understand the function of iconic objects with abbreviated forms making items with additional ornamentation unnecessary. Sticking to stylized visuals throughout the development process can also boost the production speed of a project. This is especially important for VR since many prototypes will have to be routinely discarded as teams learn what works best in an uncertain medium.
Consider also that standalone VR headsets are going to have storage similar to mobile devices. Beyond the frame rate and loading issues associated with using high-resolution assets developers will not be able to count on users putting up with large download sizes as with PC VR. Lean applications will have a better chance of being downloaded in the first place and will be less likely to be removed when the user is approaching the storage limit of her device. Another point to think about is that porting an application up from standalone to desktop, while perhaps not trivial, is easier than ripping out content to get a desktop experience running smoothly on a standalone device.
Lastly, hardware companies will keep upping the specifications of displays in VR headsets, including those in standalone devices. Mobile GPUs will surely improve but such improvements may not keep pace with increasing panel resolution and refresh rates. Tablets are now entering the market with the ability to display at 120 frames per second, a feature that will inevitably make its way into standalone VR headsets as companies attempt to positively differentiate their hardware from that of their competitors. Careful asset creation and appropriate art direction will allow developers to make proper use of this hardware and delight early adopters.
Developers are still learning how to make intuitive and enjoyable virtual reality experiences. What is known is that high frame rate is critical for user comfort and stylized art can provide performance benefits. These benefits allow a broader range of hardware to be considered VR-capable, making VR appealing to users who may not be willing to purchase high-end gaming PCs. The use of abbreviated and efficiently renderable assets can also increase production speed of new applications which fosters needed innovation within a nascent medium. Beyond performance and production benefits, the clarity of stripped-down visuals lets users focus on what matters within a virtual space. Navigation and interactive object identification can be made easier for new users who are already tasked with learning unfamiliar VR peripherals. Over time the language of virtual reality will solidify with solutions to interaction and art direction tailored to the medium. Getting there will require experimentation and feedback from as many users as possible. These are exciting times, I can’t wait to see what you make!