On Saturday April the 30th, I went to assist The VR Hackathon hosted by Osmos Academy. For those who wonder what a Hackathon is, it’s an event where people meet to create a program within a short period of time. This Hackathon started at 8:30AM and coding stopped at 8h00PM so teams had a little less than 12 hours to complete this challenge. I arrived at 5h30PM at Wework, a coworking space set downtown Montreal. I wanted to leave teams the time to achieve something interesting before I came in to talk to a few of them.
What is the first thing I noticed when the elevator door opened up to the Wework office? The hot air that took the elevator by storm, no surprise. With over 50 computers that were lit for the past 10 hours, a room full of people giving all they have, it felt like I was entering an oven. With every projects that are being baked at the moments I write those lines ina comfy chair in the middle of the room. The VR Hackathon is part of the VR Campaign by Osmos Academy. Their goal is to bring VR Experience to sick kids in hospitals around the world. They challenge each team to create a VR experience or game from scratch in just one day. Prior to this, teams were able to assist the free workshops that covered Unity development, VR creation and Project Tango. Indeed, each team had access to Project Tango tablets to develop their VR experience. I stumble on the chargin stations on one of the table. The tablet can be used to create environments, use it as VR goggles or to create AR applications. In total, 8 projects were presented for a total of about 50 participants. Adding the partners, the organizers, the volunteers and the casual users of the co-working space, the living room is just boiling with ideas.
After I set my computer up and took a few pictures, I went to see Silex Créations to hear a little more on what they had to say about the OZO Camera. Right before I was able to talk to them, they launched a game prototype they’ve made on the Oculus Rift. François Lanctôt, CEO of Silex Créations, was the one presenting this initiative, made in 2 weeks from a single employee. When he partnered up for the event, he felt Silex Créations should present something related to the VR Hackathon, a game that is aimed at kids. So here it was, a cute little game for kids called Seasons Cat where the player must catch cats that changes the seasons. The ultimate goal is to make challenges and adventure in each seasons so the players, can build a story out of all this. Right after that demo, I had the chance to sit down with François for a little chat.
The OZO camera is a 65k$ piece of hardware. It is composed of 8 cameras, each filming in 2k and 8 microphones to capture 3D sounds. As great as it sounds, François confirmed that using such technology requires a lot of skills, new skills. For example, you can’t rely on regular lightning or using projectors. One of them being that the camera having different angles receive light differently. We will meet again for a deeper look into VR media creation and a dedicated article on the subject.
After our chat, I was able to get some hands on with the HTC Vive for the first time. I really wanted to test it out to see the difference between a PC based headset and the Gear VR. I was in for one hell of a ride. The headset is not as comfortable as the Gear VR mostly due to all the wires you have to deal with, but that is pretty much the only negative point I have to say. Resolution wise, one on your head the image pixels is similar to what I experienced with the Gear VR, but overall graphics are better and more fluid due to the high powered Graphic Card that it requires. Once I was installed in the virtual world, the instructor handed me the Vive’s remote. They were floating right in front of me with pinpoint precision. I just raised my hand and grabbed them naturally even if I could not see my hands. I was now ready for my journey into The Lab. The remotes are really responsive and feel like the extension of your virtual hands.
Both remote are identical and the offer a big track pad in the center, that is also a button, there’s a trigger on the back and two buttons on the side. There is also a Menu button and a System Button above and below the track pad. The Lab game I was able to play only use the track pad button and the trigger buttons. You point and teleport with the track pad button, and you grab objects with the trigger. Picking up object and throwing them is the first thing I tried. Luckily, the small robot dog is there to bring you back your objects. What is really adding to the immersion is the lighthouse technology. Letting you walk around, crouch, look under things, a technology that will surely come in future mobile phones (project Tango can already do it). I found myself lying down on the ground to look under some objects in the scenery. So both the motion controller and the ability to move around works great for VR immersion, but you do need to have the space to do so.
Even though the setup was made for it, many people found themselves hitting the wall more than once. I also found myself hitting a few bugs during the experience, but they were not from the hardware. For example, the game spawned me outside the playing area at some point, forcing me to quit the game and relaunch it. It made me discover the Steam VR interface which works great by the way.
Hitting the last hour before judging time, most participants started to relax a bit, while a few others entered the last sprint to polish anything they have. There were 3 judges, François Lanctôt of Silex Creation, Pierre JR Cliche from Retinad VR, a Montreal VR Startup specialised in analytic and ads distribution, and Étienne Caron, Lead Developer at Shopify and Google Developer Expert. The judging criteria of the project were : Originality, Usefulness, Creativity, Fun Factor and Social Good. We checked out each teams and their achievement and got information on what they developed. While most project will be left as-is by the teams, most are available on GitHub for anyone to take and edit or complete. Some of the projects have great potential so feel free to share them around to people who would like to give a hand or to raise your own development skills.
Space Kitties : GitHub https://github.com/jackquack/Space-Kitties
The game is inspired by Slither.io, a 2D multiplayer snake game where you grow bigger by eating and avoiding other snakes. Space Kitties put you in control of a space cat, freely flying in space eating fish. All fish eaten extends the cat’s tail. While the game is VR ready, it does not offer anything more at the current state.
Glitch 3D :
When Naoto Hieda started scanning environment with Project Tango in the mall below WeWork, he was asked to stop. He put the tablet in his pocket and went back up. The tablet kept scanning and he stumbled on his first bug. He spent the rest of the day trying to find Project Tango’s bugs and make some artistic impressions with it like Pepper`s Ghost (enclosed picture). It’s not Naoto’s first artistic project using technology, you can see his work at : http://naotohieda.com/ and most precisely what he has done at the VR Hackathon: http://devpost.com/software/glitch-3d
Christmas Snack VR : https://github.com/sphereplay/christmas-snack
The team behind this game are the only one who used the Project Tango capabilities as a VR headset. The game puts the player inside a virtual room where they have to find hidden snacks hidden around the room. Walk around, crouch to look under furniture, and stare at the found snacks, no other input is required as it works with the motion tracking of the Tango tablet. Make sure to make room around you not to trip on any objects.
Wheelchair Simulator : APK for Cardboard
This experiment was made to raise empathy by putting players in a virtual wheelchair. Once you are inside the game, you control you character with both analog sticks (controller required). Each analog stick controls a wheel, simple but effective. The idea was also brought to use an actual jacked up wheelchair with sensors on each wheel. The wheelchair would become the controller, but at that point I think you should just use the chair without the VR.
Tango Sculpt *Winner*: https://github.com/geoffsalmon/tangosculpt
This one man project used the Project Tango AR capabilities to create a small sculpting tool. The user just have to find a flat spot and tap on the screen to set the anchor point. From there a set of cubes appears and you can remove and add them with your finger. You can go all around using the tablet and do 3d sculpting. While it offered limited functionality and predefined space, judges saw a great potential in it. For kids, this offers an easy way to do artistic activities anywhere and easily.
Space Shooter VR : https://github.com/Ihcenech/Papitos
Seated in the cockpit of a space craft, you could look around to see meteors pass by and hit the ship. That was pretty much it, but it was a nice try for this team. They also integrated Jurassic Park theme music in it. That was kind of ironic, but it was nice to listen to it while watching all around.
The second projects that used Project Tango’s AR functions to create a new programming language in AR. The concept is using 3D space and objects to put blocs of codes and link them to create your program. If you take in consideration the different cognitive types, this could help a lot of people understand programming using 3D environment. At that point, it only supported Print() and Loop() functionality, but with development it could do a lot more.
Graffity was the only project that was developed in consideration of players with motor deficiencies. They made a shooter where you throw paint at things. You aim with your head and shoot with your voice. The game was sound activated so the players went “Piou, Piou!” to shoot. It was fun to watch.
After deliberating, it seems that the two projects that retains attentions was Blocks and Tango Sculpt. While Christmas Snacks was one of my favorite, it required the player to be fully mobile. Knowing the games were aimed at kids that could have motor deficiencies, that might have played against them. Blocks on the other hand offered too little functions and while the concept seemed to interest the judges, the executions did not. Tango Sculpt proved it could be fun, accessible, and original enough to be crowned as the Winner. Even Geoff Salmon, the man behind the app, was surprised. His app did crash earlier when he showed me, but that is just between him and me. He won himself a Project Tango tablet and the ability to use Silex Créations cameras for any project.
I had a great time, thanks again to Gisele Ishema-Karekezi and Hannah Cohen for this event.
Until next time, keep your VR on.