A game a minute!

I returned last week from Berlin where I was volunteering at A MAZE 2016. Luckily my shifts all took place in the late evening so I was able to see and play plenty of the games. They were all excellent with Lieve Oma being one that really affected me. Camp Cult exhibited a small collection of strange experiences that left me inspired to create.

Now that I am back and free of coursework I have found myself experimenting with tiny ideas I have accrued over the past year and not found the time to begin realising. The first is Big Feet a probably virtual reality game in which the player must avoid stepping on the tiny inhabitants of various locations while making their way to a goal. It was inspired by this scene in Zootopia which is so full of life and motion. The Voices of VR podcast, which I highly recommend you listen to, talks often about how in virtual reality the few feet in front of the user is the sweet spot. Big Feet would have you primarily looking down so in theory content would always be in that near field vision, I can see it causing a little neck strain over time though.

I ordered a google cardboard from amazon for a very reasonable price and tested out a few of the free applications using my iPhone 5. It surprised me how well they worked, Vanguard V uses a very simple gaze based third person control scheme which is probably the most effective I have experienced so far for a game with motion outside of rotation. Ideally for big feet the game would actually track the player’s feet as input. In the world of Mobile VR positional tracking is somewhat of a holy grail  but developers have used augmented reality techniques like marker tracking to receive positional information. I looked into several approaches and after a few tries implemented the Vuforia demo in Unity.

Vuforia uses complex images as tracking markers as opposed to the usual black and white grids usually associated with AR. This allows the marker to be partially occluded while still tracking effectively. So I printed out a couple of markers and attached them to my feet. It worked… but only if I was crouched down pointing the cardboard at the ground. I tried walking around on my knees with two AR spatulas as pseudo-feet and it worked fairly well. Unfortunately the field of view the Vuforia render outputs is tiny and while trying to solve this I broke the plugin completely.

Working in VR is fascinating though and mobile VR in particular is such an unexplored space that everything feels fresh and exciting. I imagine it was the same for Arcade developers when they moved to PC. Suddenly you have this new dimension of input and output that did not exist previously at such a low barrier of entry. The install base currently is very small but I am sure it will pick up quickly and soon everyone will have some kind of Mixed Reality device in their home ready to strap to their face. I really need to buy some foam to put in my cardboard’s nose hole because every time I take it off I look like I’ve been wearing swimming goggles.

I want to return to big feet once I have access to an HTC Vive as it has room scale technology with extremely precise positional tracking for your head and two controllers. I would obviously strap the controller to the player’s feet so they can stomp around delicately. I actually came across this demo that demonstrates pretty much what I want to make so I am fairly content for now. After the rapid development and undevelopment of big feet my mind buzzed with ideas: a two player board game using an AR marker between the players to position the board, a party game in which everyone is an ancient being whose only ability is looking around and lasering creeps as they pour out of the other beings toes, a solo lego experience. It really felt like I was creating a game a minute in my head, it’s safe to say I dreamed of VR that night.

If you dream of vr or have solved foot tracking or just want to talk, I’d love to: @jctwood.

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