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virtual reality


The Mistakes We Made While Making Our VR Experience

This is not an easy article to write because as a content creator I constantly try to focus on the positive. However, at a business skills boot camp organized by the TMZ at Ryerson University I was encouraged to write down the top 5 mistakes we made while making Circuit Rider. This was just an exercise, but I turned into an article.

After jotting these down in a rapid brainstorming session, my initial hesitation dissipated as I realized all the things that I would do differently the next time around.

It is important to note that the following mistakes are by no means a reflection of the quality of the team that worked on the project, but rather an opinion of what I feel we could have been done differently to yield a better final result.
  1. Too much time spent on writing the script and not enough time building and testing what works and what doesn’t.

As we had a solid idea for the project, but we spent a lot of time refining the script where we could have used that time building the mechanics and design of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like have the script was incredibly important but we should have spent way less time writing it and more time working out ideas as we built.

2. Working with team members weren’t engaged in the project and rather than letting them go when this went noticed, they ultimately left the project at a crucial time and which compounded the work for the rest of the team.

This is a tough one and firing people is never easy, but my advice here is that if you notice this type of behavior then you need to get rid of those individuals as soon as possible. When people behave like this, it’s because they are not interested in the work enough to give you the dedication that is needed to finish it. It’s therefore better for both parties to separate as soon as you notice this, so you don’t get saddled with a ton more work that you already have on your plate.

3. Everyone on the team didn’t have the necessary skills to build the project.

What happens when 20% of the team have the skills to put together the project, it puts a lot of pressure on those individual to complete it. If something happens and they don’t have time for the project, it can throw the whole thing in disarray. I would argue that everyone should be building assets and everyone should be involved in the programming. If you don’t have this scenario on your team, then the team lead should be responsible for the coding because it will fall on them to finish it if something happens. I say this because I was the team lead on Circuit Rider.

4.Not having everyone on the same page about what the final product would be.

This is a big one as some people wanted it just to be a demo and some wanted it to be a polished experience. It caused a bit of tension between the who quality vs deadline debate when the issue of the deadline came up. On this everyone needs to be on the same page or it simply doesn’t work.

5.Having a bigger team doesn’t necessarily mean more productivity.

On Circuit Rider we had six people, but the bulk of the work was done by a little more than half. I think we could have either done with less people or had people take on more work. If they couldn’t take on more work than get rid of them. It may sound harsh but if you want to produce something amazing, you need to work with only the most dedicated people you can.

In closing, I think whole team of Circuit Rider did an amazing job and I am very proud of the final product. That said, sometimes it is good to reflect on the things you felt went wrong so you can look back and be reminded of all the things that went right.

Circuit Rider will be showcased in Los Angeles at VRLA from April 14th-15th, 2017. It has also been submitted to Kaleidoscope VR Showcase Vol. 3 as well as the Oculus Rift store.



Using Rapid Prototyping to Develop and Sustain my Career in VR

Since April 2015 I have completed three VR projects. Each of these experiences were major technical challenges and therefore unique in their own right. However, the commonality they share is that they were each collaborations with developers that I partnered with in order to make them happen and without them these projects frankly wouldn’t have happened.

Three projects is quite the accomplishment and something I’m very proud of, but through this journey I’ve also realized that if I want to make more I need to be more involved in the process of putting them together in the game engine. This is the technical hurdle for every VR creator who wants to make their experience interactive.

Given the past success, why do I have this need? Well, I still haven’t found the right partners who want to commit all their time to developing content and building the Cinehackers brand with me. As a result, I’ve become reliant on these temporary partnerships that seem to dissolve after the project is done.

This model is hard to sustain and I do understand that to engage people for longer periods, I need to find ways to monetize the work and have been thinking a lot about how to kick start this initiative.

The idea that I’ve landed on is that I need to do more rapid prototyping, very similar to what I engaged in at The School of Machines, Making, and Make Believe this past August in Berlin. That’s how I developed The Key. I had a firm deadline and worked like hell to make it happen.

So here’s the plan, I spend one day developing the idea, one month capturing the assets, and one month putting them in the engine. The other important component is to share my process and I’m in the midst of setting up a Patreonaccount to facilitate this.

If this idea is successful and people see monetarily value in the work that I’m producing, I can then bring in more skilled people to work with me.

So here we go and I can’t wait to share what I make!



How We Cracked Our VR Experience

Screenshot from Prototype of Circuit Rider

Screenshot from Prototype of Circuit Rider

This article might feel a bit premature as we are right in the middle of crunch time for our VR project Circuit Rider and there are still a million things that need to be done, but on the other hand it might be the perfect time to write this.

A couple of days ago I had a meeting with one of our programmers, David Wyand about the state of the portion of the game he was working on. Since starting the experience at the end of October, we’ve had countless of conversations about what Circuit Rider will feel like and how much fun it would actually be to play.

The problem with making it fun hinges around the fact that the experience is actually two games in one. Essentially while the viewer is playing Circuit Rider they get hacked out to another level where they discover something much darker and mysterious is happening. To uncover this mystery, they must unlock memories by uncovering objects that are littered out in the level. That essentially means that we are trying to build two different games in one experience and in some way tie them together so that it feels cohesive.

Even though the team and I had spent a lot of time hammering out the script, something still felt off about the Circuit Rider portion of the experience. It felt boring, disconnected, and ultimately wasn’t fun. I’m using the word fun here a lot because the initial idea from Ayal Senior was that the viewer was addicted to playing Circuit Rider. Therefore, we couldn’t just tell the player that they were feeling this, we had to find a way to make this in the game so the viewer actually feels it.

Thus, up to this last conversation there was still a disconnect. We talked about making the game more challenging, but then we needed to teach the viewer how to play it and we didn’t think that had enough time or resources to do that. Also, we didn’t know for sure if that would even solve the problem if we put the remaining time into developing that mechanic.

What we eventually came around to is the fact that as you are moving down the track, and killing drones, you are supposed to be “lighting up the circuit” and thus making the AI of Circuit Rider more intelligent. We cast a terrific voice actor named Ed Robinson for the voice of the AI and it was important that the viewer hear those lines and not be completely distracted by game play. Because we had spent so much time talking about how to make the game fun, we actually forgot the actual point of the narrative was to hear the AI in order to connect the experience to the puzzle game.

This was a genuine eureka moment for us as we took a hard look at what we making and realized the audience for the game would be people who are looking for a narrative experience, and not a shooter game. Thus, we changed the game mechanics immediately to put the narrative as the focus. In play testing the experience yesterday, I could finally see and feel something that I hadn’t felt in the past few months. Cohesiveness, fun, and synergy.

I have learned from making Circuit Rider that knowing who your audience is plays a major role in what you develop. Coming from a film making background I’ve always wanted to infuse a story into our gaming experiences, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to balance. The takeaway here is to be honest and truthful about what you are making and ultimately who you are making it for. This helped us crack our VR game and I’m sure if you follow this advice while in development, it can help you develop something that works with your goals as well.