Second Home, Parsons BFA DT Thesis 2 Project
Second Home is a VR game showcasing a virtual environment that I have created, modelled after Waverly Place and Gay Street in West Village. The experience is personal and is my method of preserving my memories and perception of the short time I’ve lived in the city for college.
In the game, users will explore and find objects that I've created and scattered around the environment. There will be full spatial audio, easter eggs, fully interactive objects and animated NPCs.
Designed to be showed at the Parsons BFA DT Senior Show May 14-17th 2019.
I began by brainstorming ideas for my project -first around the topic that I wanted to focus on; then honing in on the kind of game / experience I wanted users to have. I looked into VR and some topics I wanted to explore further -
1.1 UX/ UI in VR games/ experiences, look at what google is doing
Issues & Challenges, solutions in VR - screen pixels low, UI unreadable. Accessibility issues because of price, etc..
Immersion in VR, how to craft an immersive environment.
1.2 VR industry & current news - new tech, higher specs, better equipment
Industry split - entertainment vs games vs “real life applications” for VR to be used in consumer space and enterprises.
1.3 VR mechanics & how to maximize the experience - look up spatial audio, research dizziness & identify potential issues/ fixing/ improving.
The relationship between low poly and immersion
Research art styles of other low poly projects / games
In general, look up some nice projects that I appreciate, identify good points and what I could use in my own project too.
In game -
Shaders & how it might help the project
Spatial audio and how to optimize the game with VR.
How to create parallax in VR (3D)
Afterwards, I wrote down some project ideas that I was passionate about just off the top of my head and rated how excited I was to complete these projects -
I would like to explore how to create game feel by gameplay elements such as UI, models, sound, environment, visual effects.
Build NYC (create game feel) Different areas, UI, Models, sound, environment, interactions, visual effects (take the subway!) Recreate a few chunk of NYC with different areas; each producing a different feel to the player. Investigate how to create different moods - e.g. Industrial (east village), financial (financial area), green & overgrown (west village) Excitement: 10/10
Build several game maps with models and animations based on drastically different sets. Jungle, Tundra, city. Excitement: 7/10
Build one single immersive world with very polished game feel - (e.g. space station that is dockable on 1 or 2 planets). Excitement: 6/10
I ended up with a tie between a game project and an e commerce project, and ended up choosing the game project to pursue in school while pursing e-commerce on the side.
My thesis explores the creation of a virtual reality environment from the map modelling, to the animation, audio and interaction. I wanted to create an experience that would capture my experience living in the city, as memories inside the VR experience for other people/ myself to experience later going back. In a way it explores VR worldbuilding and ways to convey memory / familiarity. There will be full spatial audio, easter eggs, fully interactive objects and animated NPCs.
This thesis project is an accumulation of what I’ve learnt in my years in the DT program at Parsons, so I feel like it’s best to do it in the style I do best and have done in the past. With the 3D modelling and the worldbuilding, it will show future employers that I have the skill and discipline to build fully realized environments. Different aspects and details in the project will be fine tuned until they are polished.
This project is a summary of my experience these four years in game design, skills that I’ve learnt with Unity and skills in game design.
After deciding on the project specifications, I decided to narrow my project context to further hone in onto what I can complete for the thesis exhibition, which will be in a timeline of around 4 months. My thesis question is -
How might I create a VR simulation in the context of capturing NYC in my style and memories? My contribution is asset creation & world building for VR.
I began by blocking out my map in Unity and deciding how many streets I would model, which exact parts I would model. I then put various street assets on the sidewalks to increase likeness to real life NYC. Then, I began adding modelling windows, doors, other small assets in Maya, texturing and importing them into Unity.
I created a basic production timeline after determining that the project is taking more time than I thought it would - originally intending two districts with a financial district to go along with the West Village district. Unfortunately, I most likely won’t have time to complete two parts of the city. This project isn’t overly technical, but it takes time to create a big map with fully realized NPCs.
These are some renders I started off with at the beginning of the project process to determine the level of detail I want to portray in the experience. These assets aren’t particularly stylized since when I modeled them I wanted to experiment to see if they fit my VR experience.
Environment and Immersion
The environment is still relatively clean and not too immersive with the lack of movement, sound, and people. Adding people and making them feel like an organic part of the experience will be a big part in getting the immersion up. From minimally viable playtests I’ve done so far I’ve also gathered that the spatial audio track I put in as a temp makes a big difference as far as how people look/ go around.
Precedents and Inspirations
Some inspirations I had in mind when creating the project was an interaction style similar to job simulator; the nonsensical playfulness with objects I wanted to replicate and have polished in my experience. I also took inspiration from the art style of likely heroes, and low poly models similar to Rec Room.
From looking at art styles and inspirations, I decided that my graphics and models will not and should not interfere with gameplay in my experience.
Show Display & WIP
So far, the experience is built for the headset, and I’m working hard on the environment and the optimization to get the experience to run smooth with no frame drops. Pictured above in the video is Unity ambient occlusion at work. Although it helps a bit with the lag, the experience is very unstable when the lighting is baked since not all small assets are flattened.
Playtests & Steps moving forward 2/20
Users expressed fondness & enjoyment of the environment, assets and spatial audio.
Users seem unsure of the objective at the beginning, but within 3 mins seem to find the objective and complete it ASAP. However, once the user notices that theres an object, their attention exclusively turns towards completing that objective & looking downwards the whole time.
Users express concern that there’s a lack of incentive to continue after collecting all the photos.
Steps moving forward
Animate models, pigeons, people
Make gameplay more interesting & varied for user retention.
3/11 Update: Getting ready for midterms
Working hard on finishing the map
Downloading a few plugins and asset packages to make VR interaction easier.
Started using Probuilder to build simple assets, modify assets, and quick texture.
3/11 Midterm Presentations
Playtested, sadly the PC couldn’t run the game in class, so I was critiqued on game concept and how it looks now.
Pretty positive comments compared to the previous few pitches, comments and concerns about showing the game in the expo.
During the presentation I explained the concept behind the game more clearly, that you collect pieces (that I’ve hidden) to put inside a scrapbook.
Concept is solidified at this point, I just have to spend the remainder of the time building it.
Trying the game on Oculus Go was suggested, could borrow one to try it out. (No cables + uses a single oculus remote)
Accessibility issues raised about the game and difficulties during the exhibitions with setting up the headset and talking to people about the game.
It was suggested that I get a friend to help people set up and take off the headset while I explain concepts.
3/13 - got bored of modelling and made a cam walkthrough showcasing what I have so far. :)
Some objects still buggy
Planters fall all over the place
Econocades also are scattered
Add more animated objects
Figure out what to do with the outer bounds (maybe put an empty collider to prevent players from going out of bounds, and putting some flattened assets far away so it feels more like the city.
3/29 - Working on adding animation and interaction to objects. Recording and editing sounds, talking to people and getting feedback on the game.
Added animation and sound to traffic lights - pedestrian lights.
Did more research into VRTK interaction with various objects in their sample scenes.
Started to make certain objects interactable.
4/8 - Updating and animating, testing VR interactions in separate scene. Starting to think about ways to display the menu intuitively.
Problems to solve in the menu: Displaying an array of 2D (photos) and 3D objects (odd objects keys, bottles etc). Displaying these objects in a openable and closable menu. I wanted to make the menu as a scrapbook, how to display 3D objects in a scrapbook in VR? Object snapping in pre allocated areas in the scrapbook? Size? How to open the scrapbook? Should it be mounted on the wrist for easy tracking and reading?
Can think about displaying these objects in a space (maybe creating my apartment as a space) instead of a scrap book.
4/12 - Finalizing tasks and planning for the next 3 weeks
I’ve been putting game assets together for the past few months and have been/will be consolidating them intensively for the next three weeks. At the end of every week, I will playtest my game with different people.
Weekend of April 12 -
Finish modelling all collectable objects (15 total, 6 to go)
Week of April 14 -
Create simple menu with levitating interactable objects that can be cycled through. (Total 15 items)
Finish animating pigeons and fix spawner for delivery bikes.
Fix pedestrian light audio.
Ask friends / start recording audios. (nyc overheard things)
Playtest and fix
Week of April 21 -
Set up draw call batching / LOD for run time optimization. Optimise game.
Set up interactive objects in main scene.
Put collectable objects in scene, code collection (outline shader)
Set up reflection probes and fix lighting.
**Optional, if extra time, Model some lo-fi cars for scene (parked), NYC taxi, animate and spawn.
Playtest and fix
Week of April 28 -
Polish, polish, polish. Optimise game.
Create menu loading scene
**Optional, if extra time, Model my apartment so players can visit. Collected items will pop up in my apartment as players collect it.
Prepare for presentation
Playtest, fix, get ready, export.
Week of May 5 - Presentation and Critiques
4/15 - Playtests
User testing for minimally interactable project - with working player and minimally animated assets - pedestrian light and some NPCs. Also tested a new scene that’s the inside of my apartment. My friend reacted positively to the apartment scene, I just need to work on the interactions a bit.
4/26 - Progress on Room, lighting updates. Creating interactive room.
Cementing my apartment into history!!! forever!!
5/16 - Showing at Digital Daze, BFA DT Thesis Show! (more videos coming soon)
Video update on the aesthetics and a closer feature on the indoor environment.