vr


Making Movies – Flying around in Unity3d

Yes, ok, my latest obsession of writing #Reconfigure might make a greta TV series or Movie but that’s not what this is about. Instead it is about another set of skills I seem to be putting into practice.
Before the I spent a day editing up the school end of year video. I didn’t shoot it, but I did use al the various messing around and comedy moments from the teachers and staff to put a montage together. It had a story, some pace, a step change or two. It was great fun. I have now been asked to edit a few more things together. I like editing moving images, it is fun. Though I am not charging for this is just to help people out.
At the same time I am in the middle of a little project to try and jazz up a regular presentation in the corporate space. I demoed a little virtual fly through a building, past a couple of characters and onto an image using Unity3d. It turned into a slightly more complex epic but non the less I am using lots of varied skills to make it work. The pitch will be pre canned but I have built the Unity environment so that it runs on rails, but live. I have c# code in there to help do certain things like play video textures, animation controllers and even NavMesh agents to allow a character to walk around to a particular room and lots of flying cameras. I had used the first few things a lot. It is stock Unity. However I had not really had a chance to use Unity animations. All my animations had been either remade FBX files or ones that I created in Cheetah3D. Once you imported an animation like that it was then sort of locked in place.
However, Unity3d has its own animation dope and curve sheets, and its really handy.
The animation Tab brings a different timeline. It is different to the Animation Controller screen that lets you string animation together and create transitions. e.g. jump or run from a walk.
The animation tab lets you select an object in the scene and create a .anim for you. It then by default adds that anim to an animation controller and adds that to the object.
Unity3d Animation Timeline
The record mode then allows you to expand any or all of the properties of the object, usually transform position and rotation, but it can be colour, visibility, basically anything with a parameter. If you move the timeline and then move the object, like a camera for instance, it creates the key frames for the changed parameters. It removes any of the awkward importing of paths and animation ideas from another tool. It is not great for figures and people. They are still best imported as skinned meshes with skeletons and let the import deal with all the complexity so you can add any stock animations to them. Whoever for a cut scene, or zoom past to see a screen on a wall it works really well.
I have written a lot of complicated things in Unity3d, but never bothered using this part. It is great to find it working, and doing exactly what I needed it to do for my cinematic cut scenes.
You can have things zooming and spinning around a known path in no time. You have to break it down a little otherwise it resolves the easiest path through a wall or something, but it seems very robust to edit it afterwards.
The only pity is that its not possible to lock a camera preview window open in stock Unity3d when selecting another object. Having got a camera pan just right its trick if you was to move an object in the camera view. With camera selected you see it’s preview, with the object selected you see it. Never got around that yet, just end up with trial and error.
No matter, it works, and its awesomely useful.

Return of the camp fire – Blended Reality/Mixed Reality

Back in 2006 when we all got into in the previous wave of Virtual Reality (note the use of previous not 1st) and we tended to call them virtual worlds or the metaverse we were restricted to online presence via a small rectangular screen attached to a keyboard. Places like Second Life become the worlds that attracted the pioneers, explorers and the curious.
Several times recently I have been having conversations, comments, tweets etc about the rise of the VR headsets Oculus Rift et al, AR phone holders like Google Cardboard, MergeVR and then the mixed reality future of Microsoft Hololens, and Google Magic Leap.
In all the Second Life interactions and subsequent environments it has always really been about people. The tech industry has a habit of focusing on the version number, or a piece of hardware though. The headsets are an example of that. There may be inherent user experiences to consider but they are more insular in their nature. The VR headset forces you to look at a screen. It provides extra inputs to save you using mouse look etc. Essentially though it is an insular hardware idea that attempts to place you into a virtual world.
All out previous virtual world exploration has been powered by the social interaction with others. Social may mean educational, may mean work meetings or may mean entertainment or just chatting. However it was social.
Those of us who took to this felt as we looked at the screen we were engaged and part of the world. Those who did not get what we were doing only saw funny graphics on the screen. They did not make that small jump in understanding. There is nothing wrong with that, but that is essential what we were all trying to get people to understand. A VR headset provides a direct feed to the eyes. It forces that leap into the virtual, or at least brings it a little closer. Then ready to engage with people. Though at the moment all the VR is engaging with content. It is still in showing off mode.
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We would sit around campfires in Second Life. In particular Timeless Prototype’s very clever looking one that adds seats/logs per person/avatar arriving. Shared focal points of conversation. People gathering looking at a screen in front of them but being there mentally. The screen providing all the cues and hints to enhance that feeling. A very real human connection. Richer than a telephone call, less scary than a video conference, intimate yet stand offish enough to meet most peoples requirements if they gave it a go.
It is not such a weird concept as many people get lost in books, films and TV shows. They may be immersed as a viewer not a participant or they may be empathising with characters. They are still looking at an oblong screen or piece of paper and engaged.
With a VR headset, as I just mentioned, that is more forced. They will understand the campfire that much quicker and see the people and the interaction. There is less abstraction to deal with.
The rise of the blended and mixed reality headset though change that dynamic completely. Instead they use the physical world, one that people already understand and are already in. The campfire comes to you. Wherever you are.
This leads to a very different mental leap. You can have three people sat around the virtual campfire in their actual chairs in an actual room. The campfire is of course replaceable with any concept, piece of information, simulated training experience. Those people each have their own view of the world and of one another but its added to with a new perspective, they see the side of the campfire they would expect.
It goes further though, there is no reason for the campfire not to coexist is several physical spaces. I have my view of the campfire from my office, you from yours. We can even have a view of one another as avatars placed into our physical worlds, or not. It’s optional.
When just keeping with that physical blended model it is very simple for anyone to understand and start to believe. Sat in a space with one another sharing an experience, like a campfire is a very human very obvious one. For many that is where this will sort of end. Just run of the mill information, enhanced views, cut away engineering diagrams, point of view understanding etc.
The thing to consider, for those who already grok the VW concept is that just as in Second Life you can move your camera around, see things from any point of view, for the other persons point, from a birds eye view, from close in or far away, the mixed reality headsets will still allow us to do that. I could alter my view to see what you are seeing on the other side of the camp fire. That is the star of something much more revolutionary to consider whilst everyone catches up the fact that this is all about people not just insular experiences.
This is the real metaverse, a blend of everything anywhere and everywhere. Connecting us as people, our thoughts dreams and ideas. There are huge possibilities to explore and more people will once that little hurdle is jumped to understand it’s people, its always been about people.

Microsoft Minecraft, Space and Semantic Paint

It is interesting looking, spotting, patterns and trends and extrapolating the future. Sometimes things come in and get focus because they are mentioned a lot on multiple channels and sometimes those things converge. Right at the moment it seems that Microsoft are doing all the right things in the emerging tech space, game technology and general interest space.
Firstly has been the move my Microsoft to make Minecraft even easier to use in schools.

They are of course following on and officially backing the sort of approach the community has already taken. However a major endorsement and drive to use things like Minecraft in education is fantastic news. The site is education.minecraft.net
And just to resort to type again, this is, as the video says, not about goofing around in a video game. This is about learning maths, history, how to communicate online. These are real metaverse tools that enable rich immersive opportunities, on a platform that kids already know and love. Why provide them with a not very exciting online maths test when they can use multiple skills in an online environment together?
Microsoft have also supported the high end sciences. Announcing teaming up with NASA to use the blended/mixed/augmented reality headset Hololens to help in the exploration of Mars. This is using shared experience telepresence. Bringing mars to the room, desk, wall that several people are sharing in a physical space. The Hololens and the next wave of AR are looking very exciting and very importantly they have an inclusion approach to the content. Admittedly each person needs a headset, but using the physical space each person can see the same relative view of the data and experience as the rest of the people. The don’t have to of course :), there is not reason for screens not to show different things in context for each user. However standard VR is in immersed experience without much awareness of others. A very important point I feel.
Microsoft have also published a paper and video about using depth scanning and live understanding and labelling of real world objects. Something that things like Google Tango will be approaching.
Slightly better than my 2008 attempt (had to re-use this picture again of the Nokia N95)
Hackday5 Augmented Reality step 2


The real and virtual are becoming completely linked now. Showing how the physical universe is actually another plane alongside all the other virtual and contextual metaverses.
It is all linked and not about isolation, but understanding and sharing of information, stories and facts.

Untethering Humans, goodbye screens

We are on the cusp of a huge change in how we as humans interact with one another, with the world and with the things we create for one another. A bold statement, but one that stands up, I believe, by following some historical developments in technology and social and work related change.
The change involves all the great terms, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Blended Reality and the metaverse. It is a change that has a major feature, one of untethering, or unshackling us as human beings from a fixed place or a fixed view of the world.

Hovering
Here I am being untethered from the world in a freefall parachute experience, whilst also being on TV 🙂

All the great revolutions in human endeavour have involved either transporting us via our imagination to another place or concept, books, film, plays etc. or transporting us physically to another place, the wheel, steam trains, flight. Even modern telecommunications fit into that bracket. The telephone or the video link transport us to a shared virtual place with other people.

Virtual worlds are, as I may have mentioned a few times before, ways to enhance the experience of humans interacting with other humans and with interesting concepts and ideas. That experience, up to know has been a tethered one. We have evolved the last few decades becoming reliant on rectangular screens. Windows on the world, showing us text, images, video and virtual environments. Those screens have in evolved. We had large bulky cathode ray tubes, LED, Plasma, OLED and various flat wall projectors. The screens have always remained a frame, a fixed size tethering us to a more tunnel vision version. The screen is a funnel through which elements are directed at us. We started to the untethering process with wi-fi and mobile communications. Laptops, tablets and smartphones gave us the ability to take that funnel, a focused view of a world with us.

More recent developments have led to the VR headsets. An attempt to provide an experience that completely immerses us by providing a single screen for each eye. It is a specific medium for many yet to be invented experiences. It does though tether us further. It removes the world. That is not to say the Oculus Rift, Morpheus and HTC Vive are not important steps but they are half the story of untethering the human race. Forget the bulk and the weight, we are good at making things smaller and lighter as we have seen with the mobile telephone. The pure injection of something into our eyes and eyes via a blinkering system feels, and is, more tethering. It is good at the second affordance of transporting is to places with others, and it is where virtual world and the VR headsets naturally and obviously co-exist.

The real revolution comes from full blended reality and realities. That plural is important. We have had magic lens and magic mirror Augmented Reality for a while. Marker based and markerless ways to use one of these screens that we carry around or have fixed in out living rooms to show us digital representations of things places in out environment. They are always fun. However they are almost always just another screen in our screens. Being able to see feel and hear things in our physical environment wherever we are in the world and have them form part of that environment truly untethers us.
Augmented Reality is not new of course. We, as in the tech community, has been tinkering with it for years. Even this mini example on my old Nokia N95 back in 2008 starts to hint at the direction of travel.

Hackday5 Augmented Reality step 2

The devices used to do this are obviously starting at a basic level. Though we have the AR headsets of Microsoft Hololens, Google’s Magic Leap to start pushing the boundaries. They will not be the final result of this massive change. With an internet of things world, with the physical world instrumented and producing data, with large cloud servers offering compute power at the end of an wireless connection to analyse that data and to be able to visualize and interact with things in our physical environment we have a lot to discover and to explore.

I mentioned realities, not just reality. There is no reason to only have augmentation into a physical world. After all if you are immersed in a game environment or a virtual world you may actually choose, because you can, to shut out the world, to draw the digital curtains and explore. However, just as when you are engaged in any activity anywhere, things come to you in context. You need to be able to interact with other environments from which ever one you happen to be in.

Take an example, using Microsoft Hololens, Minecraft and Skype. In todays world you would have minecraft on you laptop/console/phone be digging around, building sharing the space with others. Skype call comes in from someone you want to talk to. You window away from Minecraft and focus on Skype. It is all very tethered. In a blended reality, as Hololens has shown you can have Minecraft on the rug in front of you and skype hanging on the wall next to the real clock. Things and data placed in the physical environment in a way that works for you and for them. However you may want to be more totally immersed in Minecraft and go full VR. If something can make a small hole in the real world for the experience, then it can surely make an all encompassing hole, thus providing you with only Minecraft. Yet, if it can place Skype on your real wall, then it can now place it on your virtual walls and bring that along with you.
This is very much a combination that is going to happen. It is not binary to be either in VR or not, in AR or not. It is either, both or neither.

It is noticeable that Facebook, who bought heavily into Oculus Rift have purchased Surreal Vision last month who specialize in using instrumentation and scanning kit to make sense of the physical world and place digital data in that world. Up until now Oculus Rift, which has really led the VR charge since its kickstarter (yes I backed that one!) has been focussed on the blinkered version of VR. This purchase shows the intent to go for a blended approach. Obviously this is needed as otherwise Magic Leap and Hololens will quickly eat into the Rifts place in the world.
So three of the worlds largest companies, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have significant plays in blended reality and the “face race” as it is sometimes called to get headsets on us. Sony have Project Morpheus which is generally just VR, yet Sony have had AR applications for many years with PS Move.
Here is Predlet 2.0 enjoying the AR Eyepet experience back in 2010 (yes five years ago !)

So here it is. We are getting increasingly more accurate ways to map the world into data, we have world producing IOT data streams, we have ever increasing ubiquitous networks and we have devices that know where they are, what direction they are facing. We have high power backend servers that can make sense of our speech and of context. On top of that we have free roaming devices to feed and overlay information to us, yes a little bit bulky and clunky but that will change. We are almost completely untethered. Wherever we are we can experience whatever we need or want, we can, in the future blend that with more than one experience. We can introduce others to our point of view or keep our point of view private. We can fully immerse or just augment, or augment our full immersion. WE can also make the virtual real with 3d printing!
That is truly exciting and amazing isn’t it?
It makes this sort of thing in Second Life seem an age away, but it is the underpinning for me and many others. Even in this old picture of the initial Wimbledon build in 2006 there is a cube hovering at the back. It is one of Jessica Qin’s virtual world virtual reality cubes.
Wimbledon 06 magic carpet
That cube and other things like it provided an inspiration for this sort of multiple level augmentation of reality. It was constrained by the tethered screen but was, and still is, remarkable influential.
Jessica Qin Holocube
Here my Second Life avatar, so my view of a virtual world is inside 3d effect that provides a view, a curved 3d view not just a picture, or something else. It is like the avatar is wearing a virtual Oculus rift it that helps get the idea across.
This is from 2008 by way of a quick example of the fact even then it could work.

So lets get blending then 🙂

VR – Everything old is new again – good!

It is important when getting interested and excited about new things to look at its lineage. Something I often did in my series of articles over the years in Flush Magazine
So with the current rush of Virtual Reality gaming and experiences and the slew of new kit we have some very interesting near off the shelf kit such as this.
*warning it contains violence (see where I am on that here)

However, back in the 90’s we had VR kit like Virtuality (they must be kicking themselves for be too early for the masses. Though thats a curse us early adopters and evangelists have to live with 🙂

The headsets were quite heavy and the container you stood or sat in was not a treadmill but part of the sensing rig.
The graphics may look old fashioned and clunky but they were good experiences. When I was at poly/uni in Leicester getting ready to do a year out this was the company I wanted to go and work for if I had a chance too. They sent to me IBM instead. Though as you can see from the Virtuality company details they had very close ties with IBM. So it was close 🙂 It i also funny how things work out.
Still, it is very cool having all these headset sat around me and some that just work on my portable communication device too 🙂

Over 15 years experience in Virtual Worlds, 30+ in tech – What now?

A few days ago I realised it has been over 9 years since I first publicly blogged about how important I thought the principles of the metaverse and virtual worlds were going to be for both social and business uses. This post, pictured below for completeness was a tipping point for some radical changes in many of our lives as part of Eightbar.
Second Life first post
I had been working to that sort of point of understanding though since some very early work with virtual environments and how people get to interact with one another in them around 1999/2000 with SmartVR trying to keep the social bond in our internal web and multi media design group together when we were cast asunder to different locations by business pressures (or bad decisions who knows!). I knew we had to have a sense of one another existence aside from text in emails and instant messages. So we tried to build a merged version of both offices as if they were in one place. The aim to then instrument those with presence and the ability to walk over to someone’s desk and talk. Mirror world, blended reality and even internet of things, Yes I know, a bit before its time! Cue music, “Story of my life” by 1D 🙂

We definitely had a technology and expectation bubble later 2006-2009. However, that, as with all emerging technology is all part of the evolution. The garnet curve et al. What surprises me the most still is that people think when a bubble like that bursts that its all over. That somehow everything that was learned in that time was pointless. “Are virtual worlds still a thing?” etc. I feel for the even earlier pioneers like Bruce Damer, who patiently put up with our ramblings as we all rushed to discover and feel for ourselves those things he already knew.
Increasingly I am talking to new startup ands seeing new activity in the virtual space. The same use cases, the same sparks of creativity that we had in the previous wave(s), the same infectious passion to do something interesting and worthwhile. Sometimes this is somehow differentiated from the last wave of virtual worlds under the heading of virtual reality. The current wave is focussed on the devices, the removal of keyboard and of a fixed screen. The Oculus Rift, HoloLens etc. However, thats a layer of new things to learn and experience on what we have already been through. After all its a virtual world you end up looking at or blending with in a VR headset!

I spend so much time looking forward and extrapolating concepts and ideas it is now very scary to look back and consider the experience I have gathered. The war stories and success stories, the concepts and ideas that I have tried. The emotional impact of virtual worlds. The evolution of the technology and of people’s expectation of that technology. The sheer number of people that have moved around in a 3d environment from an early age with things like Minecraft, who are now about to enter higher education and the workforce.

So I am left in a slightly bemused state as to what to do with this knowledge. With this all going so much more mainstream again I am no longer working in a niche. Do I ply my trade of independent consulting chipping away in odd places and helping and mentoring some of the new entrants in the market or do I try and find a bigger place to spread the word?

At the same time though, knowing lots of things makes you realise how much you don’t know. The imposter’s syndrome kicks in. Surely everyone must know all this stuff by now? It’s obvious and stands up to logical reasoning to try and connect with other people in as rich a way as possible. The network is there, the tech is there, the lineage is there. Though clearly not everyone gets it yet. I often wonder if the biggest naysayers I had to deal with on my journey so far have figured it out yet? It will probably turn out they will be getting rich quick right now whilst I sit and ponder such things.

On the other side of the virtual coin, I know from my martial arts that constant practice and investigation leads to a black belt. In the case of Choi Kwang Do that’s just over 3 years worth. So how many Dan worth of tech equivalent experience does that put me at. 25 years in the industry professionally but 30+ as techie.

I still want to do the right thing, to help others level themselves up. I don’t think I am craving fame and fortune but the ability to share and build is what drives me. If fame and fortune as a spokesperson, evangelist for some amazing idea or TV show reaches that end, then thats fine by me.

I am at a crossroads, my VR headset letting me look in all directions. I see half built roads in many directions. What now? A well funded company that I can help build a great road with, or forge off down one for the other paths seeing what happens on the way.
Of course that makes it seem like there is a clear choice on the plate. I suspect most of the the well funded companies and corporations don’t think they need any help, which is rather where I came in on this!

Needless to say I am always open to conversations, offers, partnerships, patronage, retainers and technology evangelist roles. There must be a slew of investors out there wondering what to put their money into, who need some sagely advice ;). Or that book… there is always that book… (600 images x 1000 words each 600,000 words just on these Second Life experiences. That’s just the ones with online. The offline ones double that!. Not to mention the other places, games, and self built experiences!

I took this photo in April 2006 as part of sharing of our journey
The wilderness

I have always liked a nice greenfield to start building on. Equally that did not build itself, it was a massive shared team experience. No one has all the answers. Some of us are good at helping people find them though.

Right! Can we get on with this now?

A great week for science and tech, games, 3d printing and AR

There is always something going on in science and emerging technology. However some weeks just bring a bumper bundle of interesting things all at once. Here in the UK the biggest event had to been the near total eclipse of the Sun. We had some great coverage on the the TV with Stargazing live sending a plane up over the Faroe islands to capture the total eclipse. I was all armed and ready with a homemade pinhole camera.
Shredded wheat pinhole camera
This turned out great but unfortunately we were quite overcast here so it was of little use as a camera. I also spent the eclipse at Predlet 2.0 celebration assembly. They had the eclipse on the big screen for all the primary school kids to see. Whilst we had the lights off in the hall it did not get totally dark, but it did get a bit chilly. It was great that the school keyed into this major event that demonstrates the motion of the planets. So rather like the last one in 1999 I can certainly say I will remember where I was and what we were doing.(a conversation I had with @asanyfuleno on Twitter and Facebook)
This brings me on to our technological change and the trajectory we are on. In 1999 I was in IBM Hursley with my fellow Interactive Media Centre crew. A mix of designers, producers and techies and no suits. It was still the early days of the web and we were building all sorts of things for all sorts of clients. In particular during that eclipse it was some more work for Vauxhall cars. We downed tools briefly to look out across Hursley park to see the dusk settle in and flocks of birds head to roost thinking it was night.
It does not seem that long ago but… it is 16 years. When we were building those quite advanced websites Amazon was just starting, Flickr was 6 years away, Twitter about 7 years away, Facebook a mere 5 (but with a long lead time) and we were only on Grand Theft Auto II, still a top down pac man clone. We were connected to lots of our colleague son instant messaging but general communications were phone and SMS and of course email. So we were not tweeting and sharing pictures, or now as people do live feeds on Meerkat. Many people were not internet banking, trust in communications and computers was not high. We were pre dot.com boom/bust too. Not to mention no one really had much internet access out and about or at home. Certainly no wi-fi routers! We were all enthralled by the still excellent Matrix movie. The phone in that, the slide down communicator style Nokia being one of the iconic images of the decade.
NB. As I posted this I saw this wonderful lego remake of the lobby scene so just had to add it in this post 🙂

It was a wild time of innovation and one many of us remember fondly I think. People tended to leave us alone as we brought in money doing things no managers or career vultures knew to jump on. So that eclipse reminds me of a time I set on a path of trying to be in that zone all the time. I was back then getting my first samples from a company that made 3d printers as I was amazed at the principle, and I was pondering what we could do with designers that knew 3d and this emerging tech. We were also busy playing Quake and Unreal in shared virtual worlds across the LAN in our downtime so I was already forming my thoughts on our connection to one another through these environments. Having experiences that I still share today in a newer hi tech world where patterns are repeating themselves, but better and faster.
That leads me to another movie reference and in the spirit of staying in this zone. This footage of a new type of Terminator T-1000 style 3d manufacturing. 3D printers may not be mainstream as such but many more people get the concept of additive manufacture. Laying down layer after layer of material such as plastic. It is the same as we made coil clay pots out of snakes of rolled clay when we were at school. A newer form of 3D printing went a little viral on the inter webs this week from carbon3d.com. This exciting development pulls an object out of a resin. It is really the same layering principle but done in a much more sophisticated way. CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) balances exposing the resin to molecules to oxygen or to UV light. Oxygen keeps it as a liquid (hence left behind) and targeted UV light causes the resin to become solid, polymerization. Similar liquid based processes use lasers to fire into a resin. This one though slowly draws the object out of the resin. Giving it a slightly more ethereal or scifi look to it. It is also very quick in comparison to other methods. Whilst this video is going faster than actual speed it is still a matter of minutes rather than hours to create objects.

Another video doing the round that shows some interesting future developments is one from Google funded Magic Leap. This is a blended reality/augmented reality company. We already have Microsoft moving into the space with Hololens. Much of Magic Leap’s announcements have not been as clearly defined as one might hope. There is some magic coming and it is a leap. Microsoft of course had a great pre-release of Hololens, some impressive video but some equally impressive testimonials and articles from journalist and bloggers who got to experience the alpha kit. The video appeared to be a mock up but fairly believable.
Magic Leap were set to do a TED talk but apparently pulled out at the last minute and this video appeared instead.

It got a lot of people excited, which is the point, but it seems even more of a mock up video than any of the others. It is very ell done as the Lord of the Rings FX company Weta Workshop have a joint credit. The technology is clearly coming. I don’t think we are there yet in understanding and getting the sort of precise registration and overlays. We will, and one day it may look like this video. Of course it’s not just the tech but the design that has to keep up. If you are designing a game that has aliens coming out of the ceiling it will have a lot less impact if you try and play outside or in an atrium with a massive vaulted ceiling. The game has to understand not just where you are and what the physical space is like but how to use that space. Think about an blended reality board game, or an actual board game for that matter. The physical objects to play Risk, Monopoly etc require a large flat surface. Usually a table. You clear the table of obstructions and set up and play. Now a project board game could be done on any surface, Monopoly on the wall. It could even remove or project over things hung on the wall, obscure lights etc. It is relying on a degree of focus in one place. A fast moving shooting game where you walk around or look around will be reading the environment but the game design has to adjust what it throws at you to make it continue to make sense. We already have AR games looking for ghosts and creatures that just float around. They are interesting but not engaging enough. Full VR doesn’t have this problem as it replaces the entire world with a new view. Even in that there are lots of unanswered questions of design, how stories are told, cut scenes, attracting attention, user interfaces, reducing motion sickness etc. Blending with a physical world, where that world could be anywhere or anything is going to take a lot more early adopter suffering and a number of false starts and dead ends. It can of course combine with rapid 3d printing, creating new things in the real world that fit with the game or AR/BR experience. Yes thats more complexity, more things to try and figure out. It is why it is such a rich and vibrant subject.
Just bringing it back a little bit to another development this week. The latest in the Battlefield gaming franchise Battlefield Hardline went live. This, in case you don’t do games, is a 3d first person shooter. Previous games have been military, this one is cops and robbers in a modern Miami Vice tv style. One of the features of Battlefield is the massive online combat. It features large spaces and it makes you feel like a small spec in the map. Other shooters are more close in like Call of Duty. The large expanse means Battlefield can focus on things like vehicles. Flying helicopters and driving cars. Not just you though, you can be a pilot and deliver your colleagues to the drop zone whilst you gunner gives cover.
This new game has a great online multiplayer mode called hotwire that apps into vehicles really well. Usually game modes are capture the flag or holding a specify fixed point to win the game. In hotwire you grab a car/lorry etc and try and keep that safe. It means that you have to do some mad game driving weaving and dodging. It also means that you compatriots get to hand out of the windows of the car trying to shoot back at the bad guys. It is very funny and entertaining.
What also struck me was the 1 player game called “episodes”. This deliberately sticks with a TV cop show format as you play through the levels. After a level has finished the how you did page looks like Netflix with a next episode starts in 20 seconds down in the bottom right. If you quite a level before heading to the main menu it does a “next time in Battlefield Hardline” mini montage of the next episode. As the first cut scenes player I got a Miami Vice vibe which the main character then hit back by referencing it. It was great timing, and in joke, but one for us of a certain age where Miami Vice was the show to watch. Fantastic stuff.
I really like its style. It also has a logo builder on the website so in keeping with what I always do I built a version of the Feeding Edge logo in a Hardline style.
Battlefield Hardline Feeding Edge logo
I may not be great at the game, as I bounce around looking for new experiences in games, but I do like a good bit of customisation to explore.

MergeVR – a bit of HoloLens but now

If you are getting excited and interested, or just puzzling what is going on with the Microsoft announcement about Hololens and can’t wait the months/years before it comes to market then there are some other options, very real, very now.
Just before christmas I was very kindly sent a prototype of new headset unit that uses an existing smartphone as its screen. It is called MergeVR. The first one like this we saw was the almost satirical take on Oculus Rift that Google took with Google Cardboard. A fold up box that let you strap your android to your face.

MergeVR is made of very soft, comfortable spongy material. Inside are two spherical lenses that can be slid in and out lateral to adjust the divergence of you eyes and get a comfortable feel.
Rather like the AntVR I wrote about last time, this uses the principle of one screen, split into two views. The MergeVR uses you smart phone as the screen and it slides comfortably into the spongey material at the front.
Using an existing device has its obvious advantages. The smartphones already have direction sensors in them, and screens designed to be looked at close up.
MergeVR is not just about 3d experience of Virtual Reality (One where the entire view is computer generated). It is, by its very name Merge, about augmented reality. In this case it is an augmented reality taking your direct view of the world and adding data and visuals to it. This is knows as a magic lens. You look through the magic lens, and see things you would not normally be able to see. As opposed to a magic mirror which you look at a fixed TV screen to see the effects of a camera merging with the real world.

The iPhone (in my case) camera has a slot to see through on the in the MergeVR. This makes it very difference from some of the other Phone On Face (POF – made up acronym) devices. The extra free device I got with the AntVR, the TAW is one of these non pass through POF’s. It is a holder, and lenses with a folding mechanism to adjusts to hold the phone in place. With no pass through it is just to watch 3d content.


AntVR TAW
Okay so the MergeVR is able to let you use the camera, see the world, and then you can watch the screen close up without holding anything The lenses make you left eye look at the right half and the right eye at the left half. One of the demo applications is instantly effective and has a wow factor. Using a marker based approach a dinosaur is rendered in 3d on the marker. Marker based AR is not new, neither is iPhone AR, but the stereoscopic hands free approach where the rest of the world is effectively blinkered for you adds an an extra level of confusion for the brain. Normally if you hold a phone up to a picture marker, the code will spot the marker, the orientation of the marker and relative position in the view then render the 3d model on top. So if you, or the marker moves the model is moved too. When holding the iPhone up you can of course still see around it, rather like holding up a magnifying glass (magic lens remember). When you POF though your only view of the actual world is the camera view of the phone. So when you see something added and you move your body around it is there in your view. It is only the slight lag and the fact the screen is clearly not the same resolution or same lighting as the real world that causes you to not believe it totally.
The recently previewed microsoft Hololens and the yet to be seen Google funded Magic Leap are a next step removing the screen. They let you see the real world, albeit through some panes of glass, and then use project tricks near to the eye, probably very similar to peppers ghost, to adjust what you see and how it is shaded, coloured etc. based on a deep sensing of the room and environment. It is markerless room aware blended reality. Using the physical and the digital.

Back to the MergeVR. It also comes with a bluetooth controller for the phone. A small hand held device to let you talk to the phone. Obviously the touch screen when in POF mode means you can’t press any buttons 🙂 Many AR apps and examples like the DinoAR simply use your head movements and the sensors in the phone to determine what is going on. Other things though will need some form of user input. As the phone can see, it can see hands, but not having a Leap motion controller or a kinect to sense the body some simpler mechanism can be employed.
However, this is where MergeVR gets much more exciting and useful for any of us techies and metaverse people. The labs are not just thinking about the POF container but the content too. A Unity3d package is being worked on. This provides camera prefabs (Rather like the Oculus Rift one) that splits the Unity3D view into a Stereo Camera when running into the right shape and size, perspective etc for the MergeVR view. It provides extra access to the bluetooth controller inputs too.
This means you can quickly build MergeVR 3d environments and deploy to the iPhone (or Droid). Combine this with some of the AR toolkits and you can make lots of very interesting applications, or simply just add 3d modes to existing ones you have. With the new unity3d 4.6 user interfaces things will be even easier to have headsup displays.
So within about 2 minutes of starting Unity I had a 3d view up on iPhone on MergeVR using Unity remote. The only problem I had was using the usb cable for quick unity remote debugging as the left hand access hole was a little too high. There is a side access on the right but the camera need to be facing that way. Of course being nice soft material I can just make my own hole in it for now. It is a prototype after all.
It’s very impressive, very accessible and very now (which is important to us early adopters).
Lets get blending!

(Note the phone is not in the headset as I needed to take the selfie 🙂

Another VR headset – AntVR

I backed a project called AntVR to produce another VR headset and it recently arrived. Whilst all these things may looks the same this is a slightly different approach the now famous Oculus Rift.
The box arrived via UPS, unfortunately there seems to have been a mistake on the shipping. Whilst this was included in the Kickstarter price I had to pay the delivery man another £35. That’s early adoption for you!

The main headset unit is about the same size and weight as a Oculus DK2. The main cables rather than passing over your back drop down either side of your cheeks.


The inside view is not two round lenses as with the rift but 2 much flatter rectangular lenses. It fits over my regular glasses (though being varifocals are not idea for any of these headsets)

The reason for the different in sense shape is quite fundamental to the entire design. The AntVR uses one screen inside the headset. The lenses direct the eye to focus on that screen. The Rift appears to have 2 screens one for each eye, each eye has a spherical image projected onto it. The AnyVR is really a regular monitor looked at up close.
Whilst the latter is a lesser experience it does have a major advantage. The AntVR has a mode button on it to let it just be a regular desktop screen. This makes for much less messing around (particularly in windows) with which monitor is which. Often with the Rift you find yourself trying to half look at the regular desktop when working in extended mode or swapping the primary monitor when an application doesn’t use direct mode.
So once in the AntVR you are looking at a big screen. The mode button on the unit lets you switch to side by side 3d. So anything, like youtube, that has SBS video you can watch straight away, looking at a normal view, navigate to the browser etc. Switch to full screen then press the button on the unit and you have 3d. I did find on Windows 8.1 internet explorer seems to refuse to show SBS video on youtube. The stub bar shows side by side images but the main window just the one. On chrome it was fine. Initially I though the headset was causing it but I think it was just the browser being the browser it is!
The unit has two sliders to move the lenses outward and inwards laterally to adjust for your own eye comfort.
The headset acts as a mouse pointer with the accelerometers in it moving the mouse around, which is not always very helpful to start with.
The kit then diverges from the Rift in what it provides.
Firstly it will plug into any HDMI source (needing USB to power it). Because it is not always in SBS 3D it doesn’t need the spherical processing the Rift has to do. Obviously that flexibility is a trade off with the field of view of the Rift and the comfort factor on the eyes.
The AntVR also comes with a peripheral. It is rather like some Klingon device, a few parts clip together and you have what looks like a gun controller.



This controller can also morph, with 2 handles plugged together, into a joypad. Both parts are charged by USB so are both active units.
In addition to the “gun” there is also a cleaning device, a small rubber bladder and nozzle for blowing dirt out of the lenses. They refer to this as the “hand grenade”.

All this came through the post from China. I suspect the delay getting here may have been some puzzled customs people.
There are demo games that are ready to download. These are designed to be 3d SBS, they are both horror/zombie ones. I am not sure if I configured things correctly, but the thumbstick on the back of the gun did allow me to move my character in an FPS environment. The gun trigger worked but it was a little odd using my head to turn and look at the bad guys but holding a gun that it didn’t matter where I pointed it. I think I needed to plug a few more things in.
Another interesting feature is a little sliding trap door underneath the headset that lets you peer down and see your hands. Great for typing !
So fr I have only tried the unit on my windows laptop. For gaming, Elite Dangerous for example the Rift DK2 with its head position sensor and spherical eye view is much more comfortable and immersive. However getting the thing running can be a pain with some many different ways windows likes to mess with graphics cards and extended monitors.
AntVR seemed to just work out of the box, the gun controller might be a bit over the top but the ability to work on anything and look at any content without too much hassle is interesting.
Next up I need to write about the two smartphone as a VR screen devices I have here, one of which was an extra thrown into the box with the AntVR.
We are creeping towards devices that anyone can use without too much faffing about but we have not got there yet. Then of course we need the content. The environments, the user interfaces and the new ways of engaging.

Digital Snow – Flush Magazine – 15

It’s starting to get towards winter, the clocks has fallen back so this months Flush Magazine, amongst other things, is all about snow, mountains, skiing and boarding. I just had something snow related to consider for my 14th article for the magazine. (That now sounds like a lot!)
I thought I should cover a bit go history, as usual. Some tech reminiscing. This time it was Hungry Horace goes skiing. Anyone else remember that ? 🙂
These sort of flashbacks to things that felt special or unusual then act a seed to zoom forward. This time I covered how snow has felt on screen in games and films through the years. From the simplistic to the “material point method for snow simulation” CGI research papers created by Disney in making films like Frozen.
I didn’t want to stick to pure virtual snow though but some other advances and where it could go in the near future to enhance our skiing experience. I did give a mention to SNOW the game as that looks mighty impressive and has some real potential IMHO.
Thanks to everyone writing for Flush Magazine, it’s great to have so many good articles to nestle in between on a cold winters night. Huge thanks to @tweetthefashion for such awesome production and editing and for still wanting me to write these journeys in history based futurism.
The full issue can be found below


I am zooming around on page 116 and the iOS version is here
All the past articles and links to them are here on the writing portfolio page
Right, where are my snow boots!