AVRL Meeting Feb 2016

4 – 5:30pm Monday 29th February 2016
Carpe Diem Studio, Hackett Hall, UWA (map)

On Monday, UWA staff and students gathered for the February meeting of the AVRL group where they heard two fantastic presentations from Jonathan Knispel and Dominic Manley on “How VR Apps are Made”, carefully tailored for the mildly curious and the expert alike.

Jonathan introduced a range of virtual reality hardware, with the current state of play for available developer kits and commercial releases. Starting with the basic Google Cardboard, Jonathan talked us through several hardware models; this included the OSVR head-mounted display which has both open-source hardware and software, making it popular for the hacker or indie crowd. Jonathan also covered pre-order dates and pricing for the higher-end consumer VR kits, Occulus Rift and the HTC Vive.

The main advantage of these cutting-edge models over their more modestly-priced counterparts lies in their ability to provide position-tracked movement (not just rotations for 360 degree views) and higher quality imagery, leading to an overall better virtual experience. However, while performance is sacrificed in Google Cardboard VR, this product is far cheaper, requiring only a mid-range smartphone and an inexpensive cardboard headset. This puts the Cardboard at the forefront of lower-end VR headsets, with a wide variety of compatible apps which can be easily tailored to the education market.

Jonathan finished up with an overview of the process of developing a VR app. It’s important to understand which hardware is the most effective at communicating your message to its intended audience. Equally important is the software “pipeline” used to produce an app. There are stages for 3D modelling, rigging 3D models for animation, texturing (painting), game engine integration, lighting, scripting, physics (and more), testing and finally, deployment and distribution.

This was a natural segue into Dominic’s presentation, which previewed a recent VR prototyping case study in partnership with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Energy Biology. Dominic’s goal in this project was to create a giant virtual reality cell structure similar to the existing giant, inflatable “Bio-Bounce” bouncy castle used by the centre to educate school students about plant cell structures.

Dominic was lucky to have the existing CAD assets from the design of the original “bouncy cell” as a blue-print, which prompted discussion around decimating large architectural meshes for mobile app consumption. Ultimately Dom decided to build his VR model from scratch, based around design choices of the cell-shaded game, Grow Home.

Dominic outlined the basic workflow for developing any app, namely the creation of 3D models (geometry, textures and animation rigging), their arrangement within a virtual reality engine (positioning, lighting, cameras and backgrounds), and the specification of movements or building in multiple users.

He used a series of Unity plugins to demonstrate how to construct a basic app, and showed the range and varying quality of pre-built 3D assets available in the Unity Asset store. Dominic emphasised the sheer usability of building in Unity compared to other Gaming Engines such as WebVR or Unreal Engine.

Starting with Procore, Dominic showed us how highly tailorable, rapid 3D modelling plugins can build convincing assets far quicker than conventional modelling. The aesthetics of pro-core suited the simple prototyping for the Bio-Bounce project, prompting one student to label the app as “very retro” (in a good way. We think).

Using Playmaker, another Unity plugin, Dominic showed us how to structure mechanical movements within writing huge amounts of code. This is because Playmaker uses finite state machines or visual coding, letting the user literally drag and drop movements- again perfect for experimentation and prototyping. Photon was the last plugin that Dominic demonstrated, which lets you embed multiple users into a single 3D or virtual environment. This takes the headache out of network coding and is perfect for remote education and virtual classrooms.

Dominic’s presentation concluded with some amazing outcomes and feedback from the students who trialed the project at UWA in January. He also offered us a projected pipeline and costs to turn Bio-Bounce into a commercially viable mobile app over the coming year. The Bio-Bounce project shows exactly why we need to tailor virtual experiences specifically to the education material and the best possible learning methods, while adding value to learning in virtual reality and staying within available budgets.

After the presentation, audience members were suitably wowed when they got to try the BioBounce VR app on Google Cardboard, with some of our attendees having their very first virtual reality experience!

Links:

There are links to most of the hardware and software from Jonathan’s presentation in the Knowledge section of our website (or the Knowledge menu at the top of any page).

For Dominic’s tutorial:

Unity 5 Personal Edition (game engine, free for personal use)
ProBuilder Basic (3D modelling)
PlayMaker (game logic)
Photon (free multiplayer networking)
Phones: LG G3, iPhone 6
Google Cardboard, available from AmazingVR, GCardboard.
Blender (free 3D modelling)
GIMP (free image processing and painting)
Unity Asset Store (free and paid content, app distribution)

A couple of the videos Dominic closed with:

Toybox demo for Occulus touch:

Building VR in VR with Unreal Editor 4: