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Eviction Notice: Gear VR development at Hyperreal Jam and onwards

The #HyperRealVR Jam was one of the most fun and involved jams that I’ve ever had. And we are still working strong on our current game on the Gear VR: Eviction Notice.

It’s hosted by Dames Making Games at Gamma Space, a community that I’ve known for years for being incredibly welcoming and warm. Right away, I feel at home, even though our newly formed team on Slack have never worked together before.

There are some step learning curves for some members of our team that they tackled with grace, quick thinking and flexible adaptation. Chris Donnelly created some amazing voice-overs and ambient sounds, and helped scope down the project to hone in on the key lines of dialogue that our 3D objects are associated with. Kat Pavlov did an amazing job by creating a lot of assets within the 3D low-poly game arts pipeline for the first time, including a table, laptop, two pill bottles, florescent lights, first aid kit, radio, and takeout box (that’s 8 objects, you heard). Ksenia Eic breathed life into the game space with some very nice textures within a low-poly pipeline that is completely new to her too! Mic Fok made sure everything works with coding wizardry, linking sounds and interactive objects together, that the fading and highlighting shader works and works beautifully. And I did a bunch of 3D stuff like bunk beds and the room and textures, mentored the others on 3D modelling and texture work, did general quality control, level designed the room together in Unity, tried to make sure the narrative script made sense, and probably made rambling dad jokes.

Eviction_JamPrefinal

The assets we’ve managed to create within the time of the jam (recycling some walls etc. from Solace State).

We did a bit of preparation work days before the jam. We knew going in that it would be a narrative and artistic experience focused on creating memories and feelings in the player, rather than a VR game about skill and gameplay. As such, because we only had two nights and three days to have a working game, we decided that it makes sense for me to do the narrative writing ahead of time to create a preliminary list of art assets that require 3D models. We had decided to have a fully custom modelled environment where you can interact with all the objects that your gaze lands upon. Once an object is active, the voice-over would tell a story about the memories behind that artifact.

The game started from an idea about cultural disappearance due to a forced eviction. This small scope allowed us to focus on a small space that can still be ripe for exploration and lots of detailed objects. I wrote a story that drew from the idea of the disenfranchised classes and their lack of political opportunity in a city full of corruption. In this way, it ties itself thematically to my larger project, Solace State. The game allows you to hear voiceovers of the protagonist as she picks up the items around her tiny flat, exploring shared communal memory across generations.

Eviction_160813_FarBuildingTest2

Adding different lighting and some new assets, including exterior building facades, outside window (Aug 13 update).

This was a really adventurous project because none of us have worked with the Samsung Oculus Gear VR on Android before. I have never developed for mobile, although I have some experience with the Oculus Rift DK1 and DK2. Thankfully, with Mic Fok’s familiarity with programming for Android, we created a level that demonstrated our main mechanics and feeling of the game at the jam. I also insisted on a low-poly pipeline because, at the time, we weren’t certain what hardware limitations we may be running into. This proved to be very helpful, as all of the art assets we created during the jam can be used again with baked lighting instead of realtime lighting, the latter which was much too heavy to perform for VR on the Note 5.

As of the second week of August, 2016, we are currently working hard on adding more presence to the experience. Right now, as you complete interaction with the artifacts, they fade away, until you are left with an empty room. We are adding more features that activate more interactivity through the gaze in VR, to make the experience more dynamic. Although all of the story has been written and recorded, we are adding more 3D assets that associate with those voiceovers.

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