Iterative Prototyping (AKA Practice Makes Perfect)

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We have started working on our first project last week, and oh boy, it’s both so daunting and interesting.

There is something profoundly unique in taking something out of your mind and into the real world. Giving ideas actual shape and substance is a complicated process but a fascinating one.

Other highlights of the week include extremely cool VR stuff and some basic Unity programming.

Prototypes

Do you remember the Small Object of Delight? Together with my friend Kannika, we’re trying to build something that would delight people using any technology or material available to us. After some experimentation, we’ve narrowed down our ideas to two designs (although a third one may be resurrected from the old ones this week).

We have called the two prototypes respectively Magnetic Eclipse and Twisty Meow (I know, they’re amazing names, right?). I’ve given a bit of information about the magnets in my previous post but, as far as the Twisty Meow is concerned, the idea is to create a headband with mechanical cat-like ears that will move autonomously based on sounds and/or movement.

Down below you can see some new sketches (from Kannika, since it is clear it’s much better drawing than my previous posts), together with the first very rudimental prototypes we have built in class.

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In the next couple of weeks, we’re going to build on and develop these prototypes further. We’ll think of materials, texture and functioning of these objects, and eventually will select one of them for our project.

Virtual Reality

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Me killing hordes of zombies in a VR game of which I can’t remember the name

In other news, we have played with VR this week. And seriously, a lot. Our good professor Peter brought in so many VR headsets, including the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and the Samsung VR. But also the Augmented Reality (AR) Microsoft HoloLens, which I used for the first time.

It was interesting to notice the subtle differences between the various experiences. I’m not going to mention the Samsung headset here because it’s the only one of those we played with which works through a phone, so its computational power was no match for the Oculus or the Vive.

In terms of the experience itself, it was curious to notice how the Oculus controllers, for example, felt lighter and more “hand-like” compared to the clunkier ones of the Vive. But they also had fewer buttons.

The Oculus headset was also lighter and more comfortable than the Vive, but the HTC headset just looked much cooler (although I don’t know how useful that would be for a VR headset).

In terms of the actual VR experience, I did not notice much difference between the two headsets. I felt very dizzy while piloting a futuristic plane with the Oculus and slightly so when turning quickly in order to shoot at zombies with the Vive.

But since this not a review of the best VR headsets out there I’ll stop comparing and just draw some conclusions about the current state of VR/AR in gaming:

  • VR feels quite real, but not enough yet. Micro-lags and slightly out-of-focus movements make you lose the sense of presence, reminding you of the VR-ness of the world around you.
  • Graphics don’t need to be real for you to feel immersed. The Job Simulator game was surely the most immersive despite the cartoonish graphics. I believe that was due to the fact that the objective of the game was relatively complex and the objects you could interact with were very numerous.
  • Sound is absolutely fundamental. Without earphones (and good ones at that), a VR experience feels fake and unfinished. Being able to correctly perceive the direction of sound, and ‘looking’ for it with your gaze is just so important to us that a correct implementation of it in VR is essential.
  • AR is still quite raw. Surely, not knowing the correct gestures made my attempts at it quite ridiculous-looking, but I have the feeling it will be some time before we can use this technology in our daily lives. That being said, being able to see things around me while moving virtual elements with my hands was quite the experience. I’m sure AR will be amazing and extremely useful in the future, we’re just not there yet.

Unity

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I’m aware this was a longer post than usual, so all I’m going to say about Unity is that I find really amazing the simplicity with which certain things can be done.

With physics and shapes already programmed into the software, having balls bouncing around doesn’t require any technical knowledge.

Everything happens through scripts that can be written and edited in C#, but the amount of free resources online means that you could build a whole game without knowing anything code-related.

During the course of this week (it’s reading week!) we’ll be developing our prototypes further and, hopefully, come up with upgraded and semi-functional versions for next week!

Thanks for reading!

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