How We Managed an xR Prototyping Lab This Summer, Part 3

How We Managed an xR Prototyping Lab This Summer, Part 3

Improving a Game Prototype and Building an AR App for Set Designers

This semester, a team of MDM students formed an xR prototyping lab. Rather than being paired up with an industry client for the semester, they were matched with 5 different clients on a series of 2-3 week rapid xR prototyping sprints.

The idea was to adapt existing rapid development processes in order to rapidly prototype VR, AR, MR and hybrid reality projects.

The initiative was meant to serve as a practical benefit to those considering development in the xR space and the documentation and research that comes out of the lab is intended to support xR initiatives in BC and the rest of Canada.  

The team’s project manager Samantha Yueh was documenting their team's experiences throughout the summer. If you missed them, you can read Part 1 and Part 2.

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Virtro: Improving a Game Prototype

Testing out the prototype.

After working with Small Stage, our next client was Virtro, a game development company.

This time, our challenge was to work with an existing prototype of an AR mobile gameplay application and improve its visual fidelity, ensuring that the characters were more realistic.

We were all excited about the project because Virtro is a local company that we were very familiar with. They offered us the chance to work on their project within their studio and provided us with all the resources, assets and any technical help we needed to work more efficiently.

In order to get immediate feedback, we worked closely with Virtro in the first week of the sprint, working in their office building for the first week. They provided all the resources they could which speeded up our progress. We then moved back to the CDM in the second week.

Problem

We were working on improving Virtro’s prototype. We listed the top three features that we felt would have the biggest impact but during the process, I found it was hard to define the definition of "done" for each of these features. I found that the best way to solve this problem was by doing the sprint review together. This way we could prioritize the features again, reconfirm with the client about their expectations and could ask any questions that we had.

At the end of the sprint, we faced some technical challenges which we struggled with for two days. We all tried to solve the problem together and listed all of the issues we had. Finally we ended up reaching out to another programmer in our cohort, who managed to solve the problem in an hour. It ended up being a problem with a plugin in Unity.

Solution

By our second client, we understood how to work with each other and knew each other’s strengths. Our goals for this project were to improve the shadows, lighting, VFX systems of the game and to improve the design of the characters. We had a difficult time solving some of the technical problems but we solved the problem together, which was the best part of the project.

Conclusion

Already our team had improved a lot. We knew what we had to do in order to complete the features or tasks. Overall, we did much better compared to the first project.

StageAR: Building an AR App for Set Designers

Visiting Arts Club Theatre

Our third client was UBC Film and Theatre in collaboration with Arts Club Theatre.

Our goal was to prototype an Augmented Reality (AR) pipeline to demonstrate one or more alternative ways that set designers can use an AR app for stage design to help them visualize life-sized set designs and share them with others in a fast and cost-effective way.

To understand the project, we visited BMO Theatre Centre from Arts Club Theatre Company on the first day of the sprint. We interviewed the technical team who had a lot of knowledge of implementing set designs in theatre environments. The set designers explained their work process and what their struggles were during work.

We narrowed down the problems that we wanted to focus on solving. Set designers use paper maquettes to show the set to others, which can take up too much time and money, should anything need to be adjusted. Additionally, set designers might have a vision that is not fully aligned with directors. Oftentimes, a maquette is presented after the set designer and director have an overall agreement on how it will look and feel.

We realized there were some problems that deserved deeper thinking. When we stood on the stage from different locations, the perspectives were very different and the audience could not see well from certain angles.

Problem

We did a retrospective at the end every end of the sprint. Some of the team members felt we weren't aligned enough. In order to be aligned with each other, I asked each team member to use a few sentences to describe what the final deliverable was in their mind. Through the session, we understood we had slightly different ideas. If other people had different words, I asked questions like "can you explain this?" or "why do you think this is the final deliverable?" During the session, we realized that we still had some questions so we outlined all of the issues and sent them to our client. We aligned in a day.

Solution

Our solution was to provide an AR prototype that set designers can use to pre-visualize their ideas for the set design before making the maquette, almost like a "virtual maquette." This could help to finalise the design of a set without having to spend a great deal of time or money.

Watch a demo of StageAR:

Conclusion

As none of our team members have a set design background, this project was a challenge. We had to interview the set designers to understand more about the process of designing a set. Luckily, the client was incredibly helpful and told us about his experiences and whenever we needed to clarify some points, he always responded quickly.

What did we learn in this project? We gained set design knowledge, learned new tools such as Sketchup, and most of the team members did the user experience for the design process together, such as persona and user journey map. We understood what the pain points and emotional touch points were so that we could design a better platform for this project. I believed StageAR would be an excellent tool for set designers in the near future.

Stay tuned for the final post in our series, Part 4!