Creating Reality - The Door
I spent March 12 to March 15, 2018 at the University of Southern California at the Creating Reality Hackathon, a hackathon organized previously on the East Coast that was brought to the West Coast. I had previously gone to the East Coast hackathon, known as the Reality Virtually Hackathon which held at the MIT Media Lab in Boston, and because I loved it so much I decided to spend my spring break in SoCal hacking away for virtual and augmented reality.
Hackathons usually start with some demos and team building, so I arrived around midday and went to a few workshops, including a fast-paced iterative design workshop, a workshop on integrating Unity projects and Github (because I've had infinite problems in the past with this), a workshop on the Agile philosophy of teamwork/software design (also known as/implementing SCRUM), and a workshop on designing VR and AR applications using this plugin called SketchBox. [link sketchbox] I think of these workshops, the coolest thing I saw were several videos from SketchBox, since what they're doing is allowing you to draft physical environments and UI elements /in/ virtual reality. In the iterative design workshop, I really liked this idea of an impact map for trying to suss out which features would be most feasible to build and why. Basically it's a graph where the x-axis is labelled from /easy to implement/ to /difficult to implement/ while the y-axis goes from /high impact/ to /low impact/. The idea here is that features for a project will fall somewhere on this graph, and for projects, especially for a hackathon, you're going to want to tackle the features that are high impact and easy to implement. This is the core of any project, and anything else would be cool but not part of the scoping.
After dinner there was the typical schmoozing with people, hearing about peoples' ideas for projects, meeting designers and other devs . . . it was here my team was finalized, a group of five consisting of myself, a designer by the name of Leone Ermer who works at the 360-video advertisement company Advrtas, a 3D modeler, animator, and recent grad of USC named Cory McKnight, and two developers from USC's Computer Science (Games) program at the Viterbi School of Engineering, Chris Horrigan and Harrison Leon.
That night we brainstormed, knowing that we at the very least wanted to work with portals. Because we were going down the entertainment and games route (of many different routes, including medical, VR/AR for good, construction and training, etc), we needed a strong concept. We knew we were thinking about this idea of omniscience in game, and how in games like Civilization you play as the controller of this vast empire, yet you never fight any battles yourself. How could we use portals as a mechanic to transport a player from a high-level (third-person) view of some space, into a low-level (first-person) view of some space? We were playing around with the idea of a map, and so called our group the Cartographers, but the story was never /special/. The question here is, WHY VR? Finally, debate and process led us to this (very satisfying) idea:
We could build a door. A physical door that is a portal in virtual reality. From here, we're playing off of this canon of interaction that is universal: people know how to interact with a door. They know the rules, and they consciously and subconsciously acknowledge that they're moving from one place to another when they go through a door. And building an installation is going to be special! It's a hackathon, who builds a /door/?! We can then map the door to the virtual door (and this is my modus-operandi when it comes to VR/AR development - installations and this layering of physical and virtual objects are my obsession). And what's special about the narrative is that it then became this kind of surreal take on absurdist reality: you don't know who you are yet, and you have to fetch these objects. You get these objects from fantastical places all over the world, and as you place them into this machine all of the sudden at the end you realize . . . you're just an intern, making coffee. At which point, it was almost midnight.
So the next day, Harrison and I then took a hilarious trip to Home Depot filled with endless mishaps, a teleporting employee, a 10 foot pole, and being shuffled around the store 6 times trying to get the aforementioned pole cut.
Over the course of the hackathon, we decided to use the HP Z Vive Backpack, which was an /absolute pleasure/ to work with. At one point, the wireless keyboard just decided to not work, and since the show must go on, Chris decided to plug in my wired USB keyboard into the Vive Backpack and hilariously continued devving like this:
We rather thought he looked like an army soldier, or perhaps like a member of some futuristic rock band and would strum the keyboard at any minute, ready to rock out like it was an electic guitar or something.
I think the rest can be summed up from a series of pictures:
Since we didn't have any access to Vive Trackers, we improvised.
Interesting things random people and judges said when they saw our project:
Narnia, Monsters Inc, Dr Who
Fantastic for education: museums, field trips
Creating a room that looks just like the room it exists in, to make further the feeling of travelling through a portal real
The biggest, most epic interactive episode of How It's Made
We as a team liked the idea of a movable door, one you can pick up and move around, drop on the floor, or put on a track and slide it like a sliding glass door.
HP loved our project so much that we won the HP Sponsor Prize, and all won Windows Mixed Reality Headsets!
Here's the happy team <3
If you would like to check out the official hackathon documentation of the project you can follow this link: