Devlog 01 - first post & demo
I released the first demo of the art house VR!
This is a new project I've been working on as part of the Oculus Launch Pad program. Without going into too much detail, Launch Pad is a kind of accelerator program for people making VR games. I applied online with my pitch for a virtual art space, and was accepted! I attended a bootcamp & oculus connect, after which they gave me a free Rift S headset and said "come back in 3 months with a demo, and if it's good we'll give you money." This is the result of those three months!
the art house VR is a virtual art space featuring independent digital artists from around the world. I was inspired by many other digital art space include Mine Gala, The Zium, and even VRChat. My vision was to make a place similar to the Exploratorium in San Francisco, where people could have fun touching and interacting with the art. I want it to be a constantly-growing place with new exhibits and special areas every three months.
I also wanted to make a place where players can actually support artists with actual money. I got the idea of ArtCoin IAPs from working in the mobile gaming space. I've always thought about using the idea of designing IAPs around something good and wholesome, but there aren't many good examples of IAPs in a game being used for something like donations. Right now, you can only use ArtCoins for direct donations and a capsule machine, but I want to use ArtCoins for so many different things like access to exclusive areas, buying digital goods at the gift shop, using coins for special interactive exhibits, using coins to vote for new exhibits/features, the list can go on forever.
demo development postmortem
**NOTE: If you don't wanna hear about boring game development stuff, just skip to future plans**
Making the demo was kinda weird. It was interesting to see how VR tech has progressed in the last couple years (spoilers: it hasn't). I used Unity since that's my primary development tool, but I also used VR Toolkit (VRTK) for all the basic VR functionality like tracking, grabbing, locomotion, etc. I used VRTK for previous project store 2, and somehow VRTK got wayy more convoluted and error-prone. From what I understand, the solo developer received funding to do a major update for better handling of many different XR platforms, as well as attempting to make usage easier by making it less scripted and more controllable through the Unity editor. The result is an infinite labyrinth of events and callbacks and hierarchies of logical gameobjects with individual scripts, all communicating in such a convoluted way that it's turned previously simple actions, like picking up a physical object with a tracked controller, into something completely mind-numbing to test or debug. It also doesn't help that there is a huge lack of documentation, so I've had to watch 'brain dump' videos and random Oculus tutorials to figure out how to do things in very specific ways. It's bad enough that I'm considering switching to a new VR platform or just building my own entirely if I get funding for this project.
Other than that, everything else went pretty smoothly. I build the space using a mix of ProBuilder (for larger structures) and Blender (everything else). I never used ProBuilder before, it's actually really nice for making structures really quickly within Unity compared to Blender. I also used MailChimp and ChilliConnect APIs for the email list and Art Reactions respectively, which were surprisingly straightforward to setup and use. Though ChilliConnect is kinda expensive, I might spend a week creating my own small server instead of using a BaaS.
Creating each exhibit was interesting. The first exhibits included artists online_frog, mushbuh and minedecot. Since this was a very new project demo, and ArtCoin payment wouldn't be setup, I didn't expect a ton of work from artists directly (they're busy, afterall). All three were open to me designing their exhibits, which was really fun to do. I liked deep-diving into an artist's portfolio and finding random artwork from years ago to display. In the future, I want artists to have the choice to work with me in making their exhibits, or just letting me dig through all their artwork to build an exhibit myself. I think either way is a valid approach, as artists may have a different desire for control over how their work is displayed. I also make sure to get info on anything they want to promote (upcoming video game, merchandise, books/comics, etc), so it's easy for players to see it & get more information about it via email.
I only had time to build out the Lobby, each of the three exhibits, and blocked-off areas with placeholder construction gameobjects (those were fun to make haha). The biggest bottleneck I ran into late in development was the number of UI elements. I have >100 world UI canvases in the world for art descriptions (including art reactions), signs, posters, some of the slideshow paintings, the videos, etc. I tried some tests of converging all the UI onto a single canvas, but that didn't seem to help much as the OVR raycasting from the controller still had to update for all the UI elements. I did some dumb culling (detects which exhibit you're in and only turn on those UI elements), but I think I can optimize this further. In anticipation of porting to Oculus Quest, I might actually split the art space into smaller chunks either through loading between hallways or an elevator.
All in all, I'm proud of the amount of work I was able to do in 3 months. I learned some new stuff about ProBuilder, Mailchimp, unity lighting, videos, UI, and other stuff. I'll probably recycle some of this code for my other projects haha. If I could go back and do one thing different, it would've been to check performance earlier in the development. I thought all the many hi-res textured paintings would be a bottleneck (which they barely were), but I never expected world UI canvases to be one.
After a big milestone like this, I should try to figure out what I learned and apply it in the future
- Performance test as early as possible. You may find a performance bottleneck ends up being something unexpected
- ProBuilder is a good tool for building structures and prototyping spaces really quickly
- It's a good idea to explore other platforms/toolkits options before sticking to one, even if you've used it before
- New tools come out all the time, and even the best tools can decay over time
- It might be worth spending time creating your own backend server, especially if it's for something very simple
- ChilliConnect is $50/month. If I don't get funding, I'm almost definitely going to figure out a better solution
- There is a fine line between rest and slacking, and it's hard to tell whether you're doing either one
- One solution is to have very structured, scheduled work-time and rest-time, otherwise a 'rest' could last for days and I end up losing a lot of creative/productive momentum, which sucks
With the demo out of the way, I've planned out the next set of upcoming features that I'll be working on next. These are going to change drastically depending on if I get funding from Oculus, but these are what I have planned for the art house VR:
Obviously I wanna include way more artist exhibits. I plan on having a release of X amount of exhibits on each major update, similar to how IRL art museums work (on certain date intervals, not updates haha). I already have a few artists lined up for the next several updates, but I'll be reaching out to more artist very soon. Also, if you wanna have your art displayed, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
I also wanna include more permanent exhibits. The one I have planned is the NUX Exhibit, which will contain more info, inspiration, and art around the art house VR itself. It's kind of an introduction exhibit.
I want to have more commentary , either as writing, audio or video, to complement specific art pieces. Obviously this sort of thing is optional for artists, but I really like the idea of artists giving insight into their creative process so players can get to know them better. This is also useful for 'guided' tours around specific exhibits.
more accessibility options
Aside from supporting artists, the art house VR has the potential to be a fun art museum experience for those who may not otherwise have access due to their physical abilities or geographic location. That's why I wanna make sure the art house VR is accessible for as many people as possible! Some features I'm planning on:
- multiple locomotion settings
- single controller and vision-only controls
- height adjustment settings
- Text size/font settings
- A desktop version!
Some of these features will take time and may not be available immediately, but these are important enough for me that I don't want them to be an after-thought during developing.
more ArtCoin incentives and gift shop
I mentioned this above, but I want to make it fun to buy & use coins in the art space. ArtCoin revenue will be mostly going towards artists, with the a fraction going towards me to pay for maintaining development and the servers. I have a lot of ideas right now, but first I need to actually implement ArtCoin purchasing and work out contracts with artists so they can get paid. I may need to speak with accountants/lawyers/somebody about the best way of going about this, since I want to make sure the artists are getting the best deal possible out of showing their at at the art house VR.
Being in one single space can sometimes be boring, so I want to help and encourage future showcasing artists to build their exhibits in something less traditional. This will require a lot of coordination, and me building out Unity tools, to help artists craft their ideal space. Games don't need to adhere to normal physical laws, so why should an art space?
guest art areas
Following the example of places like The Exploratorium, I want inspired guests/players to contribute to the art house VR in their own way. A small example of this is the Art Reactions, where players can give their reactions to an art piece via emojis. However, I want to make areas where guests can make their own art and share with others. Maybe guests can pay enough ArtCoins to temporarily "vandalize" an existing art piece? Or post their own opinions and interpretations in a shared chat? I think there's a TON of possibilities to make the art house VR a thriving, creative place.
This was an idea I had for a scrapped VR game a while ago, but I want to make a place that is only open during certain local times for players, such as 10pm - 4am. The Basement would be crafted by me, in collaboration with other exhibiting artists, of having a unique music/video/audio experience. I imagine it being like a virtual party, or rave, where people are DJing music or videos from YouTube, or spinning their own mixes, or uploading whatever they think is cool to show off.
This would be the one area with real-time multiplayer, where players can socialize with each other and share art/music/videos/etc. Obviously, this idea is still very vague, but the general idea is a very VERY scaled-down VRChat specifically focused on creating an artistically curated zone. This will likely be one of the bigger projects within the art house VR, and I don't expect it to open with every feature I'm imagining. Much like the rest of the art house VR, it'll be a never-ending work-in-progress.
... and if I don't get funding?
My plan in the case where this project doesn't get funding is as follows:
- Begin porting to Desktop
- Polish the current exhibit
- Maybe add an additional exhibit
- Strip out any features that cost too much money (ChilliConnect) so the space is sustainable with the least amount of money possible
- Ship for free and start a Patreon page
- Wait to see if there's a big enough interest to continue work
Unfortunately, I can't work on this full-time for free. However, I do wanna make sure I release this game in way where the most amount of people can check it out. I put in too much work for this to just sit on the back burner forever!!!
I spent 3 much crunching on this project, so I'm going to spend time relaxing and sharing what I've made with prospective artists.
I already submitted this project and my pitch deck to Oculus. At the end of the month, I'm going to Menlo Park to demo my game for Facebook people. Hopefully they like it 😊
But for now, I'm literally in the process of moving from California to Seattle, so I don't think I'll have time to work on this game anyway. I'll probably hop back on Nano Pets, need to get a build ready for GDC. So busy 😭😭😭
Thanks for reading!
Get the art house VR
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