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VR Challenge: Part Two

On Friday, February 24th, I met up with one of the groups participating in the VR Challenge to see the progress on their app. This particular team is made up of five females who bring different skill sets to the project. The three seniors are Diva Anaya, majoring in Mechanical Engineering, Amy Judd, majoring in Computer Science (CS), and Angie Zhang, majoring in Business Information Technology (BIT). Lekha Chowdhuri is a sophomore majoring in BIT, and Heather Robinson is a freshman studying CS, but she was unable to meet with me Friday. Lekha and Heather have joined the team since I first met with them at the VR Challenge Kickoff on February 3rd.

Friday afternoon “Jam Sessions” at Studio 2.0 provide space to create and work with one another, as well as other teams. It was there that I interviewed them and witnessed the physical “mapping out” process in their workspace. Together they are creating a virtual reality game and spoke with me briefly about what the progress has been like since the start of the challenge.

Anna: Tell me about brainstorming. What did you start out with?

Angie: We started out with meditation ideas, then went on to the possibility of making a game.

Amy: We went to the app store to see what’s available and popular on the market and based our game off of what we thought was reasonable.

Anna: Did you have any first ideas that fell flat?

Lekha: It was more like modifying what we already had instead of dropping an idea.

Diva: We originally had this multistage game, so we condensed it to a more reasonable environment.

Anna: What have been some of the challenges?

Diva: Solidifying what’s going on in the game – mapping it out was kind of a challenge that we’re still going through right now.

Angie: Figuring out exactly what needs to be done in each stage and all of the technical details of how it all fits together.

Anna: What are some of the steps in your map?

Amy: Make a starting menu. Then try visualize what would go into it if you were to go through a game.

Angie: Figuring out the environment – what users are going to be walking around in. We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to incorporate unicorns into the environment and how they’ll interact with the user.

Amy: We want to be able to walk around and find objects. We’re not sure specifically how we’re going to be doing that, but that’s the general gist.

Anna: You’re at the midway point right now. What challenges do you hope to overcome by Demo Day?

Angie: Getting comfortable with Unity and 3D animations. It’s scary to think about right now, and it’d be nice to say “I’ve tried it.”

Diva: The technical stuff is our biggest hurdle. We have this plan, but we aren’t sure how to implement it.

Anna: What skills are you going to take away from this challenge?

Lekha: I’ve never coded in C# before, so that’s my challenge and something I have started to learn.

Diva: I haven’t used Unity or coded in C# either, or really done anything with virtual reality until now.

Amy: I’d say the same. I’ve never worked with Unity before, but I’m really interested in how virtual reality works.

Angie: I’ve used C# before, but it was more data-based, so it’s fun to use it to make a game.

Anna: Angie and Lekha, as BIT majors, how is thinking about this project different than your usual mindset?

Angie: It’s a lot more hard-programming than what we learn in BIT. It’s definitely a lot more technical than the things we work on.

Lekha: Here we are building something from scratch, but with BIT we’re building off of data normally.

Anna: Will you keep working with virtual reality after this challenge?

Lekha: It’s something I’d like to work on more, but with schoolwork, it’s hard. In an ideal world, yes.

Diva: I’m not sure if I’ll keep working in virtual reality after this. I’m definitely interested, but I’m not sure how much I’ll use it.

Amy: VR is a possible field I could go into since I am a CS major. I’m still figuring out what I want to do with my career, so this is a good opportunity to check it out.

Angie: It’s not something I’d do for a career, but for BIT it would be fun to work VR into a lot of situations.

Anna: What was your first experience with virtual reality?

Angie: I played a virtual reality game, and it was really interesting and fun to see how different it is. You hear about it, but it’s a different experience to actually be there and look around everywhere.

Amy: I played a game as well. And when you do it, you see how much time and effort people put into these games. You can see why it’s growing, but steadily. You can really appreciate it.

Diva: I have a Samsung VR headset at home, so [my first experience was] playing around with it, games, and looking through the apps. There was a space shooter game that was really fun.

Lekha: I’ve never had my first experience with VR, actually.

At this moment in time, everyone at our table in Studio 2.0 expressed their surprise, so it was the perfect time to admit that I have never tried VR either. E-Club President David Evans, organizer of the challenge, overheard; he immediately set up an exploration app for us on a Google Cardboard, handing it to Lekha first.

Anna: What are you seeing?

Lekha: Oh my god. I see flowers, its giving me the kind of flowers it is! An arctic puppy… birds…

When she handed the Cardboard to me, I was in a fishing boat in the ocean, surrounded by choppy waves and huge glaciers. As I looked around, a giant whale jumped out of the water almost landing in my boat, startling me. It is interesting to think back on now, because even though it was clearly a digital moment, it feels like a memory of actually being somewhere. We also flew over Google Earth, seeing fields, the city of Chicago, almost like we were looking out of an airplane window.

Anna: Now that you have experienced VR, what do you think?

Lekha: I’m more excited about it. I want to give our users the same experience I would like to get out of VR. As I was creating the project, I kept thinking of creating it in second person, like you would get to see yourself going through the thing, but that kind of defies the point of VR. Now that I’ve experienced it myself, I have a better idea of how it will work.

Speaking with this group at the midway point on Friday was helpful because it gives me a greater appreciation for the final product. More than I usually consider goes into creating VR apps, and this team’s hard work has made me all the more invested in what they can create. I will meet up with them again on Demo Day, March 17th, as the competition concludes to get their final thoughts.

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