unity Workshops as Game-Jam PREP

Over the past month I and another Unity Student Ambassador have been running introductory workshops at Hull University. In order to provide motivation and increase engagement with students interested in game development, we decided to hold two preparatory workshops for the University’s Bi-annual 24h GameJam: 3TG on the 3rd of November. This gave us around a month to prepare the students, so we planned two fortnightly workshops, on the 10th and 24th of October.

For this format, we decided to have them complete a whole game in each 2h workshop, no matter how simple. Each workshop was set out as a self-contained project, focusing on creating a fully playable game whilst learning specific Unity functionality:

  • In the First workshop we started from absolute scratch, introducing basic concepts and User Interface, then moved on to simple C# scripting, collisions, materials and scene changing. The class slides were available online as a .pdf tutorial file, which was very useful for those who couldn’t attend, but also for those in class. It allowed them to more easily read the coding sections, and for different levels of students to continue engaging. This first workshop was a great success. The tutorial and Graphical assets are freely available here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1c2EKiWGuPq4jmlBGbZHU4ez1HqBmSjk6
  • In the Second workshop we introduced a lot more, as it was the final workshop before the gamejam. We looked at unity packages, 2D sprites and animations, physics, triggers, prefabs and audio. This workshop unfortunately could not be completed in 2h, and stretched to 3h for those who did not have to leave. Many people completed it at home however, as the assets are available online: https://drive.google.com/open?id=18B3Tql9mSsiWSh7WrUm0pmCGLd0TzuQe

There are many lessons to learn from running these workshops, such as content prioritisation, time estimation, and class management. In hindsight, three workshops would have been the ideal to cover all of Unity’s basic functionality at a calm and unhurried pace. That is how we will set it up in the future.  Another challenging aspect that we came across was addressing the different levels of participants, and engaging with them all, despite the massive experience difference between one person and the next. As mentioned previously, providing the tutorial slides during the workshop was a big help, and permitted the students with more experience to continue progressing, whilst students with less experience were not left behind, and could set the pace of the main teaching.

Overall, the workshops were very successful in preparing the attendees, and promoting the gamejam. Many of the students began with no experience in game development whatsoever, and would not otherwise have felt ready to enter a gamejam. But after completing two small games, and covering all the core functionality of Unity, they not only felt confident participating, but created some really great games!

HullCSS – Local Winners of NASA Space Apps Challenge

 

This weekend I was part of team HullCSS, a team made up of 5 members of the Hull University Computer Science society. Together we entered the NASA spaceapps 2018 hackathon, and managed to win the Hull Local Award, qualifying for the Global competition. The 30 second video above was our  submission after a tiring weekend of work.

We used PlayCanvas, VisualStudio, and the C# MVC Framework in order to create our solution to the challenge. SpaceTrack is a visualisation tool that allows you to see and learn more about rocket launches, finding out where and when they’re happening for the next few years. I worked mainly in javascript, using playCanvas to provide engaging visuals and interactive functionality.

A link to our submission page is here: https://2018.spaceappschallenge.org/challenges/can-you-build/when-next-rocket-launch/teams/hullcss/project

Mixed Reality Accelerator

For those who don’t know, I attended VISR’s Mixed Reality Accelerator earlier in the year. It finished this August, and I finally have the time to sit down and go through it. Thankfully I have been given permission to speak about our project without any restrictions from the Non-disclosure agreement. I do not have good quality promotional media yet though, so I will add those at a later date.

It was a great experience, no question. We created some really innovative solutions, and not only that, we formed a good community of like-minded people that will hopefully last well after the Accelerator. Below I’ve split the experience into two sections:

The Preparation

The First two weeks were dedicated to team-building, teaching and preparing the participants. We had lectures on C# programming, the VERTX platform, 3D asset creation, and Unity from the team at VISR. Around these lectures we were assigned into small groups and competed in two Game Jams in order to put our knowledge into practice, and foster teamwork and coordination. This was undoubtedly the best way to prepare 20+ students for a real-life project.

  • The First GameJam was also our first time working with each other, and the concept was simply to make a Game and build it to the Xbox using UWP (Universal Windows Platform). This was tough but rewarding, as we had to figure out all aspects of collaboration, such as source control, task management, and planning, whilst some members of the group had just been introduced to the basics of Unity. Learning how to build to UWP was crucial, as this is the process we would later use to build for the Hololens.

 

  • The Second GameJam was geared more towards preparing us for the Hololens, as each group had to create an app that allowed you to manipulate 3D objects in space, and had to include multiplayer networking logic. Thanks to the first Game Jam, we found it much easier to work as a team, and create the game itself. The real challenge was the networking logic, which was new to all of us, but it was a great learning experience. In order to complete this task we used VERTX plugins integrated into Unity.

 

The Project

After that, our groups were finally assigned the companies that we would be working with, and everybody met their Industry Representatives. Our group partnered with LearningMate, a large Education and Training development company. The POC (Proof Of Concept) they envisioned was an application to be used by engineers to aid in maintaining complex machinery. This was to be achieved by combining Hololens functionality with an IoT integrated electric box via the online VERTX platform.

We liaised with our Industry Reps on a daily basis, they were amazing help throughout the entire process, in all areas from Business, to Programming, Graphics and UX. Together we pinpointed 4 key functionalities that would serve as an MVP (Minimum Viable Product): Live Information of components, Interactive guide, Remote Assist, and a collaborative learning exercise. Additionally, all of these holographic functionalities needed to be positioned correctly respective to the physical electric box, and be easily accessible from a main menu. This was the storyboard I drew up for the User Journey:

LearningMateFinalStoryBoard.png

Our group of 4 then divided up the tasks, I took the tasks of project management, 3D asset creation, and Unity/C# developer, another focused on the IoT aspect of the project as well as managing the teams source control (git) and the other two worked almost exclusively as Unity/C# developers.

We followed Agile development methods, having a scrum every morning to report progress and blockages, using an online Kan-ban board, and splitting the four aspects of our MVP into sprints: 2 weeks for the applications main menu, and the first functionality, 1 week each for the other three functionalities, and 1 week for final polish.

With a lot of hard work, and a few late nights near the end, we were able to deliver all of these, and the project was a resounding success. Our final application showcased:

  • An intuitive method of scanning the environment and placing a visual anchor on the electric box for alignment.
  • A simple an clear menu with subtle animations, perfect for all levels of Hololens users, leading  professionals from Microsoft to praise our UI.
  • A holographic exploded view of the Box’s components, with windows showing live information on the status of each of those components, as well as logs showing previous service history. All visible before even touching the physical box, and with the ability to leave a recorder message for future engineers.
  • An interactive guide, directing the user to perform a maintenance bypass and replace a fuse safely. This was possible due to integrating IoT sensors on all components of the box, so that every physical action performed by the user was logged, and that information was sent directly to the Hololens for it to proceed to the next instruction. Having the holograms respond instantly to physical stimuli is an incredible feeling, and is the star of our application. It greatly increases immersion and usability.
  • Integration of “Microsoft Remote Assist”. Allowing the user to place a call directly from within the app and receive audiovisual assistance from a remote expert.
  • A collaborative feature showing the possibility of several Hololens users manipulating the same virtual components in order to construct a virtual electric box. Being able to see and interact with the same holograms as other users adds a lot to the perception of realism.

Images of each function are pending, and will be uploaded when possible, for now you can see short videos of all projects here: www.visr-vr.com/vertx-projects/#learningmate

Hopefully we will be able to get a video that shows off all functionalities soon.

Mixed Reality Accelerator – VISR

Finally finished with first year, I should be receiving my results any day now. More importantly however, is the Accelerator program that I will be attending until mid August, ran by Hull based VR company VISR!

www.visr-vr.com/accelerator/ 

The program trains students in developing for the Hololens, providing real projects to work on, from real big-name companies. In the next few months, my fellow students and I will be producing real interactive spatial solutions to address industry needs.

Two weeks have already passed, but only now have we been assigned our work groups and partner companies. For these first two weeks we have had several workshops ranging from the use of singletons in C# to the creation of 3D assets, and have had two “GameJam’s”. Game Jams you ask? Yup. And I can think of no better method to get 24 individual students to: work together, learn new software and hardware, build teamwork, and gain experience.

Very excited, but I probably won’t be able to post much due to the NDA. Hopefully when the project is completed, I will be able to share. Until then, here is what microsoft have to say about it:

news.microsoft.com/en-gb/2018/06/20/university-of-hull-and-visr-launch-worlds-first-microsoft-hololens-summer-school/

 

Getting stuck into Mixed Reality – Thank god for emulators

Starting to mess around with developing for mixed reality with the Microsoft Hololens emulator and Unity, and I have to say, its going surprisingly smoothly! Whilst I wont be able to buy myself an actual Hololens any time soon, the emulator does a very good job for development purposes, and works seamlessly with visual studio and Unity. (after taking 10m on first launch… but ah well, can’t be picky)

My last foray into the world of AR was back in 2014, using Qualcomm Vuforia and Unity. Whilst there were a few headaches, especially getting the apps to work on actual mobile devices, that development was also relatively smooth thanks to Unity’s in-built emulator, which allowed me to use my webcam to test out the scenes, holding up the physical AR targets created via Vuforia’s developer website. I have yet to use Vuforia again, since it was integrated into Unity as standard from the 2017.2 version onward, but look forward to doing so, as I have heard great things about it.

Back to the present, I was a little surprised, but delighted to find that everything went exactly as Microsofts tutorial said it would: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/mixed-reality/academy. Once I updated my version of visual studio, and downloaded the emulator, https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/mixed-reality/using-the-hololens-emulator, it was the next best thing to having a hololens in front of me.

Whilst it is still just a dev tool, and cannot replicate the sense of wonder and experience that I’m sure a real device would bring, it is very useful to train and learn with. With the cost of the hololens being so high, an effective emulator is essential, whether for poor students, or large companies who cannot afford a hololens per developer. It is reassuring to see it work so well, I am glad that microsoft have realised its importance.

Angry Rolling Drake

In a previous post I mentioned that we had won our second ThreeThingGame  with our game: “Angry Rolling Drake”. But this time I will leave out the bragging, and focus on the game itself. We haven’t polished it much, as we wanted to stay true to the game that was built in 24 hours.  Bugs “Unique features” and all. Here it is in all of its glory!

The three words to make our game from were: Angry, Rolling and Drake 

In this particular park feeding the ducks has been banned! As a Drake (male mallard duck), you get a bit Angry about this, especially as you were programmed not to be able to eat anything else! As your rage builds, you decide to declare war on the pedestrians, and take the bread by force.

Normally you are slower than the pedestrians, and will take damage if they hit you, decreasing your hunger gauge. Using your stored Anger however, you can Roll into a ball (as ducks do) and defeat those selfish people, gaining access to their bread. This can either be crumbs, a slice, or a loaf, each fill your hunger gauge by different amounts.

Running out of anger means going back to walking, so be careful how you use it. Try and last the longest before succumbing to hunger!

We will soon be uploading the game online, and when we do I will add a link here! Watch this space!

 

 

Another great “3 Thing Game”!

Earlier this year I posted that me and my team had won Hull Universitys 2017 Autumn Three Thing Game Jam

Well now I can happily report that we have also won the 2018 Spring Three Thing Game Jam! Well done to the team, and a massive well done and thankyou to the sound dev guys who put music to our madness!

Team “Parse(Nips);” came together again, though this time with an additional member, making it 3 first years and two second years. The three random words that we needed to incorporate into our game were “Angry”, “Rolling” and “Drake”. Whilst all three interpretations of “Drake” would have been entertaining (Singer, Duck, Dragon), we decided to use the duck.

Full video in my next post!