- Use version control. Thankfully I started doing this very early on. I had heard of the benefits and for whatever reason actually took them seriously. I started a religious habit of regularly pushing changes to GIT. I only used GIT to roll back to previous versions of projects hand handful of times, but had I not had the option I would have had a much bigger problems on my hands.
- Don’t underestimate the time required. Taking on any study that requires large blocks of time can’t be taken lightly. It’s not going to be enough to only do a 30 min stretch at lunch, or an hour once the kids are in bed. You’re going to need a clear half day at least once a week to make real progress. Also make sure you know what’s going to consume your time on projects in any given block. No sense clearing 4 hours for study only to have 3 hours of that time consumed rendering a 4k 360 video.
- Don’t forget to look after yourself. With pressure on your time it’s easy to cut out things like exercise or time with your family. Don’t do that. Cut out things that are actually a waste of time instead. TV is a big one, but also think of ways of compressing your time. Like listening to audio books while you go for a run rather than reading a book alone.
- Take breaks. If your mind is cluttered you’re not going to learn as well as you might. I found when I spent more than an hour trying to solve an issue the thing to do was take a 20 minute walk, clear my head, then take another crack at it. It’s amazing how often your mind will solve problems for you when you let it.
- Take notes. Even if you never refer to them, take them anyway. Do this with a pen and paper (or a tablet and a pencil). It’s all about making the information get in your head. I almost never refer to my notes, I don’t take them to remember later. I take them to remember them now.
- Try and integrate your life into your study. I did this by using my kids as the target audience for my projects and used them as user testing subjects while developing. It let me spend quality time with them and get some study done. It was also an education for them too so a real win win.
- Scope out what you’ll need before you begin. I started my course with a late 2009 Mac Mini. While old, it was fine for much of the course. The later parts that required 4k 360 video editing, not so much. This sort of thing can add considerable costs to your study budget so make sure you have a line of sight on this and save accordingly.
- Get involved in the community. A huge part of successful study for me was the community of learners and educators around the subject. Help others and ask for help when you need it. Don’t waste time beating yourself to death if you get stuck. Solving your problem on a public forum helps everyone else with the same issue in future. So don’t be selfish, ask for help.
- Be grateful. To your partner for looking after the kids. To your friends for listening to your ramblings about project issues. To your class mates and mentors for helping you along the way. Be grateful.
- Stick it out. Software development is hard. It’s not supposed to be easy. It is literally constant problem solving. There will be times you’ll think “maybe I’m just not good at this”. Just keep going.
I’ve been AFK for a while (holiday) so I just wanted to post the details of the final version of night at the museum I finished a few weeks ago that I delivered as part of my Udacity VR course.
The project went well (in that I passed) but I have to admit it was an exercise in restraint as much as anything. Like a lot of people I tend to have a big plans for everything I make but those plans are not always practical. This project was no exception. While I am ultimately happy with what I created, I do consider it very much a minimum viable project. When it comes to working on assignments like this there are a number of things to consider. First and foremost for me is available time.
I’m totally loving learning VR development, at this point I spend almost all my free time doing it. But working full time and having a young family is a busy time in life, so if I want to progress projects I have to be efficient with my time or things can stagnate. Also I currently pay for my studies via a monthly subscription so every extra month a project slips into comes with a significant extra cost.
Just to give you a few examples of compromises made on this project:
- Playing content at each of the stations was fairly limited and doesn’t have much finesse. For example the final build allows the user to play audio from all 5 stations at the same time, this leads to a fairly horrible experience if a user does this
- I reused a museum model from a previous project because it was faster than building my own. This means it’s not really an ideal setup. The space feels a little constrained and doesn’t provide much room to move about. Most real museums are quite spacious so it didn’t really fit the aesthetic I was aiming for
- I wasn’t that happy with the spatial audio implementation. The environment had a bit to much reverberated for my liking and given more time I would have improved this a bit
- There’s no environmental audio, just the content of the stations. I’d preferred to add some atmosphere to the scene just to add the the feel of the place
There are loads of other things that could be better about the final deliverable, but ultimately what was made “did the job”. Creating anything is always a series of compromises and I think delivering something you can live with and (resourcing permitting) can be built upon, is more important than getting things perfect. Perfection, after all, is the enemy of the shipped.
If you’re interested in the projects code, it’s all available on my Github account. Enjoy.
It’s hard to not have “all the feels” watching the above video (Ideally in VR if you’ve got a cardboard headset). The creators have done such an amazing job of crafting a great story with some seriously well thought out VR technique.
For example transitions/cuts within a 360 video like this can be very jarring, and require the user to reorientate themselves with each cut. In this video, they’ve used the fixed position of the car interior to ground the viewer. It’s extremely effective at controlling the flow of the experience.
The audio is also exceptional. Not only does the song to a great job of creating an emotional connection to the characters, but the changes in audio based on when the characters are inside or outside the car are just wonderful. Spatial audio at its finest.
Just a beautiful bit of work.
The more I create C# scripts in Unity the more I learn about optimising those scripts. With code there are 100s of ways to solve a problem, not all of them efficient, so learning to check your codes performance seems like a must.
Things to look for
So far I’ve come across a few simple things to look out for on the projects I’ve been coding. I’ll post more as I come across them in future.
- Anything that’s called every frame creates consistent load on the CPU, GPU or both. If what’s called is inefficient or large it will have a negative effect on frame rate. In VR this is particular bad given low frame rates can make your user physically sick. Be sure to look at what’s in the Update and FixedUpdate methods and do your best to optimise the code as much as possible.
- Working on mobile we will almost always be maxing out the graphics capability of the device. This effects the performance of the Update method. On the other hand FixedUpdated runs in sync with Unity’s physics engine. This will make sure your physics will be the most accurate and consistent. FixedUpdate is called every “physics step”, so is regularly used for adjusting physics (rigid body) objects. Make sure you always put your physics code in FixedUpdate.
- Avoid using GameObject.Find. It basically requires the system to cycle through all of the GameObjects in the game to find the right one, which obviously is expensive for the CPU. If you know what object we are using ahead of time, define the object at the top of the script and reference it that way. GameObject.Find is useful for testing out ideas, but that’s about it.
As with most things in Unity there’s a fairly reasoned logic to how this is done. You need three main things:
- An audio source. You can think of this as the media player, it is literally the source of the audio within your environment
- An audio clip. This is the actual audio file that will be played by your audio source. So think of this as the song that will be played by your media player
- An audio listener. This is effectivly your virtual ears within the virtual world. Normally this is attached to your main camera.
To give you an example of how I this works in practice. I first attached a GvrAudioListener to my main camera. This will allow my player to hear the sounds produced. Next add a GvrAudioSource to a GameObject you want to produce a sound. Now load your audio source (your media player) with an audio clip. There’s a few different supported formats, any old mp3 will work nicely. Just drag your MP3 into the audio click field of your GvrAudioSource. By default the audio will play on wake, so just hit play to enter game mode and you should hear your new audio right away.
For more information on the ins and outs of Google Cardboard Audio capabilities, check out the documentation.
Pro Tip: If you find your audio doesn’t play, try clicking edit -> project settings -> audio and make sure the “Spatializer plugin” is set to Gvr.
Managed to get everything to compile to the phone again. Also, I can move about the place now 🙂
The big issue was around the legacy Google Cardboard SDK junking up the project. Completely deleting all SDK related files, old and new, then reinstalling the new was the quickest solution.
Once that was done, recreating key items like the events system and camera using the supplied GVR SDK components made life relatively straightforward.
Big thanks to synthercat for his wise guidance.
Check out the video below.
So that thing I broke, it’s getting fixed. Little by little, day by day.
So far I’ve managed to get:
- VR working properly again (at least I think I have)
- select objects again
- the FPS back over 60
Unfortunately I still can’t compile to my phone but hopefully, the weekend sorts that. It’s funny how breaking this thing has been possibly the most educational part of the course so far. I’m not saying I’d make a habit of it, but it was a net positive overall.
Here’s the latest update:
Making stuff is difficult, especially when that stuff is new. This is something I’m all too aware of. I was progressing nicely with my Night at the Museum project when (in my wisdom) I decided to upgrade my production tools mid project. A word of advice, never do that.
Spending hours fixing a long list of issues is frustrating, but it isn’t a total loss. The key to success when you hit a bump in the road (like sucking at it, hating self etc) is to keep going! It’s not always easy but if you ever want to get good at anything, the key is preserving. Even in the face of self loathing and a general distrust of your own abilities.
When you’re doing something new, embracing the tough times and road blocks as an opportunity is key. You’ve got to see it as a way to toughen your resolve. If you can’t turn adversity into a win, then the that adversity will win and you’ll stop progressing.
So the next time you find yourself making a virtual museum experience and your:
- VR cameras stop working
- you can no longer select items
- your frame rate drops to a nausea inducing 27 fps
- you can no longer compile to a device
- all of the above is your fault because you made an idiotic decision
- delays cost you $300 per month in additional course fees (seriously send money now!)
Don’t give up, keep going! Not only that, tell other people about it. Seeing other peoples screw-ups is encouraging to others on the path to something new.
I’m working on a project for my studies with Udacity. The goal is to create a VR experience that demonstrates my research into a VR company. I’ll do a series of posts on this as I progress along the path to completion.
To start here’s my first crack at the initial documentation for the project:
Statement of purpose
The purpose of the "Night at the museum" application is educate the user on the HTC Vive VR solution. The experience is based on an exhibit style scene, which contains 5 "stations", each covering some aspect of the HTC Vive.
The target audience for this application is anyone interested in VR that would like to learn more about the HTC Vive VR solution. Here’s a basic persona from them:
Name: Wade Watts Age: 18 Role: Budding VR enthusiast VR Experience: Experience with google cardboard but limited beyond that Quote: "VR is very exciting, I can't wait to learn more" About this person: Wade has grown up with computers, game consoles, tablets and smart phones. He's a digital native that loves to escape into his devices. VR is the ultimate expression of that escape.
I’ve started by looking at different museum and exhibit styles to select a something that fits the aesthetic I’m looking for. After looking at altogether too many museums (if that’s possible) I eventually settled on classic Greek style building with exhibits setup like sculptures on pedestals. I’m using the following images as inspiration for the design:
I like this style, it reminds me of some of my favourite museum tours, and I’ve also done some work in a previous project that shares a similar style. This should allow me to reuse some of the assets from that project, meaning I can move faster. Always important when you’re pressed for time.
Having established a concept for the style of the experience a setup to make a concept build. Using the assets from previous work made putting something workable together relatively easy.
I added a terrain GameObject with a few mountains in the distance to give the scene a sense of depth. I dropped in a “temple” model that is a good fit for a museum and added a few items to flesh out the concept. For the actual stations I acquired an HTC Vive model from sketchfab user Eternal Realm. I also kept an eye out for the scenes frame rate to make sure I wasn’t introducing anything at this early stage that had a big impact on performance. I still have a few more models to acquire but I’m happy with the direction the concept is heading in.
Now that I’ve got the basics in place the next thing on the agenda is the first round of user testing. I shouldn’t have to much trouble acquiring a suitable test subject to get things moving. I will be interesting to see how the scene changes and progresses over the course of development.
As a bit of a thought experiment I’m taking a look at an industry and imagine a VR app might reshaping it.
Given my family’s always been in the construction industry (flooring), I thought it might be interesting to look into a segment of that market; medium to large scale commercial building construction.
To that end here’s a concept for an application that would help a site foreman and workers during a construction project to visualise the job to be done.
Statement of purpose
Create a virtual version of a construction site that shows the project at various stages of construction. Allowing the team to collectively understand what is to be done and how things should be at various stages. The application should also demonstrate hazards on site without exposing workers to those hazards.
Age: 30-65 Occupation: Site foreman Name: Alex A Quote: "A 200 page job spec might be required reading, but no ones actually across it all. It would be great to be able to see the spec and show it to others to explain the detail" 2–3 sentences describing what motivates them: Alex works long hours, and carries a lot of information and responsibility in their head. A key part of Alex's role is communication and having better tools to align everyone's activities on site are critical to a success project. Staff safety is also a top priority. Giving people a clear understand of what's going on across the site keeps everyone safe. Their experience level with VR: Little to none
Q and A
Q: How accessible would each VR platform be to your target student in terms of price? Take into account location, age, and income. A: The only platforms that are really accessible is Cardboard/Daydream or Gear VR style VR. A construction site can be a busy, dirty place. An expensive tethered full immersion rig really isn't practical on site.
Q: How interactive does your lesson need to be? For example, do I need to pick things up or could I get away with just looking at objects? A: The user needs to be able to look at various objects, select them and have some details displayed to them. Movement would be required to view various scenes but does not require movement within a scene.
Q: How realistic do your visuals need to be in order to teach? For example, could I use 2D images and videos in a 3D Environment or do you need high poly 3D models. A: images clear enough to show construction detail and highlight hazards is sufficient. I would also be useful in some cases to be able to show exploded views of constructions, but this could also be done via images or simple animations.
Q: Does my student need to feel like a participant in the experience or can they be a passive viewer? Could they be both? A: Primarily they could be a passive viewer. The purpose of this app is to give the user a sense of what's going on, what needs to be done and what safety issues there are. There's little to no complex interaction required.
Q: Given the answers above, what are potential platforms you could use for your experience? A: In this case I think any platform could work, providing the right conditions. For example a dedicated space would be required for a high immersion setup. Having said that it would be far more practical to use a mobile setup on a construction site.