Diaries from a Hologram Hackathon. No headgear required.
A VR Studio makes their first hologram game.
DAWN OF THE FIRST DAY (T-48 Hours)
Walking to the Looking Glass lab for the first time that Friday afternoon, our team (Eos Interactive) didn’t really know what to expect. The journey into the space itself perfectly reflected what was to come (their office is serendipitously at the back of an old glass blowing factory at the edge of Greenpoint, Brooklyn), and we were warmly welcomed by the Looking Glass team.
Upon arrival, we were quickly introduced to the other participants in the HoloHackathon and given a wonderful array of pizza and beer over which to socialize and break the ice. We even got to enjoy the nice view for a bit just before the sun set.
Though both of our companies were at Play NYC earlier this year, none of us ever got the chance to try out the HoloPlayer —even in it’s first infancy. Fortunately, Looking Glass had numerous HoloPlayers scattered throughout the lab with demos in play for us to experiment on and get acquainted with the new technology. After enjoying some pizza and beer for a little while, everyone had a chance to walk around and try out some of the apps on the machines. Many of the Looking Glass members were there to show us the ropes and explain how the tech worked. This proved to be invaluable to us down the line. [At this point, if any of you are curious about what the HoloPlayer is, head on over to the Looking Glass website for a refresher.]
We originally arrived at the hackathon with a few potential ideas, but upon interacting with the HoloPlayer in person, we knew we had to scramble and find something completely different; something that could utilize and take advantage of both the unique strengths and constraints of the device. Before we wracked our brains for too long that night, some of the Looking Glass crew started an outdoor, rooftop DDR competition. We got distracted.
DAWN OF THE SECOND DAY (T-24 Hours)
The following morning Rob and Jose took their original idea and stripped it bare. Originally, we wanted to make a memory game where players had to remember something and notice changes between scene states, but after seeing the HoloPlayer in person, we knew that idea just wouldn’t cut it. We wanted something that would take full advantage of the sense of depth the user feels, but could also work around the limited viewing angle. John came up with an idea of a conveyor belt moving items around earlier in the week, and we decided to riff on that. We wondered how we could leverage the power and perception of holograms to make the game not only fun, but uniquely fun; something you couldn’t possibly experience with any other interface.
Although our studio predominantly works in VR, designing for the HoloPlayer was challenging and familiar at the same time. The interactions with real-world holograms is fundamentally the same as the interactions with virtual ones (VR game objects). The only differences lie in the real world-physical constraints of both devices, i.e. — wearable headsets vs external illusions of light. Designing around these real world limitations was the real challenge for us.
For this hackathon, we had to pull our mental headsets off for a bit (literally), and think about how we could create similar experiences but in the material world with holograms. We wanted a real sense of connection to the holograms, to feel as though you’re actually reaching into a space and interacting with a real object.
Enter Evan’s JoyCon wand hack. We were shown this little beaut the night before, and Rob spent some time analyzing how the wand was being used. We were hooked instantly. Rob and Jose finished drafting up the rest of the initial mechanics with the wand in mind, and then relayed it all back to John.
Later that morning, Evan was kind enough to get John set up with the code and the JoyCon while Rob worked on connecting the HoloPlayer to his computer.
Using Unity Collaborate and Trello, we all got to work on our individual tasks, and in a few hours John was able to come up with a working proof of concept. As the wand’s cursor hovered over specific objects, the JoyCon would vibrate and give us the haptic feedback we needed. This haptic feedback gave us a rough sense of connection to each object in that 3D space. The player was then able to pickup and drop objects in the hologram.
But since our game required some precision when moving the objects around, we needed another way for them to connect to this world and help increase the accuracy of their movements. We needed sound. But not just any sound. We needed sound that would fit the merging aesthetic we were creating.
As a mechanics-first VR studio, our first priority was to make sure the basic manipulation of objects was fun and intuitive for the user. As such, we didn’t concentrate on a cohesive art style until about halfway through the hackathon. We realized that the resolution of the display was pretty low, and it reminded us of old 80s arcade cabinets. Hell, working with the HoloPlayer and leaning down and peering into this device perfectly mimicked the behavior of playing on one of those old cabinets, that we decided to run with it. Keeping with our simplified geometric shapes, our game would take this arcade cabinet theme and push it to its full cheesy 80’s glory. This is where our retro-style soundtrack and sfx came into play. Every piece of aural feedback would be an homage to these rough but much-adored 8-bit sfx. We were very pleased to see that these elements merged well with the HoloPlayer, and everything started to come together. We had the retro 80s hats, working on tech that reminded us of early 80s ingenuity, why not make an 80s inspired game?
The rest of the day consisted of non-stop work, delicious sandwiches, copious amounts of coffee, and some amazing Thai food. We were exhausted, but excited to give it another go the next day.
DAWN OF THE FINAL DAY (T-10 Hours)
The last day started with a lot of a coffee and figuring out some bugs and glitches. This day was all about polishing and juicing the game to make sure it held up during the playtests. Thankfully, we had a lot of help from the Looking Glass team whenever we ran into technical issues or hardware questions. Some of them even came by to give us some early feedback.
The rest of the day was spent creating the playable level, finalizing the sound effects, and adding in some much-desired features to increase the game’s complexity. After crunching for many more hours, it was time to take a break before the judging.
The judging and feedback eventually started, and it went really well. Some of the Looking Glass crew started competing for a high score!
We loved seeing everyone come by and try it out. It felt amazing to have people reacting so positively to it, and we wished we could have polished it more!
In the end we won four L3D cubes and our very own HoloPlayer for our studio!
We’ve honestly never been to any game jam quite like this before. Looking Glass was extremely accommodating to us, and kept us going and inspired throughout the entire weekend.