Virtual Reality

4 Steps Every Successful Game and VR Experience Needs to Go Through

By Felipe Lara – Instructor, New York Film Academy Game Design

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What is a successful game?

Defining game success in terms of profits is the easiest and simplest route: we can easily say that if game profits are higher than our investment, the game is successful. However, this view does not help us understand how to make a successful game, what ingredients to use and what processes to follow. Profitability depends on your game’s business model, which can vary widely from a free-to-play casual game to a premium VR experience. And in some cases, success might not even be about profit, but about teaching something or about creating a change in behavior — like in the case of many educational games.

If you are trying to make a “successful” game it is much more useful to define success in terms of player engagement. In most cases, there is a strong correlation between player long-term engagement and profitability. But if you understand more clearly how player engagement works, you can map the engagement sequence to the ingredients you need to add to your game and the decisions you need to make during game development.

What Does a Successful Game Look Like In Terms of Player Engagement?

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Image by Felipe Lara

A successful game needs to do 4 things in a sequential order:

  • STAND OUT: First, the game needs to stand out. If nobody is aware of your game, nobody will play it. Standing out is about the first impression. The challenge is finding a balance between familiarity and novelty, offering something the player understands but that is different enough from all the other apps to stand out.
  • CONNECT: Second, the game needs to connect with players and make them interested in finding out more. Somebody yelling in the middle of the street will get noticed, but the act of yelling itself won’t get people interested; people will only respond if they connect or resonate with what they hear. The same happens with games that get your attention in the app store or in the first couple of minutes of free-to-play game.
  • ENGAGE: Third, the game needs to engage players and keep them playing for a while. In most cases, the longer players stick around the more profitable the game is: this gives you more chances to monetize, more chances to get subscriptions, more chances to get recommended to friends, etc.
  • GROW: Finally, the game needs to find a way to scale or grow its player base. The best way to do that is by keeping your existing players, and adding features that make them want to invite their friends and promote your game.

Knowing that you need your game to go through the sequence above will help you choose the right ingredients to fulfill each of the steps. For example, one of the best ingredients for standing out in the crowd is having unique art; and one of the best ingredients for growing your game organically is by adding social mechanics that form a community around your game. There are in fact a few key ingredients that can be combined to fulfill the sequence above and create long-term engagement.
But First Clarify the Why and the Who

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Your Goals

Of course, none of the previous stuff matters if you are not reaching the goals you were trying to achieve with your game in the first place. You might be attracting players and keeping them around, but if you are trying to make an educational game and your game fails to educate, you are not succeeding even if you have tons of players sticking around. The same goes about monetization: if you have hundreds of thousands of players but you are not monetizing or reaching the profit you were looking to make, you are failing. You need to make sure that as your game connects and engages it is also teaching and/or monetizing. That is a big part of the trick, but for now let’s stick to the basics: you need to have a very clear idea of what are your goals and make sure that everything revolves around that.

Your Target Players

Just as important is to have a clear idea of your target player. The things that I need to do to stand out and connect to kids are very different from the things I need to do to stand out and connect to young adults. One of the main mistakes I’ve seen in my years developing games is trying to make something that is appealing to everybody, or to a very wide range of people. Trying to please all usually ends with not really pleasing or connecting with anyone.
Conclusion

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A good first step towards creating a successful game or a successful VR experience is defining how it looks  in terms of player engagement. Player engagement usually follows a specific path with specific steps: stand out and be noticed by your target audience, connect with them, engage them to continue playing for a while, and finally make them want to share your game with their friends so they stick around and help you grow.

Once you have a clear idea of what the game needs to do, you can look for the right combination of ingredients — art, game mechanics, story, and community building — that can take the players through the engagement sequence. In another article I will talk more about how these ingredients relate to the engagement sequence.

Ready to learn more about game and VR experiences? Check out NYFA’s VR and Game Design programs.

 4 Books to Inspire You About the Future of Virtual Reality

To be very honest, it’s impossible to NOT be excited about the sheer potential of virtual reality. From the perspective of the user- it’s exactly like tumbling into wonderland and discovering a whole new surreal and interactive world. From the point-of-view of the VR developer, it’s like playing God- creating and designing a world as per your imagination. Whether you’re looking to work in the lucrative VR industry or just a scifi nerd, these books will inspire you about VR’s future by sharpening your imagination with futuristic fantasies or giving you theoretical knowledge you can put to test.

1. “Learning Virtual Reality: Developing Immersive Experiences and Applications for Desktop, Web, and Mobile” by Toni Parisi

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If you’re looking for an easy to read but extensive introduction packed with practical tips, this is your go-to handbook. Written by an industry expert and entrepreneur, this book gives you a lowdown on the 3 most important VR platforms- Cardboard, Gear and Oculus- and explains how to actually go about doing the stuff. After all to make your imagination into reality you need to learn UI design, work with 3D graphics as well know a fair bit of programming.

2. “Neuromancer” by William Gibson

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This seminal cyberpunk work of fiction, first published in 1984 that ushered in the world of cyberspace and VR, long before the Wachowski duo made the “The Matrix” (1999). Set in a futuristic America, the novel follows Case and Molly as they try to save the world from a rogue AI. So if you’re having trouble wrapping your head round the whole idea of VR and its consequences, this book should give you ideas.

3. “Masters Of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture” by David Kushner

Of course, if Pokemon Go is anything to go by, the primary field to be affected by VR is the gaming industry.  Which means if you’re really interested in VR, you might as well be a geek when it comes to video games especially of the experimental variety. This book talks about how two random guys came together to form their company “id software” that went on to launch the famous “Commander Keen” and “Wolfenstein 3D” games. It not only gives a sneak peek into how the video games are designed and how the industry works in general, but it also highlights the importance of collaboration and the need to work in a team of complementing skill sets to make successful products.

4. “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson

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Hailed by VR experts and scientists like Michael Abrash, this hard sci fi novel that came out in 1992 literally set the ball rolling for the virtual to be made real. In fact, most of the VR terminology we use everyday such as “metaverse” and “avatar” can all be traced back to this book that is a blend of history, myth, linguistics, computer science and politics and makes for heavy reading.  

5. “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

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As Variety puts it, Ernest Cline’s visionary dystopian novel “has been hailed by many in the VR industry as a seminal piece of writing about virtual worlds.” It’s inspired so many current industry leaders, VR developers, and artists, that Warner Bros. is currently producing a major motion picture version of the book directed by Stephen Spielberg, to be released in 2018.

So if you’re up for studying VR at NYFA, these books are a must-read to brush up your knowledge as well as to broaden your horizons. After all VR is one field that requires both technical skill and expertise as well as creativity and imagination. So while you’re reading a programming handbook on Unity, make sure you’re up to date with important sci fi literatures as well.

9 Big Names in Virtual Reality to Follow Right Now

Virtual reality is one of the hottest trends in entertainment right now. You’ve probably heard about tech companies investing in goofy-looking glasses, but virtual reality is more than just a headset. It’s about expanding the experience and stimulating the mind.

Here are a few pioneers in the industry that you may want to watch — they could produce the next big thing in virtual reality-based entertainment.

1. Julina Tatlock, Founder and CEO of 30 Ninjas

Founded in 2008, 30 Ninjas is a digital entertainment company that specializes in VR productions. Tatlock and partner Doug Liman are both award-winning pioneers in the VR industry; their projects have been nominated for multiple Emmys and have won both the Shorty and Social TV Grand Prize. Prior to her VR career, Tatlock worked in television at Oxygen Media and Martha Stewart Living.

2. Samantha Quick, The New York Times

Samantha, a video journalist with the New York Times, has been focused on the VR industry for over two years. Samantha provides updates on some of the Times’ recent VR projects and initiatives. A former developer for 30 Ninjas, Samantha now assists the New York Times in creating and producing 360 degree news and virtual reality projects.

3. Chris Milk, Filmmaker and Founder of Within

This legendary filmmaker worked on videos for clients such as U2 and Nintendo before becoming interested in virtual reality at a 2011 Coachella art installation show. He founded Within to portray the human experience by using virtual reality.

Users can now download the Within app to create innovative stories using only the app and a simple VR headset. Unlike gaming or fantasy that aims to create different worlds for escapist pleasure, Milk’s app focuses on capturing human emotions and experiences.

4. Ken Birdwell, Valve VR Engineer

While he started off skeptical about the future of VR, Ken — one of the creators of the immensely popular Portal and Half-Life series — eventually got pulled into the VR world. He was a major influence on the HTC Vive headset, which uses what Ken refers to as “room scale.”

Room scale is a design paradigm which allows users to freely walk around a play area, with their real-life motion reflected in the VR environment. Using infrared sensors for 360 degree tracking purposes, room scale takes the user’s movements into account and translates this into real-time within the VR world.

5. Debra Anderson, CSO of Datavized

Debra Anderson is a VR entrepreneur who debuted her cinematic VR piece “In/Formation” in 2015, which covered virtual reality pioneers. She’s the co-founder and chief strategy officer at Datavized, a company that is building a 3D publishing platform for the collaboration of creative ideas and stories across the Internet. As a major leader in the world of VR, she founded the Women in VR Meetup and teaches VR courses at Parsons School of Design. She is currently directing and producing a Web VR story about violence against women in Nepal.

6. Alex Kipman, Microsoft HoloLens

This Brazilian-born inventor worked on Microsoft’s software development for years before joining the Xbox division in 2008, where he created the Kinect. The fastest-selling consumer device ever made, the Kinect cemented Kipman’s reputation as a pioneer in the VR field, but he wasn’t done yet. In 2015, he debuted the HoloLens- a headset that displays 3D holograms that the user can interact with by reaching out and touching them.

7. John Carmack, CTO of Oculus

Tech wizard John Carmack isn’t just another software developer. He’s also a rocket scientist who was aggressively headhunted by Elon Musk. Carmack, co-founder of id Software, was the lead programmer for a number of popular games including “Doom,” “Quake,” and “Rage.” He took over the coveted CTO position at Oculus VR in 2013, and the virtual reality world can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with next.

8. Palmer Luckey, Founder of Oculus VR

Considered to be one of the most innovative thinkers in the industry, Luckey famously funded Oculus VR through a Kickstarter campaign where donors received a prototype Oculus Rift head-mounted display for $300. His campaign raised $250,000 in under two hours and had topped $2 million by the end of the month.

In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus VR for a cool $2 billion, proving that virtual reality was a hot investment. Luckey currently ranks #22 on Forbes’ 2016 list of America’s richest entrepreneurs under 40; while he may have sold his company to Facebook, he’s still a pioneer in the virtual reality industry that you may want to follow.

9. Bjork, Singer and Artist

Bjork has long been a pioneer in the visual arts as well as music. She famously dressed up as a giant swan at the 2001 Academy Awards. Now she’s getting into the world of virtual reality; her latest video, “Stonemilker,” features multiple Bjork’s singing in 360 degrees of visual space. Her latest art exhibition, Bjork Digital, showcases her four new VR videos for her new album “Vulnicura,” which will be released on VR platforms worldwide.

Who are you most inspired by in the emerging world of virtual reality? Let us know in the comments below! And, if you’re ready to learn more about virtual reality, study VR at New York Film Academy!

The 5 Ingredients of Successful Games and VR Experiences

By Felipe Lara, NYFA Game Design

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Image by Felipe Lara

What makes a game successful? The answer depends on your goals. Sometimes it is revenue, sometimes it is number of downloads, impact on your players, etc. However, focusing on these outcomes is usually not very helpful as a developer. It is much more helpful to define success in terms of engagement, because engagement can be linked directly to the kinds of decisions we need to make during development.

In a previous article (link to “A Roadmap…” article) we talked about how engagement follows a 4-step sequence: stand out, connect, engage, and grow. The next layer is to figure out which ingredients in a game can help you do that. In this article, we’ll look at five ingredients that will help your game or VR experience become more engaging in the long-term.

Your Ingredients

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Image by Felipe Lara

In the many years I spent developing MMOs for casual gamers (kids and families), I saw how there are four basic elements that can be combined very effectively to get the attention of players and make them want to stick around: art, fun mechanics, story, and community building:

  • ART: Art is what first catches your players’ eye and makes them want to take a closer look at your game. At first, players won’t know much about the specific mechanics and stories in your game. They decide to pay more attention after experiencing visuals that resonate with them.
  • FUN: Art by itself, no matter how cool it is, won’t keep your players for long. Finding fun stuff to do that is easy to understand, with clear goals, is what makes players want to stay more than a few seconds.
  • STORY: Even fun activities get repetitive unless there is a larger meaning and purpose behind them. Having a longer-term purpose or story that players can relate to is what makes them want to keep coming back. Shooting hoops is fun, but doing it everyday for hours can get boring quickly unless the activity is part of a larger story — like training to defeat an old rival team.
  • COMMUNITY: All good stories need an ending, but the meaning and purpose that you get from being part of a community can last for years. The games that we keep going back to over and over are the ones that let us form connections with people that we care about.

All these four elements are important to create a successful game that follows the sequence:

  1. Stand Out
  2. Connect
  3. Engage
  4. Grow

The importance of art, fun, story, and community may shift from one step of this sequence to another. For example, standing out depends much more on the art and how things look like than on the details of the story. Then again, engagement depends much more on the mechanics and story than the art, and growing depends heavily on the community building aspect. I’ve seen many good games that don’t succeed because they lacked one or more of these important elements.

Power Up With a Theme

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Image by Felipe Lara

What I’ve noticed through the years is that games are much more powerful and effective at engaging players when all the elements mentioned above (art, mechanics, story, and community) work together and reinforce each other.

Having a strong theme will help tie together the elements of your game and will make it much easier to connect emotionally with your players. But for a theme to do that, you need to have the right understanding of what a theme is.

Theme is not topic. Saying you want to do a pirate game is not enough. There are many different potential approaches to a pirate game: is it about gathering treasure? Is it about fighting the law? Is it about ship battles?

Theme is not about a conflict, either. Defining your theme as the conflict between pirates and the Spanish Armada is not enough. You need to pick a side, you need to have an opinion about the topic or conflict you are talking about, for example, “A pirate’s life is a wonderful life, because it is more free and exciting.”

When you state your theme as a clear point of view you get a much clearer idea of what you need from your mechanics and story. In this case, the elements would all need to revolve around the excitement of being a pirate and feeling free of responsibilities and commitments.

In his book “The Art of Game Design,” Jesse Schell relates an example from when we worked on a pirate’s virtual reality ride for Walt Disney Imagineering and DisneyQuest. In his book, he writes that as soon as they nailed down a theme for the ride, many of the design decisions about art style, game mechanics, story, and even technology became clear. As a result of clarifying the theme, all these ingredients ended up supporting each other to create a much more powerful and award-winning VR experience.

Conclusion

There are five ingredients that combine to help your game become much more engaging and successful: art, mechanics, story, community, and theme. When you put these ingredients together in a game or VR experience — art that resonates with your audience, mechanics that are fun and have clear goals, a story that adds meaning and context, a community makes you feel part of something larger than yourself, and a theme that ties it all together and connects to points of view with which your target audience can resonate — you get a much more engaging experience, and your chances of success grow exponentially.

Ready to learn more about virtual reality and game design? Check out NYFA’s VR programs and game design programs!

 

Virtual Reality Film Festivals to Keep an Eye On

Now that more industries and artists are exploring virtual reality technology, they are also showing off their work and products at conferences and festivals. One of the best ways to keep up with what is going on in any industry is attending events such as these where you can hear from the pros, take workshops, see films and test equipment and new products. While there aren’t many VR-only festivals, several of the major film and entertainment festivals are devoting time and space to VR practitioners. Here is New York Film Academy’s roundup of festivals to put on your list:

VR Fest

From the website: “The Virtual Reality Festival (VRF) is a community based organization dedicated to the development and expansion of virtual reality, augmented reality and other immersive entertainment technologies for use by both studio and independent artists, technologists, content creators, game designers and their audiences.”

Found by Christopher Crescitelli in 2014, VR Fest is a fully-curated touring Virtual Reality Film and Immersive Technology Festival. The festival co-sponsors with Extreme Tech Challenge (XTC) and MaiTai Global on a the global VR competition called the Extreme Virtual Reality Challenge, where VR/AR pioneers and entrepreneurs compete for a cash prize and a chance to display their work at the VR Lounge on Sir Richard Branson’s private Necker Island during the XTC Finals Event.

Tribeca Film Festival — Festival Hub

While the Tribeca Film Festival has film screenings, musical performances, and other events around Manhattan, the future of filmmaking is discussed and innovative work is on display at the Hub. In addition to Storyscapes, which features VR films, the Hub is also where you can learn about the intersection of art and technology in media, gaming, music, and documentary filmmaking.

On the festival’s website, Festival Director Genna Terranova explains, “Our experiential program is what happens when artists create wildly different adventures that go outside traditional methods. Here, stories are not passively watched, they are actually ‘experienced’ — you are a participant. Today, virtual reality offers a new landscape for creating worlds and stories. At its best it can be a powerful vehicle for magically transportive explorations that test the limits of our imaginations and psyches.”

SXSW

Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. The SXSW Conference provides networking and educational opportunities as well as entertainment.

From the website: “Featuring a variety of tracks that allow attendees to explore what’s next in the worlds of entertainment, culture, and technology, SXSW proves that the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together.”

The 2017 festival sessions included panels on funding VR projects, production in extreme environments, how VR and documentary filmmaking connect, using VR in live events and for global engagement, and several mentoring sessions  as well as demos and screenings.

Kaleidoscope

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Kaleidoscope produces events around the world that showcase the best in virtual reality from independent artists. Each season Kaleidoscope produces curated, traveling exhibitions of work from VR creators around the world. The 2017 Showcase Vol. 2 will be organized by local VR creators in the following cities: New York, London, Berlin, Sydney, Kyiv, Los Angeles, Paris, Leipzig, Seoul, and Hong Kong.

Sundance

The New Frontier section of Sundance features innovations in film and art. VR filmmaking has had an increasing presence at the festival. In addition to showings of new VR films, there are now panels about crafting narratives and audience interaction with VR films. On the festival website, you can also find a selection of films that were featured at the 2016 festival that can be viewed using Cardboard. From the website: “The line up represents some of the most compelling narrative and documentary VR storytelling being independently created today.”

SF Indiefest — CyberiaVR

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Imagine a film festival that you can attend from your own living room. That’s what the Cyberia Film Festival does for VR fans and filmmakers. The free, three-day festival allowed viewers from around the world to watch scheduled films and participate in Q&A sessions with filmmakers without having to travel anywhere.

From the website: “The CYBERIA Film Festival is the first conventionally-styled filmfest to be held in a Virtual Reality environment. CYBERIA seeks to explore a new frontier in cinema appreciation, reaching across the globe to bring together an audience as diverse as its content.”

VR Days Europe

Held in Amsterdam this year, VR Days Europe is a four-day festival that includes workshops, lectures, and demos that explore everything from feature film storytelling to business applications for VR filmmaking. The festival currently has an open call for the October 2017 event.

Dubai International Film Festival

The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) launched its VR program, DIFFerent REALITY, at the 2016 festival. The DIFFerent REALITY program offers festival goers an international selection of VR films, including fiction, documentary, and animation. There is also a business hub of the festival that includes panels with VR creators, interactive installations, and the chance to network.
On the festival’s website, DIFF’s Chairman, Abdulhamid Juma commented: “We have always been committed to discovering new talent and original storytelling to present exciting content that will entertain, educate and inspire DIFF audiences. VR gives filmmakers a new, immersive medium which is an exciting new direction for cinema and our compelling and engaging line-up of VR films push the technological boundaries of storytelling. We are extremely excited to bring some of the best VR experiences to DIFF this December and invite film fans to experience the future of storytelling firsthand.”

Raindance

Now in its 25th year, the Raindance Film Festival is the largest and most important independent film festival in the UK. In January 2016, the festival announced it was launching Raindance VR, a section of the festival dedicated to VR filmmaking. The 2017 festival takes place from Sept. 21 to Oct. 2 and is accepting submissions.

Festival organizers see VR presenting opportunities for low-budget independent filmmakers.

Raindance Founder Elliot Grove says, “We believe VR is the most exciting change in cinema and filmmaking since the onslaught of internet distribution which started with Youtube in 2005.”

FIVARS

FIVARS is the first Canadian festival dedicated solely to VR storytelling and filmmaking. The festival was started in 2015 and is the first VR festival to be listed on WithoutABox.com — a marketplace for filmmakers to submit their works to film festivals, owned by Amazon.com

VR filmmaking continues to evolve as the audience for it grows and the technology improves. Filmmakers and other creative professionals are exploring ways to use VR storytelling to expand the way they communicate and share ideas with an audience.

Whether you are interested in film, game design, or other ways to use VR technology, the New York Film Academy likely offers the perfect course or workshop for you. Start exploring our programs here. Who knows? We might see some of your work at one of these festivals in future!

How to Get Started in Virtual Reality Development

Many of us might have been familiar with the world of virtual reality development via simulation games such as Second Life, where users can choose and customize an avatar and meet new people in a virtual environment. One could even go for dates, explore new landscapes, solve mysteries and even get married — virtually.

By now, in an age of Pokemon Go, virtual reality development has come a long way. Now, it involves actually interacting with a simulated environment, mostly using a virtual reality headset or HMD. A virtual reality developer is a lucrative career option for those who love creativity and computers. But keep in mind, virtual reality development is a vast field; it operates using different rules, and requires a particular skill set and lots of patience. So if you’re a novice interested in virtual reality development, you’ve come to the right place for information. Below, we’ve rounded up some useful tips to help you get started.

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1. Build a Strong Foundation.

Think of virtual reality technology as an advanced master course, meaning you need some preparation material and introductory lessons. Courses like NYFA’s virtual reality workshops are an excellent way to develop competitive understanding of the technology and discover your own voice within this burgeoning field. Get fluent in product design, video game design, 3D modeling and animation as well as design theory. For programming, it helps to know C#. In other words, for virtual reality development, it helps to know about the technologies surrounding and supporting VR. For instance, why not take some design courses and programming lessons with NYFA’s 12-Week intensive Game Coding Workshop? Engage with virtual reality as much as you can, whether in the form of apps or games. Study and try to figure out what makes certain virtual reality development projects successful.

2.  Choose a Particular Platform and Master It.

There are plenty of platforms, each with its advantages and limitations, for you to experiment with VR. The best and easiest one for now is Unity — you don’t even need the special VR hardware to start creating games. It is also freely available. Another engine you may want to check out is Unreal. Start out with Mobile VR and make a prototype using Google Cardboard and a Cardboard Viewer. WebVR is another entry point for VR developers, with many media companies and forecasters betting that a 3D, immersive internet is on the horizon. As VR devices get more accessible and affordable, content developed for the 3D web will likely become the most universal use of VR.

3. Make The Best Use of Free Resources. 

If you’re stumped, there’s always Google to help you out. Unity comes with its own tutorials for the absolute beginner here and there are plenty of online courses to improve your skills such as these and these. Once the prototype is ready, add appropriate sound and art to make the experience as immersive as possible. You also need to know how gyro and accelerometer sensors in mobile phones work as well as image processing and speech recognition.

4. Stay Up-To-Date With New VR Developments. 

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Virtual Reality is a constantly evolving field and, the more you explore, the more treasures you’ll uncover. If you want to be a virtual reality developer, it’s important to stay up to speed on the industry. Subscribe to podcasts, read interesting articles about the subject, and follow the latest news. Remember that the VR industry is still at its nascent stage, so even when you think you’ve mastered it, there will always be newer things to learn. That’s why this is a great time to become a virtual reality developer.

Finally, to make the most of this venture, you must meet up with other virtual reality developers. For instance, if you want to develop a VR mobile game, form an informal group, divide responsibilities based on everyone’s skills and test the prototype with each other. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and do enjoy the process of creating an artificial world.

Interested in becoming a virtual reality developer? Study virtual reality at NYFA.

Virtual Reality Evolution in 2017

Virtual Reality has made its presence known in the world of technology, and it’s building up to something big: a virtual reality evolution is in store in 2017. High image resolution systems like HTC’s Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift are pitted against more affordable systems such as Google’s Daydream and Samsung’s Gear VR. Vive and Rift allow semi-permanent installation, while Daydream View and GearVR allow users to carry VR with them for interactive, personal experiences. And 2017 may prove to be a year of paradigm shifts and major change in the world of VR.

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Google’s Daydream View and Oculus’ follow up to the Samsung Gear VR, which is powered by Oculus, will need to deliver the same anticipation, if not more, that previous VR systems delivered in the past year. The technology industry also needs people — who may not be technology savvy — to buy into VR.

Mark Zuckerberg paid $2 billion for Oculus, hailing VR as a new communication platform. So it may not come as a surprise if VR changes the social landscape in 2017. It appears that Zuckerberg didn’t purchase Oculus Rift to get a foot into the gaming industry; instead he is interested on focusing on something else entirely.

In a post announcing the acquisition of the Oculus VR, Zuckerberg wrote, ““Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home.”

There is also a good possibility that people will be open to new opportunities and social communities through VR, ranging from activities such as drone racing to sports, including soccer, basketball and ice hockey.

AppReal predicts that there will be more than 43 million people using VR at the beginning of 2017. As VR continues to grow, developers will have two 3D engines to choose from — Unity and Unreal Engine.  But which one is the right VR development platform?

Google Daydream is one the most anticipated systems to bring VR to the majority of people due to its affordable hardware and its accessibility. Anyone with a smartphone will have access to VR content through systems such as Google Daydream.

In 2016, the inaugural VR cinema made waves in Amsterdam and it’s estimated that similar cinemas around the world will rise in 2017. Filmmakers are already using VR to do extensive pre-visualization for “live action” CGI augmented films. That’s generally included under the VFX heading. And of course, VFX are ubiquitous in games as well.

The dawn of wireless headsets is finally here and gone are the days of being tethered. The cord – considered an annoyance by most that have tried tethered VR – carries high-speed graphics to ensure a quality experience. But with wireless headsets, advanced Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities will be able to deliver the same high-speed graphics. Regardless of what happens this year, 2017 will be a pivotal and perhaps decisive year for virtual reality.

How do you think VR applications will evolve in 2017? Let us know in the comments below!

A Q&A With VR Observer Founder & Entrepreneur Elena Titova

As a part of our continuing mission to keep our students at the forefront of the industry and offer real-world insights, New York Film Academy is pleased to have had the privilege to sit down with Elena Titova: thought-leader, entrepreneur, and founder of VR Observer magazine. Here is what she had to share with our burgeoning virtual reality community:

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Photo provided by Elena Titova.

NYFA: Hi Elena, thanks for joining NYFA to share your thoughts on Virtual Reality (VR). Let me ask, what was it about VR that first captured your imagination? And what inspired you to found VR Observer?

ET: What captured me is the opportunity VR presents in creating an entirely other universe. The endless possibilities. A dynamic shift in how we teach, how stories are told, how we learn, how we interact with information and each other. How we do things today will shift dramatically in the next few years.

I founded VR Observer to capture this change as it happens. To be on the frontline of a technology that will eventually impact all of our lives. That doesn’t happen all the time. It’s an exciting place to be and I’m happy to be a part of it.

NYFA: Tell us a little bit about your journey in creating a career for yourself in the world of VR? How did you get where you are today?

ET: When I was a little girl growing up in Russia I was fascinated by space travel, still am to this day. I believe this was the foundation to where I am today, wanting to explore and discover new places and technologies. I have a background in marketing and UI/UX design which merge perfectly in my work on VR Observer.

NYFA: How much experience does someone have to have to apply for/get a job using VR? In your view, what industries have most potential to utilize VR content?

ET: The experience level required will be dependent on what field and area of VR one is looking at. One thing I find exciting about an emerging technology though is the fact that so many people are learning as they go. This in a way levels the playing field.

The big one, of course, will be gaming. But we are really excited to see the utilization of VR in healthcare and the entertainment (movies/tv/news) industries.

NYFA: From what you’ve observed in the industry, what companies are investing in VR, and where are opportunities for growth within the next year?  

ET: Facebook’s recent announcement that the social network could end up spending over $3 billion in the next decade to improve virtual reality and make it accessible to the masses, pretty much set the gauntlet. That was Mark Zuckerberg essentially saying VR is going to be the next big thing, and they want to be in front of it. Of course Apple, Microsoft and Google all have major investments in both VR and AR. I find it interesting to also monitor the steady increase of VC money into VR/AR and MR startups. CB Insights has some great data on that.

NYFA: What exciting market trends have you observed in regards to both hardware and content?

ET: The hardware has been improving. Companies are understanding how individuals interact with the virtual world and are honing their products, both H/W and content to create a truly immersive experience. I’m excited to see companies looking at all the senses and how to incorporate them. There is a company that is working on incorporating smell into a virtual environment. Imagine walking into a garden and smelling the roses!

NYFA: You have a strong entrepreneurial background. How do you see entrepreneurship and VR working together? What should young professionals interested in VR borrow from the entrepreneurial mindset?

ET: They are peas in a pod. Anytime a technology comes along that has the potential that VR contains the entrepreneurial opportunities are everywhere.

Just do it. Go for it with no fear of failure. This is such an exciting time, learn from the best, but do it your own way. Always be learning and improving.

NYFA: As you watch VR evolve, what challenges do you anticipate the medium will face in the coming year? And how do you think those challenges can be met?

ET: Adoption. The early adopters have embraced VR. We now need the next wave of consumers to experience VR, and in turn purchase and utilize VR.

To touch further on what I said above, VR needs to be experienced. It cannot be described sufficiently enough to someone who has never actually been immersed in a virtual world.

Hardware and content providers will need to get their products in the consumer’s hands. Cost is also an issue, but I have faith in Moore’s law to rectify that in time.

NYFA: What do you wish everyone knew about VR?

ET: That is not just for games. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fighting zombies as much as the next person. But I don’t think people outside of the VR world know how VR is helping soldiers with PTSD, how VR is helping train our next wave of surgeons, how VR is helping people overcome phobias. All of these [applications] and more will help individuals, and in turn, society. This is what excites me about VR.

Elena, it’s been a pleasure learning more about you and VR Observer. Thank you for sharing your VR insights with New York Film Academy!

Are you interested in learning more about virtual reality? Explore the New York Film Academy’s three immersive VR workshops.

What to Expect in Virtual Reality Games Coming in 2017

One of the best things about our industry is that each year brings something to look forward to. In 2016 we saw both the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One S release, making it the first time consoles got a mid-generation model with added power and 4K support. Anticipated games like Final Fantasy XV, Overwatch, and two new Pokemon titles also gave gamers plenty to enjoy.

But perhaps the biggest reason last year will be remembered is for one thing, above all others, changing the gaming landscape: virtual reality. Ever since the Oculus Rift Kickstarter campaign raised more than $2.5 million in 2012, a race began to see who could create the best VR gaming device. Options you can buy today include the PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Gear VR.

But will 2017 be the year VR truly takes off … or will it fall into obscurity? Here are our VR predictions for this year:

Better Games Are Coming

The new VR devices have been received well so far. Their ability to trick our minds into thinking we’re inside vivid virtual worlds is an incredible experience. However, many of the games that released alongside these device received mixed feedback.

Although impressive, a lot of titles felt more like tech demos than actual games. Batman: Arkham VR let us become the Dark Knight himself like never before — but only for about two and a half hours. Gamers didn’t buy expensive VR devices to enjoy games that last about as long as your average Hollywood film.

This year we’re expecting developers to do more to convince people still thinking about investing in a VR headset. The good news is we’re already seeing regular games with added VR support, like the well-received Resident Evil 7. To sustain and grow, the 2017 VR craze needs bigger studios with higher budgets to invest in making better, more accessible games.

Prices Will Probably Drop

If there’s one reason more VR devices aren’t in more homes today, it’s the price. Almost every headset currently on the market will set you back a few hundred bucks. If you want an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, be ready to pay $799 or $599, respectively.

And even if you drop the cash for one, your current computer might not be ready for it. According to NVIDIA, 99 percent of computers on the market in 2016 aren’t powerful enough to provide the best virtual reality experience possible. The PlayStation VR released with a price tag of $399, which doesn’t count the Move controllers ($50 each), camera (another $50), and console itself ($300).

Unless we see price drops on the current devices, or more affordable devices released, the VR market will struggle to turn a profit or take off with the average consumer. The fact that certain VR headsets have received discounts recently is a good start. Some affordable options are already showing up on the market for those who want to pay less for something more basic, like the Google Daydream.

VR Will Either Sink Or Swim

Despite many VR headsets being sold last year, many continue to doubt whether virtual reality is the next evolution in gaming. To many, it’s nothing more than a fad similar to motion controls made popular by the Nintendo Wii in the last decade. However, VR does offer unprecedented opportunities to revolutionize the way we explore video game worlds and stories.

No matter which side they’re on, experts do agree that 2017 will give us a greater sense at how VR will do in the future. It’s up to game developers to release groundbreaking VR projects that make everyone else feel like they’re missing out. Fortunately, companies like Google are jumping into the market with affordable VR headsets, making it easier to try VR before investing in a better product.

What are your predictions for how virtual reality with change games in 2017? Let us know in the comments below! Learn more about virtual reality at the New York Film Academy.

CoSA, Zero Effect, Brickyard, & Beyond: VFX Studios to Know

Of all the computer technologies that you have to try for yourself to truly understand, virtual reality is the king. Unless you put on a VR device and find yourself in a completely virtual world, you’ll never understand the immersive power of virtual reality, and why it’s poised to play such a vital role in the futures of many industries.

In the past, attempts to make VR something the average consumer can enjoy at home failed due to technological limitations and high costs. But today, many companies are investing in devices that most people can afford to purchase. 

Among these companies are Sony, Google, Microsoft, Oculus (Facebook), tech and video game companies, and communications/media companies like Time Warner and Viacom. Communications and media companies like Time Warner and Viacom are also investing in VR/AR. But without talented VFX companies to help create captivating experiences, the devices are all but useless. The following are some of the most talented VFX companies that have a future creating amazing VR projects:

CoSA VFX

The Company of Science and Art was a founded by Tom Mahoney and Jon Tanimoto, two guys who previously worked together in post-production and broadcast design. They served as VFX artists and supervisors on big films like “Titanic,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Now, as VFX studio CoSA, the duo has grown a team that serves various clients. Working with the likes of Marvel, Warner Bros, Disney, and more, they’ve worked on popular shows and movies like “Gotham,” “Minority Report,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” If there’s anyone who could provide ground-breaking VR scenes for film and television, it’s CoSA.

Framestore

Founded way back in 1968, VFX studio Framestore has grown to become an award-winning company that uses creativity and technology unlike anyone else. In collaboration with some of the best directors and producers today, they’ve helped provide visual effects for films like “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Doctor Strange,” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

Even more exciting is the fact that Framestore is very interested in VR, enough that they’ve already developed experiences for many devices. These include HTC Vive, Oculus, and Samsung’s Gear VR. They are also currently working on exciting projects for the popular PlayStation VR and anticipated Microsoft HoloLens.

The Endless Collective

Some of the former Framestore folks, award-winning game developers, and VFX artists have joined forces in a VFX studio called The Endless Collective that’s been doing some very cool stuff. Their company mission to push boundaries on the edge where technology meets the impossible is reimagining commercial campaigns.

With a client list that runs the gamut from Warner Brothers studios to the Hubble Telescope, credits have included “Gravity,” “Inception,” and “Batman Returns.” The Endless Collective was part teams that won two Academy Awards and two BAFTAs for the film “Gravity.”

Zero VFX

Starting out in a basement in 2010, Zero VFX has since grown to become one of the most artistic and innovative technology companies around. They also developed the world’s first fully cloud-based rendering solution, which Google eagerly purchased in 2014.

In five short years, Zero VFX already has an impressive resume of projects where they provided ground-breaking illusions. These include: “The Magnificent Seven,” “Ghostbusters,” “Southpaw,” “Black Mass,” and countless other films and commercials.

Industrial Light & Magic

ILM is a giant in the film industry. The acclaimed special effects company was founded 40 years ago by George Lucas to create all the illusions we know and love from the original Star Wars. Since then, ILM has amassed an incredible resume of award-winning projects.

It’s no surprise that ILM is interested in the virtual reality space. In mid 2015, it was revealed that a new division called the ILM Experience Lab was formed to focus on virtual reality. While they have worked on any retail projects, many game-like experiments have shown off that feature interacting with Jurassic Park dinosaurs and even speeding through a Star Wars battle.

Brickyard VFX

Brickyard Pacific Works began in 2004 at the helm of industry leaders in the visual effects world. As one of the top VFX companies, especially in the advertising trade, chances are you’ve seen one of their many commercials.

Their clients include everyone from Disney, Doritos, and Carl’s Junior to Puma, Cadillac, and LEGO Systems. If the day comes where we’ll be watching television on VR devices, you can bet Brickyard will be responsible for many of the immersive commercials you see.

This is only the beginning of the list of companies joining in the quest to advance and develop exciting new virtual reality technologies. It’s an exciting time and an exciting industry, which is why the New York Film Academy is pleased to now offer three innovative and unique workshop programs to bridge the worlds of VR, filmmaking, and game design.

Learn more NYFA’s new VR workshops, and let us know which VR developments you are most excited about in the comments below!

What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

First things first: virtual reality is a communication medium, not a technology.

Technologically speaking, there are three variants: virtual, augmented, and mixed. These exist on a spectrum of RL integration, or we can call it degrees of immersion.

  • VR refers to full immersion, entirely computer-mediated content presented in total isolation through a headset and optional headphones (although social exists through embodied avatars). Think Fruit Ninja VR and Oculus Rooms.
  • AR refers to complementary immersion — a screen projects computer-mediated information into the real world, where users can synthesize and contextualize the screen-based content. Think Pokemon Go and Google Maps.
  • MR uses light, projected into the eye via mirrors (HoloLens) or prisms (Magic Leap’s rumored approach), to present content that is completely integrated into RL, even interacting with/responding to the environment and actions of the user.

The future will likely see more points of RL+CG integration and synthesis, so I refer to the medium as “MAVR” when talking about aspects that are true across all the tech.

As a communications medium, it’s important to put the technological advancements of MAVR into context: this is a tool for sharing ideas, experiences, and information. Just like paint, print, photography, and film, it has limitless uses and applications.

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The early 21st century has seen the medium of video reach true saturation. We don’t even notice that we’re using it, and that’s what makes it a tool rather than a technology, or a novelty. And it’s no accident that along the path from flat screen ubiquity to the novelty of immersion (surround-screen? no screen?) is just a hop, skip, and a jump, technologically speaking. It’s just wrapping screens around your head or projecting the light directly into your eye, thereby forgoing the screen entirely. Once you know how to direct the light, it’s only a matter of where you put the projector

So here we are, back in Plato’s Cave, just seeing the silhouettes of the visual spectrum through a new medium. It’s an exciting time ripe with possibility. But understanding it and using it require us as creators to redefine our relationship to our audience, and learn some 21st century skills.

First, you have to understand experience design. There are a bunch of complicated ways to explain what that is, but I’ll put it to you the way it was put to me: Ever been to a city park? Everywhere through the park there are paths — concrete, asphalt, brick, what have you — designed to take you the scenic route. Crossing over and around those paths you see dirt tracks that cut right through the grass. Those are the user-created paths, and your job as an experience designer is to anticipate the use and put the paths where they are most useful (and beautiful — never underestimate the importance of beauty).

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The second characteristic you have to understand about immersive design is framing. Though headsets limit the area you can see in any momentary gaze (just like your eyeballs do, but with a slightly smaller periphery), the “camera POV” no longer dominates. You’re surrounded, not compelled to look at a rectangle of information dictated by the director/designer. So, if you’re telling a story, the whole world is “on stage.” Very Shakespearean.

As a user, the most relevant feature of MAVR is agency. Video game designers understand this, because even though your designs only create the illusion of choice, you are rightly vilified if those choices are merely superficial masks for a golden path. But even when we’re not talking about entertainment apps, you still need to make room for the user who will co-create a personal experience. Whether you’re learning anatomy or meditating with Tron fish underwater or overcoming post traumatic stress, no one user will follow the exact same paths as any other. A whole new vocabulary of symbols, gestures, and space is being formulated to move creators beyond the limits of the frame.

Once you establish a conceptual foundation from these concepts, you can start focusing on execution. You will definitely need a computer, so building a foundation in programming, 3D modeling & animation, VFX, post-production, and 360 sound design (all rapidly evolving, complementary skill-sets), is a good start. You can try out 360 video, and experiment with cuts and transitions to move through time and space. But you may also want to make that live footage interactive, so you’ll need to learn compositing and utilize a game engine or webVR app to add those trigger points. And while we’re talking webVR, just wait until you can surf through a 3D internet (yes, it is just like Johnny Mnemonic and The Matrix … what does Keanu know that we don’t?)! Not happy with the design of the headsets, headphones, hand-held controllers, and other wearables? Look into AI, robotics, mechanical engineering, networking, human-computer interaction, product design, and software development.

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Career-wise, you can take one of two VR paths: technical or conceptual. Technicians will be the ones to build the content and solve the usability problems that will evolve into the same universal saturation for immersive content that we discussed with respect to flat screen media at the beginning of this article. Concept people will be the creative directors and storytellers of the immersive age.

The immersive age is upon us, how will you shape it? NYFA has programs in Game Design, 3D Animation & VFX, VR Filmmaking, Interactive VR, and VR Game Design. Choose your path.

How To Tell Compelling Stories in Virtual Reality (VR)

With improvements to virtual reality technology, many creative industries are opening up to seemingly unlimited new possibilities as we discover unprecedented ways to tell compelling stories through the medium of Virtual Reality (VR). Experimentation and opportunity are the name of the game in this thrilling new medium, which is why the New York Film Academy is launching three distinct  new VR programs this year.

Because VR allows for participatory experiences, it has pros like being able to establish empathy and allowing viewers to be engaged as more than passive observers. Yet VR also has its drawback, such as no longer being able to fully direct where the viewer looks and the details they choose to focus on. In many ways, these are the challenges the gaming industry has faced with first-person POV games where players’ decisions throughout gameplay lead to different outcomes. However, in most games that are structured this way, there is also an “ideal” storyline where players who make the intended decisions get the best experience from the game, and there are cues to get players to make different decisions in order to maintain the story. Cut scenes also help stitch together the narrative and keep players moving in the “right” direction.

Some of the decisions visual storytellers need to make include how to make sure the audience will stumble upon the right objects and details to make sense of the story. Unlike “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, which had set paths and a limited number of choices, VR potentially opens up a simulation of real life where 10 different people in any given situation will make 10 different decisions. This means storytellers still need to find a way to guide the narrative, whether that is staging the environment so that only truly key objects attract attention or creating compelling interactions with the characters.

How can filmmakers and other creative storytellers use VR in their own projects? Let’s look at a couple of examples that show how filmmakers are tackling these issues.

Henry” is a short film by Oculus Story Studio that centers on character interaction. In “Henry,” one thing that keeps the story unfolding in the intended direction is the interaction with the character. When he makes eye contact and recognizes the viewer with a little smile, it draws the viewer into his story and establishes empathy. There is also very little in the environment to distract the viewer.

Katy Newton and Karin Soukup describe their decisions for creating the narrative in “Taro’s World” as “influencing” rather than “directing” the storytelling. In their article on Medium, they write about how camera angles, the objects in the scene, the actions of other characters can be set up to guide the viewer’s interaction with the environment.

News outlets are also using VR to help take viewers on location. USA Today recently featured a 360° look at Joshua Tree National Park, which gives viewers a chance to “ride” on a zip-line through the park and have a face-to-fur encounter with a grizzly bear.

Perhaps documentary filmmakers will lead the way in making the most of VR as they put the viewer in a specific environment, allowing them to explore the world as the documentary subjects experience it. As Sir David Attenborough explains, one of the great advantages of VR technology is being able to immerse the viewer in the experience with audio and visuals in a way that can’t be done in traditional film. This piece from StoryUp about the lack of mobility options for the disabled in Zambia lets the viewer see how hard it would be to have to crawl everywhere and be dependent upon others for one’s most basic needs.

How can you get started? While this article from the NYFA’s student resources is about VR in game design, it will help you think about the possibilities VR offers. Charlotte Raymen also offers some advice on equipment and camera usage on the Raindance blog. Jesse Damiani has several tips for VR storytelling in this article for the Huffington Post.

How do you imagine VR will impact storytelling? Let us know in the comments below!