We started this out four years ago today, honestly without really understanding where we were going. We knew we had some skills we could use to bootstrap a company on service work while investing in research into new technologies, particularly VR and AR.
Fast-forward to today and we've done A LOT that we never would have imagined. We created the first VR board game (Lost Cities VR), which also happened to be the first 3rd party multiplayer game on the Oculus social platform. We created the Weaving a Better Future 360 video-based app in collaboration with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. We created well over a dozen experiments in VR too, from early experiments like Party Sketch 3D to newer ones like our xkcd VR comic maker.
But the thing that's been our passion for the past two years has been Flipside Studio, real-time animation software that transforms any Oculus Rift or HTC Vive setup into a complete virtual film set or TV studio.
Flipside has helped us produce shows like Earth From Up Here, where San Francisco comedian Jordan Cerminara plays an alien newscaster poking fun at us earthlings. It's now helping artists like Liam the Leprechaun become his Roblox character on his YouTube channel.
If you scroll past this post, you'll notice our updates have gotten few and far between on this blog. That's because we've started blogging on the Flipside Blog instead, since that is now 100% of our focus as a company. So that's where we'll be continuing to post updates moving forward. This website is probably going to become more of an archive of our past work, with all the new things happening over on the Flipside website.
It's been a crazy ride so far, and with Flipside Studio just about to move from closed alpha to open beta, it's only just getting started. Here's to many more years making the impossible a reality together!
The Campfire Union / Flipside Team
- by John Luxford
Last week, we had a chance to connect with our friends at Jellyfish Float Spa to try out a little experiment: What would VR feel like while floating in a sensory deprivation (aka float) tank? We know, sounds a bit counter intuitive to provide sensory stimulation in a space aimed to tune it out, but in addition to the many benefits of floating, VR can augment the meditative experience and seriously, who wouldn't want to feel like they're floating around in space?
Any VR experience that's going to be used in a float tank needs to be crafted for floaters. Here are some of our main takeaways.
Design for limited head movement
Since the salts in sensory deprivations tanks are highly corrosive to electronics and there is no great solution for a waterproof phone/headset fitting, your ability to take in the 360º view that VR provides is limited. Experiences need to keep in mind that the viewer isn't going to be able to move their head or body to look around the virtual world.
Think about the orientation of the experience
Ordinarily, VR experiences are designed with the action in front and horizontally around the viewer. But in a float tank the viewer is laying down, facing upwards. This is similar to what we found using our Yana Virtual Relaxation app at Valhalla Automated Spa. Creators need to design the virtual experience so that the action occurs above the user, instead of in front of them while standing or sitting up.
If the experience has a horizon line or ground, there should be a reorientation option to help the viewer readjust the experience once they're situated and comfortable in the tank.
Choose the most appropriate hardware
Some hardware is much more float appropriate than others. Non-mobile/desktop HMDs have an obvious problem - cords in water. Generally a pretty bad idea. Mobile headsets are definitely better suited to avoid this problem.
In our test, we tried out two headsets, the Gear VR and View-Master VR. The main issue we had with the View-Master was the lack of head straps. Floating while keeping one arm up to hold the headset took a bit of co-ordination. The straps on the Gear VR made for a more natural floating experience, but the device does contain electronic components that need to be kept dry.
Google's Daydream headset would make for the best of both worlds, but we didn't have one on hand with a compatible, but more importantly water-resistant, phone. Samsung's S8 looks like it might fit the bill, but we should caution that their fine print about water resistance does say "Not shockproof".
Lenses get foggy, but there are a couple precautions to take. Warm air hitting cold lenses is fog city, so letting the headset warm up before putting it on helps. WolfsukaVR suggests using lens defogging wipes. We'll be picking up some of these for our next float session.
All in all, VR can definitely create a very cool floating experience. It's not perfect at the moment, and anyone trying this themselves should be careful to waterproof their electronics to avoid potential shock, but we saw tons of potential.
We were really inspired by a couple videos we found online. If you're interested in hearing about other VR float experiences, check these videos out -
- by Rachael Hosein
We’ve been hinting at big things for a while now, and we’re super excited to finally unveil the first part of those things. Flipside has been our semi-stealth mode project since early last year, and we’re now ready to start opening it up to a wider audience.
Today, we're making Flipside Studio available to a select group of content creators. Flipside Studio is the fastest way to create animated shows, for both traditional 2D screens as well as VR playback.
Interested content creators can sign up on the new Flipside website.
We're also launching the first two shows recorded in Flipside Studio:
Super Secret Science Island
Created in collaboration with Winnipeg-based improv comedy duo Bucko Comedy, Super Secret Science Island is a show about two failed science experiments, 2B and Genefur, who are stranded on a deserted island. Follow their antics as they look for a way off the island and to find their missing creator, Dr. Whoosh.
Earth From Up Here
Earth From Up Here is a weekly alien news update about what’s happening down here on Earth. The alien newscaster, named Zeeblow Gonzoar, is written and performed by San Francisco-based comedian Jordan Cerminara.
For more info about the shows and about Flipside Studio, visit www.flipsidevr.com.
- by John Luxford
I don’t talk publicly about what it’s like being a female co-founder of a tech company very often. I’m torn about it. Sometimes I wish no one would notice and other times I want the world to know. Today, being International Women’s Day, and to show support for #daywithoutawoman, I thought I’d share a bit of my experience.
In the past, when asked about what struggles I feel as a woman business owner, my answer usually is that I feel the same struggles that any business owner feels - the pressure to succeed, the fight to be seen and heard, and the weight of the responsibility to your business partners and employees. I sometimes dismiss the subtle differences I feel because they are in fact subtle.
Sometimes I feel that people have an easier time talking over me in meetings, sometimes people are surprised that I’m one of the founders, sometimes I feel that I need to scream to be heard, sometimes I hear things that are sexist and I have to think about whether or not I should say something. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman and I worry that if I say something I’ll be seen as a complainer or feed into the stereotype of women being overly sensitive.
About a year and a half ago, I really started to think about it in a deeper way. I was quickly edging my way into my mid 30s, the company was just into it’s second year, and my partner and I found out that we were having a baby. Immediate feelings of excitement turned into worry - How will this affect the company? Will the other co-founders be resentful? How much time should I take off? Where will I find the time for a family and a business? If I don’t drop work and devote my entire self to my child, am I a bad Mom?
I’m one of the lucky ones, though. My business partners are people I’m friends with. They are supportive, encouraging, and we share a lot of the same views. I talked to them about my worries, we shared our excitement and the potential struggles, and we came up with a plan that worked for everyone. I felt good and I thought that would be the end of my stress about it. It wasn’t.
I was still burdened with the feeling that I was letting them down, that I should be doing more, that others would judge me for not dropping everything to focus on being a Mom, and that being a business owner automatically means I have to miss out on spending time with my daughter. I want to meet all the unspoken expectations that are put on men in the workplace because I want to be held to the same standard, but I also want to meet the expectations that are put on mothers because I want to be the best Mom I can be.
Even though I considered myself to be in a best-case scenario, I still felt an immense amount of pressure to make everyone happy.
My daughter and I.
My daughter is now a year old and I’m still feeling the same struggles, but I try to act in a way that might influence change:
I make my opinions known, regardless of how loud I have to be and how uncomfortable it can sometimes make me feel.
I seek out other women to work with which can be hard because there is an obvious gender imbalance.
I bring my kid to work so she can see what I do and so my co-workers, who I spend a great deal of time with, can also build a relationship with her.
I talk openly about my partner being my daughter’s primary caregiver, about the work sacrifice he made to stay home with her, and about the judgement that he sometimes feels.
I have it easier than a lot and I still feel torn. I can’t help but think, especially on a day like today, about what women in less than ideal situations have to go through when trying to balance work and family. So, to all of the working Moms out there - I am grateful for you. Your choices are making it easier for all women that follow. It’s a hard path, and it shouldn’t be. Normalizing our presence, especially in the tech industry, is important. You are helping things change for the better.
- by Rachael Hosein
Boost VC is the premier startup accelerator for virtual reality and other frontier technologies, having invested in such VR pioneers as 8i, JanusVR, TheWaveVR, and Kite & Lightning. So it is a huge honour to be able to announce that we're part of Boost VC's Tribe 9 family of companies.
With Boost VC joining our team, we're getting world class mentorship, the ability to expand our team and network, and to focus exclusively on Flipside.
This means Les is now in San Mateo, California for the next 3 months doing tons of learning and business development, while the rest of the team works feverishly on getting Flipside into the hands of content creators.
For those that don't know what we've been up to (since we have been a bit secretive about it), Flipside is a new content creation platform that records both 2D video and VR versions of animated shows, just by live acting in a shared multiplayer virtual studio space.
Stay tuned for more Flipside updates, as well as our first show release which will be out in the coming weeks. We can't wait to start showing you what we've been up to, and where we'll be going with the help of Boost VC.
And the obligatory Drake reference (we're so Canadian right now):
- by John Luxford
As we reflected on the year, the thing that jumped out was what an insanely busy year it’s been. Definitely our busiest year so far! And that craziness means lots of reasons to celebrate!
Welcoming baby Hazel
The first thing we celebrated in January was Rachael's newborn baby Hazel, who we quickly put to work as Campfire’s new “Youth Outreach Coordinator” haha. Hazel has been a huge source of joy and laughter for us, and we’re proud to have found our own (imperfect) balance between family and startup life.
Lost Cities launch
Shortly after celebrating our 2-year mark as a company, we released Lost Cities on the Gear VR. Not only was Lost Cities the first VR board game, but it was also the first 3rd-party title to be released on the Oculus Social Platform, and we were super proud to be featured by Oculus at GDC, E3, as well as Mobile World Congress this year as a result.
This also lead to Lost Cities becoming one of only 9 apps to be included in the initial Oculus Rooms launch just last week, and the Lost Cities logo being shown in the Oculus Connect 3 keynote! That makes 2 years in a row that we managed to sneak our way into Oculus’ keynotes (below is a shot of when Oculus threw Rachael into their keynote announcing the first Oculus Rift Consumer Edition).
Weaving a Better Future
Weaving a Better Future transports viewers to Guatemala, where they learn about the lives, history, and culture behind the TRAMA Textiles cooperative in Quetzaltenango, and a shop in Antigua called Textiles Colibrí. These initiatives provide much-needed income for the women artisans who run them and who, with their traditional Mayan weaving techniques, create the textiles for sale there.
You can read about all the accessibility features we built into this project here, and all of these features are now standard in our Scout 360 video platform.
Lesley pitched our latest concept, called Flipside, at Manitoba’s Venture’Challenge pitch competition, which resulted in us winning a staggering $100,000 as well as a trip to MentorCamp in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This has helped us focus more of our attention on our long-term vision and less on short-term work to pay the bills.
Many of you have already seen the ground-breaking mixed reality trailer for Fantastic Contraption by indie game trailer legend Kert Gartner. But did you realize that John, our CTO, was one of the players shown in the trailer?
This was super cool not just because it's a great game trailer, but also because John got to be a small part in a history-making moment for VR. People are seeing mixed reality popping up everywhere around the world, but the roots of it started right here in Winnipeg. It also created the opportunity for this gem to exist (thanks Graeme!):
For the past couple years we’ve worked with an amazing 3D artist, Liem Nguyen. This September, we were lucky to have him officially join our team as our 3D artist. We’ve been moving at warp speed since he got here and he’s really been a great addition.
With Jason and Liem coming on board, we quickly outgrew our office in our Albert Street co-working space. At the end of November, we sadly said goodbye to our tiny but awesome digs and moved in with the folks at Complex Games. We’re still getting used to not hearing all the laughter from the Lumo Interactive gang, the delicious treats and company from Parachute Media Lab, chats with Zanna from Duckwranglers and Blair from The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, but we do have all the great folks at Complex Games to keep us company.
Here’s a shot of the old co-working space crew (less Ryan, Liem, Zanna, and Blair) at our last office party.
Oh the places we’ve been...
This year was also the year for travel for the Campfire Union. We joined a Canadian trade mission to Barcelona as part of our Lost Cities launch at Mobile World Congress. We had an opportunity to demo Lost Cities with a number of media outlets while VR was breaking as the story of the conference. Then, on to Vision Summit in Los Angeles to learn about the future of VR at Unity, to New York to speak at Digital Hollywood, then to San Francisco to attend VRDC, all within 30 days. Whew!
We made our way to TechFestNW in Portland to attend our first pitch competition. Portland might be the coolest city in America. We had a ton of fun meeting other startups over the two day festival and we really enjoyed our time hanging out with the folks from Lagunitas.
We were also invited to the Montreal Startupfest this year as part of the festival's formal VR demonstrations. We showed off a prototype music app called Magic Synth. It was really well received. Big thanks to Bob Levy from Virtual Cove who coordinated the whole effort, and Alistair Croll who invited us down.
Finally, we made our way to Oculus Connect 3 in San Jose. The big highlight for us was being invited to dinner by Oculus with the rest of the Oculus Social Partners. We had a chance to meet the Oculus Social team and all the really cool indies making Gear VR games. It was an honour.
It was a busy year of travel, but the friends and connections we’ve made are lifelong and will lead to new opportunities. We can’t wait to reconnect with our friends next year.
Flipside, 2017 and beyond!
Flipside is our new stealth-mode project that you’ll be hearing a lot more about in 2017. In between all the other things we’ve accomplished this year, we’ve been secretly building out a really cool piece of VR tech that we can’t wait to show you.
For now, here’s a video we recorded in Flipside that shows off what we’re doing with our avatar system:
Stay tuned, because while 2016 was one crazy year, 2017 is going to blow it out of the water!
We hope you have a safe and relaxing holiday.
The Campfire Union
- by John Luxford
Today, we're excited to share that Weaving a Better Future, the app we helped create with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, is now available on the Gear VR app store. Which means it's now available on all major mobile VR platforms.
About the project
The app is part of a larger exhibition at the museum, called Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities, which invites visitors to explore and learn about artisan cooperatives run by women in 11 different countries, and runs from July 23, 2016 until January 8, 2017.
The Weaving a Better Future VR experience transports you to Guatemala, where you can learn about the lives, history, and culture behind the TRAMA Textiles cooperative in Quetzaltenango, and a shop in Antigua called Textiles Colibrí, that provide much-needed income for the women artisans who run them and who, with their traditional Mayan weaving techniques, create the textiles for sale there.
Accessibility in VR
Inclusive design is an important goal at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is committed to universal accessibility. With virtual reality being such a new medium, its present-day limitations present a number of accessibility challenges, and we're very proud of the collaboration with the museum that went into making this one of the most inclusive VR experiences yet.
Some of these features include:
To implement closed captioning in 360 degrees, we placed the captions in three locations every 120 degrees at a comfortable but unobtrusive height within the content.
This was then tested and adjusted until we found the best text size, distance, and height for easy readability and maximum comfort to avoid neck strain.
The entire experience is available in both English and French. Canada is a proudly bilingual country, and everything in the app is consistent across both official languages.
We also created a Spanish version, so that the women whose stories are featured in the project could experience how their stories are being shared.
Testing for colour impaired viewers
The iconography that you see in the app comes from traditional Mayan symbols, called nahuales. These are vibrant in colour and distinctly iconic, but not all colour combinations can be distinguished easily by all viewers.
We tested and made adjustments as needed so that each icons stands out from the others, for all viewers. For testing, we used the Sim Daltonism colour blindness simulator software.
Here is an example of simulated colour blindness:
A gaze cursor is the VR equivalent to a mouse pointer that you control with the direction of your gaze, and is a very common input method in VR experiences.
For this app, we created a timer-based gaze cursor. To select a video to watch, you simply look at the icon for that video for a few seconds and the icon will be "clicked" for you. This allows the experience to be explored completely hands-free.
The circle you see in the centre of this screenshot of the app is the timer around the app's gaze cursor:
In our testing with CMHR, we found that the timer didn't make sense on Google Cardboard devices, since you have to hold the device to your head with one hand already, and orienting yourself in the virtual world on Cardboard can result in accidental "clicks". But the timer-based gaze cursor is available in the Gear VR version, both in the app store and in the museum exhibit as well.
2D view mode on Google Cardboard
Not everyone is able to wear a VR headset, and few people even have their own VR headset to wear. For this reason, we also designed a 2D view mode in the Google Cardboard versions of the app that enables users to experience all of the same content without the need to put on a headset.
All user interface elements as well as closed captioning were adapted to work in the 2D mode, so users of this mode can still fully experience the content in the app.
Sign language in the touchscreen version
Because playing 360 videos is fairly intensive on a mobile device, we had to leave out the ASL/LSQ sign language videos from the VR experience. But we did include them in the touchscreen version that is available in the museum.
The touchscreen version was built using the open source Apache Cordova project, Mozilla's A-Frame WebVR framework, and a custom Cordova plugin we wrote to support ASL/LSQ videos playing in sync with the 360 videos.
This custom plugin has been released as open source as well so that other developers can more easily add ASL/LSQ support to their video players, and is available here.
Empowering Women exhibit
The Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities exhibit is open from July 23, 2016 until January 8, 2017, and we are very proud to be a part of it. Follow the above link for more information, and if you're in Winnipeg go check it out!
Virtual reality has the ability to help us share and understand other peoples' perspectives in a deeper way than any technology has before. This makes it an incredibly powerful vehicle for promoting important causes like human rights.
About Scout 360°
Scout 360° has already powered virtual tours for universities, sports promotions, and music festivals, but this marks our first publicly available app to be released on the platform.
If your museum is looking to experiment with 360 video content, Scout 360° can help you by providing a fully customizable, interactive, and accessible 360 video player for use both in-gallery and to release on public app stores to share your message the world over.
If you're a videographer and you're looking to get into 360 video, Scout 360° can help you by providing a branded cross-platform app, essentially your own VR video player. Whether you want to produce one video, or publish new content on an ongoing basis, Scout 360° can provide everything you need to get up and running fast and looking amazing.
- by John Luxford
We're looking for a variety of people who would be willing to test and give us feedback throughout our development of Flipside - an AR/VR performance platform.
We want to make sure we're making something that you will love, so your thoughts are vital.
What does this all entail? Glad you asked!
If you're into it, please fill out this short survey telling us a little bit about yourself - Help us test Flipside features!
We'd also love if you could share this post around (so many favours, we know ;) The more people the better!
- by Rachael Hosein
What does it mean to you if we say the words “future” and “VR” in one sentence?
Do you suddenly become overwhelmed with a dystopian future where VR has overtaken our lives, or do you see a world where Virtual Reality is making positive impacts every single day?
We see the latter.
The future is constantly evolving for Virtual Reality, and when you delve in and take a look, it’s easy to see all of the great things to benefit from.
There are some that see VR as a simple gaming experience, just another alternative for their computer screen. However, its scope ranges so much further than just gaming. From the medical sector helping their patients and training their surgeons, to new architects being able to walk in their creations before it is even build, to having a little teaser of your planned holiday in 360 videos, or all the way to a completely new way of experiencing movies with all the upcoming VR cameras. Virtual Reality has something to offer everybody.
The feature below on the Future of Virtual Reality by VR Bound covers the very best we have to look forward to.
We’ve already seen Youtube adapt its App to join VR (which is used by over 18 Million people globally) and many companies are now moving to develop their own short videos, advertisements and concepts through the power of Virtual Reality.
Along with this medical practices have already used VR to assist with exposure therapy to help patients overcome their fears and phobias.
As shown above through the hard facts and figures it’s clear that the industry is still fairly young. But as more and more consumers start to adopt the technology, we can expect endless possibilities to emerge and continue to grow.
Virtual Reality is approaching fast and we’re very excited in seeing all the different applications that come from it.
- by Rachael Hosein
After a year of development, we couldn't be more excited to share with you our first VR game, Lost Cities, now available on the Gear VR app store (sorry, you can't link to their app store just yet).
You can read all about the rollercoaster ride it's been over on the Lost Cities VR development blog.
We've been a little quiet over the last few months, mainly due to:
- Rachael had herself a beautiful baby girl
- Lux chose the worst possible time to go on a backpacking journey across Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala :P
- Lesley has been on a world tour of his own (the conference circuit)
Les's world tour included the Vision Summit VR/AR conference in Hollywood, a trip to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where Oculus included Lost Cities in their featured Gear VR games. From there he flew to New York City to talk about the Canadian VR scene at the Media Summit conference. That was sandwiched by two business trips to Vancouver, and followed up by a trip to GDC where Oculus again showcased Lost Cities as a Gear VR title.
All while trying to hold down the fort and pushing ahead to get the game to a finished state.
As you can imagine, it's been a bit chaotic around here, and we're looking forward to catching up on sleep – but not before we celebrate the launch of our very first VR game in style! ;)
- by John Luxford