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
Digital Hollywood Media Summit New York is a two-day conference on immersive technologies and digital media that is held in LA, New York and Las Vegas. Nick DeMartino, an investor and key organizer of IdeaBoost , a Canadian Film Centre run accelerator, asked The Campfire Union to participate on a panel with other companies working in immersive entertainment from the North.
It was an honour to participate and connect with other leading VR and 360 video companies on the panel. It is amazing to see what is happening in the Canadian VR scene. Sometimes, when your head is down working on your own projects, you miss all the great work that is happening right here in Canada. All the people on our panel were doing great things so here is a run down on who is doing what.
I remember when all the buzz about the Sleepy Hollow 360 experience came out, but I didn't know it was made by Secret Location , a Toronto-based digital media company that produced the work and won an Emmy to boot. CJ from Secret Location shared some insight into their process and how his company uses an agile approach to filmmaking. They are working on adapting a book into VR and understand how to extend traditional media in the immersive space.
In 2014, I attended SXSW Interactive and they had a games expo, which for me was the highlight of the festival. At the time, we were just getting into VR and I remember seeing a captivating VR experience called Paper Dude. Using a microcontroller, a Microsoft Kinect and a DK1, Paper Dude was Globacore's take on the 2D NES classic Paper Boy, manifest into a real life experience. Using a bicycle to power the game and a Kinect camera, the player is fully immersed in the experience. That is the kind of work Globacore does. They create physical arcade-like experiences that use a blend of emerging technologies. They just finished a 4-person multiplayer spaceship co-op game. Super cool!
Ian Tuason from the Canadian Film Centre is a 360 video filmmaker who has managed to garner over 8 million views from four 360 shorts that he created. He crowdsourced feedback from his viewers and quickly began to build an understanding of 360 filmmaking. Now he is helping other filmmakers learn and transition from traditional single screen filmmaking to 360 video filmmaking.
Kim Davidson from Side FX are the creators of hugely successful 3D software package Houdini that was used on Star Wars and countless other big-budget films in Hollywood and around the world. They are working on stereoscopically rendered 3D experiences and also have a plugin that is available for Unity 3D and Unreal Engine. Kim was part of the digital effects industry right at its inception. Kim paid homage to the original View-Master as one of this first truly immersive entertainment experience, which for many of us, was ours too.
One of the revelations I took away from the conference is that Canadian companies are leaders in the immersive entertainment space and we hold our own against our US partners to the south. At the end of the day, it's about collaboration and sharing knowledge anyway, and borders have nothing to do with that.
- by Lesley Klassen
Mobile World Congress (MWC) ended on Thursday and it was truly a whirlwind experience. The only other conference that I've attended that I can compare it to is GDC, which takes place at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. MWC is nine GDCs in size. That’s right, nine! I only managed to visit 5 halls of 9 because I didn’t have the time.
As a virtual reality game studio I wasn’t sure that MWC was the right fit for us, and in fact, I would say that this would be the only time I would go. Virtual Reality was the story of the conference and being a VR company at this year's conference was fortuitous. It's one of the times being a small fish in a big pond was advantageous. We also enjoyed the benefits of working with ICT West which represented a consortium of Canadian companies participating in the Canada pavilion. They were very supportive and connected us to trade commissioners with connections around the globe, set up meetings and provided us PR.
There were very few VR companies in attendance, and I suspect that this will change as VR becomes a bigger player in the mobile market. We attended the conference because Oculus had a media showcase that included Lost Cities. We knew it was an opportunity to garner some press for our game. While I was there I did check out the other VR offerings from Lenovo, LG and to see the new Gear 360 camera that Samsung announced.
LG’s VR offering was really bad. I mean really bad. There was so much light leak that I was straining to enjoy the experience. On top of that, it was built on the Google Cardboard SDK which means that it has at least 100 ms of latency. The experience they presented was a rollercoaster ride that was synchronized to hydraulic chairs. I was having more fun bouncing around on the chairs than riding the virtual rollercoaster. There is no way someone could sustain a VR experience in these HMDs. The only innovation they brought to the table was individual focus rings for each eye making it accessible to people with an eye stigma. I think the Gear VR should adopt something like this.
ANTVR for Lenovo
It was awkward to insert my phone into this contraption but it's much nicer that the LG360VR. The one thing I couldn’t find was a button to interact with the content. Maybe I missed something, but from what I could tell it looks like you need a Bluetooth controller to use it. It's a very nice 360 photo and image viewer.
Samsung announced that they will be shipping free Gear VRs with pre-orders of the S7 phone. This was an extremely important announcement for us because we are about to launch a Gear VR game and having a larger market to sell our first game will allow us to bring in more revenue. Whoo! There were 20 million pre-orders for the S6 so I anticipate there will be a similar number for the S7. According to Samsung, the free GearVR HMDs will be available while supplies last. I have heard from some credible sources that it could mean between 3 – 5 million Gear VRs in the market in 2016. It's a good time to launch a Gear VR game.
The big opportunity in 360 video is user generated content. Currently, there are limited options for capturing 360 content and Samsung made a big play at MWC by announcing their Gear 360 camera. It was under glass so I didn't get a chance to try it. I think all these early cameras will eventually be included with mobile phones. That will allow everyone to share 360 experiences, which will open the flood gates for 360 video content.
Press at MWC (Updated)
One the wonderful things for The Campfire Union was the press we received while attending the conference. It was very encouraging for us to know that people are interested in our game.
- Ars Technica
- Fast Company – CoDesign
- Tom’s Hardware
- Yahoo Japan
- VR Focus
- Computer Weekly
- Toy News Online
- Top 5 at Mobile World Congress
We hope that when we launch our players will feel the same way. Now I am preparing for the Digital Hollywood Media Summit New York panel and then off to VRDC at GDC. Then I get to sleep!
- by Lesley Klassen
Les is presenting with some really amazing folks today at All Access, a film and television conference hosted and organized by On Screen Manitoba. This conference brings many national and provincial filmmakers, broadcasters, and production companies together to develop business opportunities in the film and television industry.
Les is talking about our experience with Creation Lab, a joint venture between On Screen Manitoba, New Media Manitoba, the National Film Board and the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. We developed an HTC Vive interactive exhibit that transported users into a 1960's classroom to take a Stanford Binet test that was used to label kids as inferior or normal. He is really looking forward to sharing our experience collaborating and developing this Vive experience.
- by Lesley Klassen
Stay warm and cozy! See you in the new year.
- by Rachael Hosein
Way back 11.5 months ago...
We started 2015 knowing we needed to keep experimenting with new ideas in VR, because it is still such a new medium, but that we also wanted to ship complete products too.
We knew commercial headsets were still a ways off at that point, but that the first ones would likely ship by the end of the year, and we needed to be ready in time for that.
We celebrated turning 1 year old as a company at the GDC conference in March, and it's been a rollercoaster of a year ever since. Let's jump into what that looked like, followed by where we're headed in 2016.
Yana Virtual Relaxation goes mobile
We knew Yana presented a significant challenge to port to mobile VR platforms, due to certain performance-heavy elements in the scene like the reflective water and the light changing from day to night and back, and porting it flew in the face of Oculus' advice to start on mobile first instead of working backwards from an existing desktop VR project.
But we knew we would learn a lot about mobile VR optimization in the process, and it forced us to think outside of the box to solve each optimization challenge, which you can read all about here.
In the end, Yana turned into a beautiful little app for both the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard platforms. Yana was even featured at the top of Google's Cardboard Favorites section!
In our first year, with VR being so new (to everyone, but also us), we spent most of it just experimenting and learning about what works and what doesn't, in order to establishing a deeper understanding of why the best practices are what they are.
This yielded TinyPlant (a miniature robotics manufacturing plant), Tower Crane VR (self-explanatory), Party Sketch 3D (even more fun than it sounds), and Range Of Motion VR (get stretchier!) to name a few. Needless to say, we learned a lot.
Virtual reality is all about human perception. It's about about how we perceive the world around us, our expectations and basic assumptions, and finding ways to work with those can be tough, and often counter-intuitive.
Our experiments in 2015 include:
Lightshow is a VR creation app that combines dance, music, and light to create your own VR performances. These performances could be recorded and shared with others on the web.
Lightshow taught us about positional data capture and replay, and multiplayer challenges such as time synchronization, as well as being really fun to play in!
We created Mushroomoon for the Oculus Mobile VR Game Jam. Mushroomoon is a third person platformer game, which turns out to be a surprisingly fun style of gameplay in VR!
We recently showcased the results at their annual Folk Fest in the City night.
CMHR Creation Lab
We teamed up with the wider creative community, including the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the National Film Board, New Media Manitoba, and On Screen Manitoba, to collaborate on finding new ways to apply emerging technologies to augment the way visitors connect with the stories and content of the museum.
Oculus Connect 2
Here is a post where we were kinda freaking out about how cool this was for us.
Winnipeg Alternate Reality Club
This fall, we also started Winnipeg's first and only VR and AR meetup, called the Winnipeg Alternate Reality Club.
We've already had several local developers showcase their creations, tons of interest (this meetup isn't just for developers!), and some great conversations around where the technology is going, how it's going to change the way we interact with technology (and even with each other), the challenges of storytelling in VR, and lots more.
Check out the meetup page to find out when we'll be getting together next.
Lost Cities VR
I won't go into Lost Cities too much since we did that in another post just last week, but I will say that shipping our first game between March and December of this year was a huge undertaking with many ups and downs, but we really came together as a team and I think everyone should be super proud of the results!
We submitted Lost Cities to the Gear VR app store last week, and are just nailing down an official release date now.
What's up for 2016
We'll be announcing our next game in the new year, but we can't say any more than that quite yet - sorry!
We'll also be revealing more about our Scout 360° VR media player soon, which is the app that powers the Winnipeg Folk Festival 360° experience. We're releasing a VR experience of the University of Winnipeg next month too, which you can read about in the Fall 2015 issue of UWinnipeg Magazine (PDF alert).
Catch us at All Access in January. Les will be joining a panel called "MB Focus: The Creation Lab" talking about our weekend at the CMHR, and then you'll be able to try our Folk Fest 360° experience at the All Access Manitoba Interactive Digital Media Showcaselater that evening.
2015 has been one amazing year, but we're just getting started. 2016, watch out - we're coming for you!
P.S. Can we make virtually the new literally in 2016?
That time Oculus threw Rachael into their Oculus Rift Consumer Edition keynote for a minute or so.
- by John Luxford
Our second meetup night is going to continue the trend of an informal get-together. Last time, we had some great demos from local developers, great conversations, and an amazing turnout!
For more info, visit the Winnipeg Alternate Reality Club meetup page.
- by Rachael Hosein
- by Rachael Hosein
The Winnipeg Folk Festival happens to be one of the biggest folk festivals in the world, and as long-time fans of the festival, it was a huge honour for us to be able to capture the experience and now to share that experience in a whole new way.
This is also the first time we're showing off our brand new virtual reality media player, called Scout 360°. We'll have more info on that for you soon, but in a nutshell Scout 360° is designed to enable you to create your own interactive VR experiences, perfect for everything from virtual tours to interactive fiction and more.
- by John Luxford