Posts by John Luxford

Introducing Flipside Studio

- by John Luxford

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.

 

We've been accepted into Boost VC!!!

- by John Luxford

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):

 

State of the Union: 2016 in review

- 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

Another major release for us was created in partnership with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which was a 360 video app based on our Scout 360 video platform, called 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.

Winning $100,000

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.


Other highlights

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!):


Jason Bienia has been with us as a co-op student for the past four months, and it’s been really awesome having him here. Jason has been building his own tower defence game with the occasional help from various members of the team, and is a smart and highly motivated budding developer. We’ll miss you when you’re back in school next month, Jason!

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.

Sincerely,
The Campfire Union


 

Human rights & accessibility in VR

- 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.

Google VR users can download it on both iOS and Android. And all powered by our Scout 360° video platform!

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:

Closed captioning

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.

Bilingual

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:

CMHR simulated colour blindness

Hands-free navigation

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:

CMHR timer-based 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.

 

Lost Cities is now available on the Gear VR app store!

- by John Luxford

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:

  1. Rachael had herself a beautiful baby girl
  2. Lux chose the worst possible time to go on a backpacking journey across Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala :P
  3. 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! ;)

 

And that's a wrap on 2015!

- by John Luxford

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

Yana was one of our earliest VR experiences, which we originally released for free on the Oculus Share website for desktop VR users.

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!


Experimenting, err'day

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
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!

Mushroomoon
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!

Winnipeg Folk Festival in 360°
Working with Handcraft Creative, we approached the Winnipeg Folk Festival about creating a virtual reality video project people could watch to relive the festival.

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

This September, Les was invited to talk at the Oculus Connect 2 conference. His talk was called "From Paper Cutouts to Virtual Cards: Making the Tabletop Interface for Lost Cities".

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.

 

Winnipeg Folk Festival in 360°

- by John Luxford


Tonight at Folk Fest in the City, we're unveiling the 360° video that we shot with Handcraft Creative of the 2015 Winnipeg Folk Festival.

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.

 

Join us at Comic Con this weekend!

- by John Luxford

This weekend, if you're in Winnipeg, come join us at the Central Canada Comic Con (C4), which runs from October 30th - November 1st. Look for us in Indie Alley, across from BaseLAN.

We'll be showing off an early beta preview of our Lost Cities VR game, which is due to ship by the end of this year, so stop by to try out the game and say hello. If you're new to virtual reality, this is your chance to try it out.

See you there!

 

Help end homelessness in Winnipeg

- by John Luxford

In just a few days, over 100 leaders from Winnipeg's local business community will come together for the annual CEO Sleepout, an event that raises money and awareness for Winnipeg's homeless population. This year our CTO John Luxford is taking part as well.


Winnipeg is home to some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. Couple that with some of the harshest winters in the country, and this is clearly a situation that needs our attention. We all need to work together if we're going to solve this problem.

Since 2011, the CEO Sleepout has raised over $600,000 and helped employ 137 people for more than 51,000 hours of employment. Many of these individuals have since returned to school or found permanent full-time work. But our work is far from over.

Please consider donating to help support this important cause. Every donation helps, so whatever you can afford will make a difference in someone's life.

Thank you in advance for your generosity,
The Campfire Team

 

Lesley was on 680 CJOB radio this morning

- by John Luxford

Here's Richard Coulter trying out some of our demos on the CJOB Morning Show!


For those that couldn't tune in, here's a recording of the interview:


 

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