A mixed reality postcard design.
A mixed reality postcard design.
[ originally published on Virtual Reality Pop ]
If I am a pawn in someone else’s chess game, you better believe I am going to demand an explanation before being shoved at some rook. I’ll play my part, damn it, but I want the courtesy of being asked for my consent!”
― Thomm Quackenbush, Danse Macabre
A few weeks ago, I presented Pawn VR at Advertising Week NYC’s TechX Playground. “Presented” being an ambiguous word, considering the experience we offered to AdWeek delegates wasn’t a simple VR demo. Essentially, it was a work in progress, with plenty of progress to be done.
AdWeek TechX’s Playground was designed to be a space to demo ongoing work and show delegates the process of creation. With this in mind, my co-founder, Marjorie Wang, and I proposed an interesting idea for our AdWeek booth: what if we created a VR experience from scratch over the course of the four days of conference, involving delegates in our process? What would an experience like that look like?
We’d only founded our mixed reality studio, intern019, a few weeks before after collaborating together for over a year and wanted to demo something unique for AdWeek delegates to showcase our skills. Presenting our workflow offered an intriguing opportunity for AdWeek delegates to get involved. It definitely helped that creating VR experiences was what we did best. And so we decided to explore how we could make the process the experience.
The art of creation usually happens behind closed doors and when most agencies ask for a demo, they don’t understand all the inner workings that go into creating an experience for them. But often the process is as important as the final product. After all, it is during the process, in between the debugging, the brainstorming, and the designing, that one can truly perceive all the different use cases for a medium. Especially with a new medium like VR, understanding the process opens up the possibilities. This was an opportunity to let people in on the secret.
Both Marjorie and I really do not enjoy playing video games. Or even trying other VR experiences. To us, playing a game is incredibly boring. It is a chore. At most, it is viewed as research for our own experiences. Some people would argue we are playing games wrong but, to us, making the game is the game. Figuring out how to create a better VR experience for others is like a strategy game that never ends. It is always stimulating, always puzzling. Therefore, it was only fitting that the experience we shared with AdWeek delegates was the experience of creating. Because, in our eyes, creating is the magic.
We knew it could be done. We are both rapid prototypers — experienced marathon runners when it comes to VR development. We’d been working in VR for over a year so creating a fully-realized experience in four days was entirely doable, if not incredibly easy — even for a team of two.
Playing on the phrase ‘being a pawn in someone else’s game,’ we gave delegates who visited our booth the opportunity to be turned into a chess pawn themselves. By photoscanning with a Structure Sensor, we were able to transform delegates into 3D chess pawns which we would then place on our larger-than-life chessboard. Participants could then play chess with their stone doppelgangers in an eerie VR world.
Manipulating chess in this way to create a VR experience was a simple solution to make VR accessible. Chess has been a cultural cornerstone for hundreds of years, an easy metaphor to understand for the non-technologically minded and appreciate the opportunities presented by VR.
We called our experience Pawn VR, tempting people with flyers to stop by our ‘Pawn Shop’ . With PAWN VR, we paid close attention to designing not only the user experience of the final VR game, but also the experience of creating alongside AdWeek participants. This presented an interesting dichotomy. One thing we should have anticipated was having to deal with people coming to your booth and building the back-end logic to run the experience at the same time. This meant that a lot of the more advanced coding (such as the actual chess logic) could not happen. But we didn’t stay overnight or skip out on sleep to get this project done. One easy solution was to just arrive half an hour early each day. Before 12 noon, the crowds were pretty slim so it was easy to focus on getting the code to work.
The Pawn VR experience was well-received. People loved the idea of seeing themselves as a chess piece. They marveled at how a simple Structure Sensor attached to an iPad could produce a 3D model of themselves in just a few minutes. They were equally impressed with the semi-finished VR world we were populating with chess pieces. We encouraged people who came in on Day 1 to check in again on Day 4 to see how the VR experience changed.
Even the President of Advertising Week, Mari Kim Novak, heard about our project and loved the idea of ‘being a pawn in someone else’s chess game’ so much that she had all the Advertising Week staff turned into chess pawns. And so at the end of the four days, we actually ended up with two complete chess sets, instead of one.
It was a fun experiment for our young studio, although definitely a little nerve-wracking in the beginning. You never know what nightmarish technical difficulties decide to introduce themselves and how they might delay production on a tight deadline. Luckily, our technical difficulties were minimal at best and easily solved by simply attaining more power strips.
Perhaps our booth was little less decked out than the others and our product a little more vague, but I like to think we gave AdWeek participants something really valuable: a little taste of what its like to create a VR experience from start to finish, and how maybe they could too.
(originally posted on Medium.)
This summer, I participated in ITP Camp, a fun, creative, and technological camp for people to tinker with cool technology and build strange things. While I was there, I noticed that the campers who didn’t already come with a technical background were really apprehensive about the program. Intimidated by the code of their already competent classmates, they felt like they weren’t good enough. When I asked them about what projects they would present, they shrugged and said that they hadn’t come up with any decent ideas. In comparing themselves to others, they felt incompetent. And so when presentation day finally came along, they had no projects to show.
This made me think about the insecurity we all go through when beginning a project. And how the pressure of creating something perfect suppresses our creativity.
Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” There is some wisdom in those words for aspiring creators: don’t think too much. Creativity is fun — it’s supposed to be something you enjoy first and foremost. If you keep putting pressure on yourself to think of a perfect idea, you’ll actually end up confining yourself to a box when you should be thinking outside the box.
So stop thinking about how you’re not creative and start thinking about how you can have fun.
Don’t think about having good ideas. Don’t think about your dumb ideas. Just find an idea that you think will be fun and build on it extensively.
Stupid hackathons are a great example of twisting the pressure of creating perfection into an event of the ridiculous. The idea of a stupid hackathon is to build projects that nobody would want to use. Past projects that came out of the stupid hackathon include a pregnancy test app in which you pee on your phone and a personal ad blocker (in which a real life person walks around with a cardboard poster and blacks out all the physical ads you see). None of these ideas would ever make it to the general market but still they are fodders for creativity. All ideas are stupid in the beginning. It’s only when you begin working on them that they are transformed into something remarkable.
There’s also another aspect to going for stupid ideas. Even if an idea is stupid — at least once you acknowledge it — you get to work rather than wasting your time looking for the ‘perfect’ idea. You start building on your expertise and collecting projects under your belt. Even if those projects are nothing special, it’s better to have dumb experience rather than no experience at all. This is very important in terms of rapid prototyping because the more you iterate, the better you get.
Remember the Bogart from Harry Potter. A Bogart is a mythical creature that resides in a closet but takes on the appearance of what you fear most. The only way to get rid of a bogart is to laugh at it, to turn it into something ridiculous. So when you begin learning a new skill or playing with some new tech, remember not to overthink. Your ideas need not be masterpieces. When you start looking at creativity from the angle of having fun and just doing something silly, the ideas will come to you once you relax a bit and begin to actually have fun.