Wednesday, February 7, 2018

4 Big Ideas from the 2018 Immersive Design Summit

Over the last 18 years, immersive theater has grown in popularity in London, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it hasn't evolved much beyond those city-centers. I found immersive theater in 2015. I began to see VR as an evolution of a how an audience visits a narrative, rather than an evolution of film. We started applying this learning to our work at Oculus Story Studio. We hired a well known immersive theater troupe to help us crack story on "Wolves in the Walls".

As those of us in VR discovered the immersive arts, the immersive arts have discovered us, seeing this new technology is a way to scale beyond their bubble.

On January 6th, I attended an intimate Immersive Design Summit. I met incredibly interesting people working in immersive theater, experience design, escape rooms, and virtual reality, including the creators of Sleep No More, Imagineers from Disneyland, the creative producer from ILMxLab, the CCO from The Void, and the CEO of Meow Wolf. We came together to discuss the problems and solutions shared across our immersive spaces.

During the full day event, we shared our favorite stories from when we fell in love with the immersive arts. Everyone's story shared a common theme: they loved improvised, serendipitous, impossible-to-repeat moments. Moments like when a bag of feathers were dropped on a scene and one of them fell perfectly into an actor's spotlit hand, or when an actor deftly snatched a spoon accidentally thrown by an over-excited audience member and then twirled it around in character. There's something magical about feeling a part of a fantastic memory and not simply watching a fantastic story.

We all got excited thinking of VR as a new venue but also as a new canvas. VR has a unique set of constraints for what's possible and what's costly. New constraints ignite new ideas.

The challenge for uniting VR and the immersive arts is that the experts at building real immersive environments don't have the technical expertise to create virtual environments. Considering I have the latter skillset and that I was surrounded by those who have done so well in the former, I was inspired to see the synapses starting to connect.

"the hierarchy of needs"

During the opening keynote, the creative director at Disney Imagineering, threw up a slide of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as if she was referring to common knowledge we all should have learned back in Immersion 101. I've seen the pyramid before in leadership books, but not in the context of how you think about your visiting audience. Although this principle wasn't immediately evident to me, still a freshman level student of immersion, it makes sense that immersive creators must think deeply about human motivation. The theory is that all popular narrative media, think film and television, can at best feed our desire for feelings of love and belonging, while the immersive arts have the potential to feed our needs all the way to to the top.

This led me to an interesting thought about VR. The successful immersive creators must design an experience that feels safe before they can start tackling of higher levels of satisfaction. Popular narrative media like TV and film worry less about this problem as our mind can easily keep feelings of fear or threat behind the screen. With immersive theater, every audience member enters the experience knowing how to interact in it. It's natural to walk around, pick up objects, talk to each other- feel present in a physical space. With VR, it's not immediately intuitive how to navigate or interact with the experience, and when done wrong, it can actually make our audience feel sick. We need to get the fundamentals of interaction in VR right before we can climb the hierarchy of needs. As with immersive theater, if we make smart design decisions, we have the potential to create an experience that not only inspires but empowers the audience - this makes it a challenge worth solving.

"the alibi for participation"

The keynote speaker ended with a phrase that stuck with me. She said that when they create a consistently excellent experience at Disneyland and build it with a delightful purpose, it gives the visitors an "alibi for participation." It's at that sweet spot of design where even the most cynical teenager will put away their fear of looking uncool and put on a pair of Mickey ears. Great immersive experiences give a clear sense of a master plan - a purpose for visiting- and a clear way of how to move towards a goal. The experience must then feel like every detail was designed to reinforce the boundary between the real and the immersed world. The audience can only then relax into that plan without the stress of feeling like they have to fill out a blank canvas.
"the Magic Circle"  
In games, there is a principle that has a similar meaning as the alibi for participation. It's called the Magic Circle. It symbolizes the threshold that a visitor crosses when they enter a new world of rules and expectations. The best game experiences design this cross-over with great care and a reverent consistency. At the start of the PS3 game Journey, you start in a stark desert with the only notable environmental feature being a mysterious glowing mountain top off in the distance. You quickly discover you can move around with a joystick, jump with the A button, and chirp with the B button. Those are the only tools you need to start your journey. Simple, intuitive, elegant.

In order to create great VR, we need to do the same and more- feeling present comes with higher expectations. We need to establish the difference between how you interact in the real world with how you interact in the virtual world. For as much as I love VR mapping intuitive head and hand movement to feedback, we are still limited by the inability to capture the body or the full dexterity of the hand. There are yet to be haptics, and you are tethered to, at best, a 7' by 7' space. I believe the first step is to define how the experience is designed within these limitations; establishing the rules of locomotion, grabbing, throwing, pushing, button pressing, and talking.

"lack of constraints feeds indecision"

After the keynote, I went to a series of inspiring sessions from escape room creators and immersive theater designers. Many of the creators worked within the confines of their limited budgets and made some really clever choices. One of my favorites stories was from the creators of "The Nest", an after-work immersive story project by Disney Imagineers. The experience is about exploring a deceased woman's estate to piece together the puzzle of her heart breaking life. It takes place in a small cramped space which amplifies the intimacy of the experience. The creators intentionally made that choice because it was cheaper to use a backyard shed the size of a storage unit.

Constraints help guide and sometimes force decision making, providing a unique framework for invention. One of the challenges with VR is that we are less constrained in what we can build, making it easier for over-inflated ambition, and that feeds indecision. We have discovered that certain digital assets are cheaper to build than others. The key is creating great immersive environments, which are cheaper and easier than great immersive character acting. This, coupled with the human need for quality time, is one of the many reasons I'm excited about creating immersive environments in which your real-life friends can get together virtually to explore new adventures in ever-evolving environments.

In one day, I took home 4 big ideas:
  1. VR needs to start at the bottom of the hierarchy of needs; 
  2. the audience needs an alibi for participation; 
  3. defining the Magic Circle starts with the rules of interaction; 
  4. real world constraints make the immersive arts better, VR's constraints should do the same. 
It made it even more clear for me that VRs future will not evolve from books, TV or film. It will come from theme park makers, immersive theater producers, and escape room designers.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

stories I've experienced: The Invisible Hours (on Oculus Rift)

Over the course of this past month, hour session by hour session, I've made my way through the VR story experience called "The Invisible Hours" by Tequila Works.

The story takes place in the 1930s in an alternate universe in which Nikola Tesla has a sizable fortune, has faked his death, and escaped to a mysterious island to finish his more otherworldly work in peace. You soon find out Nikola has invited an intriguing assortment of guests to his sprawling estate for his own strange reasons. But you are never able to see Nikola as host, since you first encounter him dead on the main entrance foyer. The experience quickly unfolds into a classic who-dun-it in which you have to seek out the truth across 7 suspects' tangled story lines. The story you eventually unravel is written well enough, has intriguing characters, and a few eye opening twists and one jaw drop. But the story itself isn't what makes this a special entry in the early days of VR entertainment; what makes it special is an innovative new mechanic for how the visitor participates.

Like many of the story based VR experiences attempted, you the visitor are treated as a ghost-in-the-room without any ability to influence or any reactions from the cast. What makes the experience engrossing, at times delightful, and downright important in the evolution of the medium is how it gives the visitor complete control over time and space. You can pause, rewind, fast forward and teleport yourself around as over a 90 minute period, you follow the dramatic suspects through out this island complex, which is filled with strange rooms, secret passages, scattered clues and backstory artifacts.

What made Invisible Hours unique and a big step forward for the medium is that only in VR could I also control over time. I had a few giddy moments of appreciation when I would be following one suspect through some hallway or foyer and then cross paths with another suspect unwinding their own drama. I could then rewind and follow that person to find out what happened, only to be drawn into another crossing thread.

Many times during the experience, I felt a familiar delight I've had during some of my favorite immersive theater experiences, knowing that whatever thread of the story I chose to follow, a larger tapestry was being woven around me. I chose where to go and who to follow and so my story was crafted by my decisions. But because of my non-linear time powers in VR, I didn't feel choice anxiety. I could follow all of the threads, forward and backward, and yet the path I traced over the pre-determined tapestry of tangled threads was still my own.

The genius of it all is that having control over time and space is a perfect mechanic for a murder mystery. I was disappointed when I discovered I had no agency, but considering the goal was finding out who did it and not stopping who did it, I didn't need anything more than what I was given.

There were 4 particularly exceptional things the creators pulled off that deserve gold stars.
  • Although it took me the entire first act to realize I had complete control over time and place (for the most part), I still walked the path intended by the creators. I love that there weren't many artificial boundaries to the mechanic, but the experience was so well designed that by the end, I looked down the road I chose and realized it was all a magic trick. And I loved the magicians for it.
  • The creators made smart visual design decisions so they didn't have to do that much fixup on the hours of motion capped acting by keeping farther away from the Uncanny Valley. Although there still were awkward idle loops and comically wooden acting, considering the state of the art and the cost per minute limitations of VR, it was stand out work.
  • Being able to hear sounds and dialogue from other parts of the house was one of my favorite parts. That being said, the sound design was far from perfect: many times sound from another room didn't feel muffled by walls or properly reverbing around the wooden hallways. I am willing to give the sound designer a pass here considering the amount of content and the small budget for the experience. But what excited me is that just like in immersive theater, being able to hear noise from other rooms reminded me of the larger web of story around me.
  • Finally, the more spine tingling, eye popping moments I had were amplified when a chilling swell of music would accompany a dramatic reveal. Using music as a way to steer the audience's empathy is a story tellers tool that works as well in VR as it does in theater as it does in movies. The creators of The Invisible Hours used it to great effect.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

stories I've experienced: Escape from the Jail - by Real Escape Games

This past Saturday, on a day-of-whim, I decided to try out another escape room in San Francisco. This one is called Escape from the Jail by Real Escape Games, located off of Polk St. on the outskirts of Chinatown.

It's one of the longest running escape rooms in the Bay Area, and one of the most challenging with a 10% success rate. I went with three friends and we were joined up by six other really smart, fun strangers. It proved to be as challenging as advertised, but we were still able to escape by a fraction of a second with an escape time of 59:59.

What made the room challenging was that it added a twist in how you communicated. I'm not going to go into too much detail so those who read can enjoy for themselves, but be warned that I am going to talk a little bit about this unique mechanic which may spoil some of the fun of figuring out the premise.

The types of problems you solve in an escape room usually involve some permutation of 5 stages of tasking -- searching, inspecting, hypothesis generation, experimentation, and lots and lots of communicating. The most memorable moments are when the team feels like they're working together to make progress. My fondest memories are of those moments when it feels like we're all stuck and it's through spitball brainstorming that we generate more things to try out. I especially love the kind of puzzles where several escapees need to physically work together to solve a clue.

In Escape from the Jail, the novelty and challenge of the room was that they added an obstacle in how you communicated. The party was broken into 2 jail cells where parts of each puzzle were split between the cells. There was a particular way you could collaborate with the other side, but you had to do so under the watch of a guard who would penalize you if she saw communication. So you had to wait for her to be turned away or distracted. It was the guard that added the real challenge because you couldn't easily test a hypothesis with the other side and get immediate feedback. As a result, the most challenging aspect of the entire experience was figuring out how and *when* to best communicate with the other side. It requires a really methodical approach and the ability to develop a shared language with your neighbor cell mates if you hope to escape. We didn't necessarily find great synchronicity and I in particular had a hard time matching the staggered flow that the communication required. We were often forgetful, confused, and frustrated. It's only because we had some really great puzzle solvers in both cells that we were able to salvage an escape in the last second.

After having a day to digest, I can appreciate that this communication constraint made it extremely challenging, but in the end, I didn't like it. It's really difficult to find clue solving flow, that feeling when you keep coming up with new ideas to throw at the puzzles and in those snowballing moments, gain a momentum that energizes and excites. But in this escape room, having to communicate at particular times and wait for response on a timeline you don't have control over meant I never felt like we were building up that really fun snowball.

The part I liked the least was that when the team as a group solved a clue, we couldn't all share in the cooperative glow with something as simple as "way to go" or a high five. I realized that I prefer less challenge over more social interaction.

What I learned from "Escape from the Jail" is that communicating and shared moments is a key part of social fun. Although they introduced a novel concept for me (this being my 6th escape room now), it mostly provided a great counter example of how social barriers can make for a kind of challenge that isn't as delightful as cooperative solving. That counter example inspired me to think on how VR could bring a team of puzzle solvers together who may be physically separated but still enjoy an amazing form of "unguarded" collaborative entertainment.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

stories I've experienced: The Three-Body Problem Series

As a VR content creator and believer, it's probably no surprise that I'm also a lover of science fiction novels, especially "hard" science fiction. Hard science fiction is just like regular science fiction, in that it explores a story under the influence of shifted, twisted, or evolved technological expectations, but with a scientific rigor that makes it feel believable. Some of my favorite books include Isaac Asimov's "Foundation", Vernor Vinge's "A Deepness in the Sky" and Carl Sagan's "Contact" (the movie is also one of my favorite science fiction stories).

I just had the pleasure of finishing a great set of hard science fiction books written by Cixin Liu, once a nuclear engineer, now an acclaimed Chinese science fiction writer, and brilliantly translated by Ken Liu and Joel Martinsen. Called the "Three-Body Problem Series" (also known as the Remembrance of Earth's Past Series), the series is three books starting with "The Three-Body Problem" and finishing with the "The Dark Forest", and "Death's End".

three-body problem series

Cixin introduces a wild premise of how we might discover and communicate with antagonistic inter-stellar neighbors who are an alien race evolved so dramatically different from us because of the three sun system their home planet orbits in.

The series explores interesting ideas around scientific discovery and the stagnation of it, a civilization in which members can hibernate for eras of time, wireless electricity, space cities with various designs for centrifugal based gravity, fusion drives, a mind bending invention called curvature propulsion, and a fascinating theory on how the speed of light may have once started out as near infinite but is variable and monotonically decreasing because of the advanced weapon warfare between civilizations in an overpopulated universe.

In the first book, a secret group of trisolaran loyalists find and communicate with each other by using a form of virtual reality in which they can move around and even feel their environment by using a full body suit. The author doesn't go into too much detail how the devices would work and it's one of the softer bits of the fiction. In many ways, although Cixin's ideas were fresh and incredibly novel, I didn't feel like the story was written with an especially foreign perspective. That may be a credit to the translators, but what I do find interesting is how a book written by a Chinese author uses virtual reality almost as a foregone conclusion of what would be available to us in the very near future. This gives me hope for how virtual reality is seen in Asia, especially at a time where there seems to be more doubt in the states.

On top of the fun thought experiment of how an alien culture may be so different if they evolve under the harsh conditions of a three sun system, the series proposes a fascinating and believable axiom of how interstellar species might treat each other if our galaxy was overcrowded. Cixin proposes that in an overcrowded space, there would be limited resources, and therefore a natural fear among all of its inhabitants that any competition for those resources is best treated as a threat. Earthlings soon find out (a little too late) that those species who discover life outside of their own systems are better off concealing themselves instead of reaching out. This "Dark Forest" theory is a great canvas in which Cixin explores one of the more interesting ideas in the series: what if we could prevent war with a neighboring alien race by threatening to reveal our neighborhood to the rest of a hostile galaxy and therefore keeping a fragile peace through mutually assured destruction?

Another interesting idea that Cixin explores across the many years the story takes place is how gender expectations may change during times of survivalism and during times of comfort. Through out the book, as Earth advances and struggles against a strange and foreboding enemy, it goes through eras of extreme suffering and extreme luxury. During each extreme, Cixin proposes that when times are good, gender expectations trend to a feminized average, but when times are hard, gender expectations differentiate so that men are bearded, muscular and brutish and women are smaller, more fragile, and more maternal. It's an idea explored in other science fiction I've read, the most notable being "The Forever War" by Joel Haldeman.

With a lense towards our own culture, as technology continues to make life more comfortable, we may currently be seeing this trend towards a more feminized expectation for men (the term metrosexual comes to mind) and a more evolved expectation for women (as antiquated views on the domesticated wife are finally fading). I think our evolution out of antiquated stereotypical expectations for men and women is a good thing, but Cixin's is an especially thought provoking idea since it considers taking this trend to the extreme. I'm a big believer that great teams combine the perspectives of men and women with equality across all roles. But I also believe it's dangerous to say each individual must trend towards the thinking of the average. Homogenous thinking, even when balanced, leads to a lack of adaptability. There is a great benefit for men to be less brutish, but I worry that if this comes at the expense of our survivability, we should be cautious about losing our the classic gender expectations. Cixin doesn't try to make a case for what's best. He simply suggests that mankind is adaptable through out the extremes, and that we would most likely revert to our more primitive instincts and expectations when our day to day survival becomes the priority. I wonder how global warming may lead to a regression of our cultural evolution over the coming years.

In any case, I highly recommend these books. Cixin introduces and explores a lot of clever ideas with compelling characters and delivers the kind of great science fiction that uses "what if?" to make you think deeply about our own civilization and perspectives.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

stories I've experienced: Passengers (2016)

On an 11 hour direct flight from San Francisco to Tokyo, I find myself with the kind of time where I can catch up on movies that I wouldn't even consider watching on a lazy Sunday. There's something liberating about being crammed in a big flying metal tube for a long period of time. It's like the time is already forfeit so I don't mind if it's wasted on a potentially bad movie.

But I was pleasantly stunned to find an under appreciated gem in my selection, and unplanned by me, I watched it in the perfect setting.

Passengers (2016) is a small ensemble sci fi romance drama starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt that passed through the theaters unnoticed. Two space faring passengers find themselves woken up way too early on a ship traversing an expanse that takes 100 years to cross, dooming both of them to live out their remaining years as castaways on a cruise ship. Pratt's character is woken because of misfortune; Lawrence's character is woken because of desperation. They eventually fall in love, but in a way that feels earned and meaningful.

I had very low expectations for this movie (it has a 30% on rotten tomatoes) and only had it on my list because I'm a sucker for space travel themes, high production value sci fi design, and Thomas Newman on score (there are some really sweet moments that remind me of Wall*e because of Newman's sound). But in the last act of the film, my jaw was dropping as much from the tense climax and heartfelt ending as from the complete under appreciation for this film. I cared for these characters. I felt for their decisions, their mistakes and their emotions. Their motivation, although simple, was believable and relatable in an unimaginable situation.

These two passengers start out feeling like it was a life sentence to live out a luxurious yet isolated existence traveling across the stars without others around them to provide purpose or validation. But by the end, they find all they needed was each other. Romance wise, it's a touching sentiment, but it got me thinking how this space ship, with around 5000 migrating passengers was already on a mission of isolation from an overpopulated Earth. Everyone on that ship felt like 5000 was enough other people to bring them meaning when they reached their final destination.

It's a very believable premise and it got me thinking how we all probably have a number in our mind of how big our community needs to be for us to feel fulfilled. In a time when technology allows us to create connections well beyond the Dunbar Number, I worry that we all think our numbers are bigger than they need to be, which causes inflation to the point where each relationship is so devalued that even the sum of many leaves us wanting. I see this story as a suggestion that the lower our number is, the more satisfied and connected we may feel with the community we share. Having a number as low as 2 may be a bit overly romantic, but I do feel like a lower number is something worth aspiring towards.

If the inevitable evolution of virtual reality is to create communities that mirror social value in real life, I wonder if it will be a technology that further dilutes our feeling of belonging or if it provides us a way to create communities sized to fit each one of us. As some one who is invested in seeing VR be a medium that makes us better people, I push and hope for the latter.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Taking off the manager hat. For now.

Over the past 7 years, I've been a manager and supervisor in various roles, first at Pixar and then from the ground floor at Oculus Story Studio. When I started down this path, I had an advantage. I approached managing as a challenge altogether different from the challenges I had overcome as a team member. For me, I wanted to know if I even had the skills to be a professional leader, and I knew that focusing on developing these skills meant growing in areas that were new to me.

The classic and natural mistake most new managers make is thinking that this transition is about scaling their influence with the skills they already possess. The fact is that as a leader, I needed to start at the beginning again. I needed to learn how to make sure my team is the strongest version of themselves. That usually means I don't get to do exactly what I want, but what my team needs. Being humble about this restart made me more receptive to the many hard challenges I've faced.

What makes management fun, and challenging, is the diversity of problems I've had to solve and the creativity required to solve them. What makes management hard is that I rarely get into flow for myself. I've had to play the role of the champion defending against forces from outside the walls. I've to be an advisor who can find inventive ways to unblock. I've had to be the parent who dishes out tough love. And I've switched between these roles many times in a day. I've come to find that as a manager, I've often needed to fall on the grenade of context switching so the team finds their flow.

I enjoy managing and have found that it to be incredibly fulfilling. But not wholly satisfying. What I've been missing is that feeling of making something with my hands, pointing at it and saying "I made this thing." Instead, I've pointed at my team and been sustained by pride. Pride goes a long way, and I've been blessed with great teams who filled my cup, but in the end, I realized I got into VR because I wanted to be on the ground floor of building a new medium.

With recent events in my career, I've been given an opportunity to take a step back from managing and start building as a creative engineer.

It hasn't been an easy choice. It's understandable to feel like once you become a manager, you're stuck on that track. After having played the role of champion, advisor, and father, you earn a kind of respect and appreciation that soaks into your identity, and the lack of it makes you feel less than.

But this is also where that initial mindset helps me again. Because I approached managing as an altogether different skillset, I can recognize it as a hat I chose to put on. Now, it's a hat I can choose to take off.

My skills and experience as a manager will still be there for the day that I want to return to it, but for now, I want to roll up my sleeves and make some amazing VR.

Monday, September 4, 2017

stories I've experienced: The Asylum Escape Room

I love puzzles. I love immersion. And I love a team effort. So this labor day weekend, I tried out one of the newest escape rooms by Clockwise Escape Rooms called "The Asylum". The experience takes place in a Nixon era mental ward where you have to solve your escape before the staff comes back from their one hour meeting. The premise was simple but evocative, and it was beautifully executed with smart era consistent set design. We even got to wear patient gowns to complete the immersion.

I look especially crazy on the far left

I went with a good friend and got paired with 2 other groups to make a total of 8 team members. We had a few experienced team members but most people were new to escape rooming. Right when the door shut behind us and the clock started, any feeling of being strangers melted away as the adrenaline kicked in and our shared task became our shared focus.

The puzzles themselves were clever, diverse, and rewarding. Never did I think that a puzzle felt too obscure and never did I feel like the clues were ham-fisted. Every time we solved a clue, it felt like we were in flow. A few of the puzzles and their inventive solutions were so good, you felt like giving a high five to the game master herself.

As much as I'd like to talk about some of the particularly cool solutions, spoilers would have their full effect, and so I'll focus on the high level. Here's my thoughts on what worked, how it could have been better, and how it can inspire VR experiences.

  • The lighting design decisions alone really gave a sense of progression through an amazing story experience. The first part of the experience takes place in a sterile white overly lit ward room and the second half takes place in an underlit dark wood paneled warden's office. And within those two acts, there are event based lighting changes as you progress through the clues. The contrasting acts and the variety in the event based lighting really kept a compelling pace which deepened the suspense and theme.
  • But what I really missed was a soundtrack. Having some brooding background music that would shift in tone and theme as we made progress or would crescendo as we got closer to solving a puzzle would have made for an epic shared story making experience. I wouldn't even need the music to be motivated by a set consistent device. In fact, having music be part of the ambiance would enhance my belief that I've stepped into a story.
  • Sound effects were used quite well across a variety of devices, but what I wanted was a clear sound effect for when a puzzle was solved. Our team was a clever bunch and did a pretty decent job of communicating all of the clues we were finding. But there were times where we were doing such a good job of plowing through the puzzles that we weren't communicating what we'd solved and what clues we'd use. Sure we wasted some time as some folks would pick up and ponder solved clues, but that's not what bugs me. The opportunity that was really missed is giving the group a clear moment to share in a team member's victory.
  • During the experience, I solved a clue here or there, but what I loved was how good I felt when another member of the team solved a puzzle. It especially felt good when everyone was thinking on the same clues and it was through talking it out that somewhat had a spark of insight. Having a shared goal, and then having shared victories on the path towards that goal created an immediate kinship. We were woohooing, fist bumping, and high fiving with folks we had just met 10 minutes ago.
  • I'm a big believer that a shared quest creates strong bonds, and I continue to believe that social adventures is the key to what will make VR exciting. But there's a design constraint we need to consider if we're to make escape room work in VR. Escape rooms are fun because everyone gets to use a full range of tools they're very familiar with in inventive ways - tools like seeking, opening, touching, pushing, talking, and listening. The problem we have with VR is that the tools we use to interact in a virtual environment are under developed. We're much closer to creating interactions that universally improve immersion over game controllers and keyboards, but the fact that we're still figuring out mechanics for simple actions like opening a drawer, flipping a switch, picking up an object, entering in a key combination, and even for interactions as simple as moving around means that the puzzles we'd make in VR need to be designed very differently if we hope to make them fun.
  • After 37 minutes, having used one hint, we solved our way to an escape and earned the #1 spot in the winner's circle! By that time, we were beaming, high fiving, and collecting phone numbers. And then we were then confronted with our last puzzle: "What should our team name be?" The funny thing is that we had become a team before we even had a name. That's how powerful a shared task is, especially under a time constraint.