2016 – End of Year Review

By 16th December 2016Events, Food for thought, Gaming, VR

As 2016 draws to a close and the team prepares to take a well deserved break, let’s a take a look back at the year and what we’ve achieved, along with some notable events tied to the immersive technologies we work with.

It seems a long time ago now, almost a year but we’ll start at the beginning, way back when in January…

JANUARY

Coming in hot from the Christmas / New Year break of 2015, the year kicked off with a bang having completed the contracts for what would become our second large-scale public-facing Virtual Reality product, the McDonald’s “Follow Our Foodsteps” series of VR experiences.

Designed to promote and raise awareness of the educational outreach programme for progressive young farmers in the agricultural industries, we commenced development on our part of the VR truck that would later travel the UK visiting key agricultural and countryside shows throughout the rest of the year.

And so it was, we found ourselves on a freezing cold ferry bound for the Isle of Wight to visit a farm, one of the McDonald’s fries potato suppliers from McCain. The purpose being that in order to realistically recreate the experience of potato harvesting in VR, we would need to actually do potato harvesting to better understand the sensations, noise and space within the tractor cab, as well as the process of aligning trailer to harvesting machinery accurately to ensure quality yields.

FEBRUARY

Whilst overall the quietest month of the year, in terms of what we can talk about here, we did have some young progressive farmers from McDonald’s come visit the studio in order to user test the early prototype of our VR harvesting experience. Judging by the laughs and noise this ensued, we were certainly sure we were on the right track in creating a fun experience but they also provided invaluable feedback to ensure it was realistic too.

MARCH

A big month for us in terms of public launches and events – our development team had been beavering away for nearly two years on our first VR gaming title, “Radial-G : Racing Revolved” as part of our co-ownership and partnership with Tammeka.

Our Operations Lead, Sam Watts, was invited by Oculus to attend the ‘Media Game Days’ event they were hosting in San Francisco, CA alongside the Game Developers Conference (GDC). For three days, various members of press and media were booked in to try out all the Day One launch titles for the Oculus Rift, the first commercial, high-end VR headset due for release at the end of the month.

Whilst that was going on, the team back in Brighton, UK were busy moving the studio into a temporary space until we found a larger, more VR-friendly office. As our VR products were increasing in numbers and variety, it was quickly becoming clear more room was needed to accommodate VR developers and demonstration areas.

At the end of the month, when the Oculus Rift was released and press embargoes lifted, we were delighted to find ourselves included in multiple top-tier press “Best Oculus Rift Launch Games” lists. The Verge, Time and many more chose our indie title over some of the bigger names from the initial 30-title launch line-up, which was a huge reward and payoff for our development team and all the effort they had put into the game.

APRIL

The month started by bringing “Radial-G : Racing Revolved” out of Steam Early Access as a full game title supporting HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, to coincide with the launch of the 2nd commercially available VR headset of 2016.

Once that was complete, we quickly switched focus to add polish and bug fixes to the McDonald’s “Top of the Crop” potato harvesting Oculus Rift VR experience and accompanying series of 360° videos on Gear VR, ready for the big media launch to be held, kicking off the series of touring shows the ‘Follow Our Foodsteps’ campaign would attend throughout the year.

McDonald’s invited us along to lend support and evangelise the benefits of VR technology in relation to development and training uses within the farming and agricultural industries, to a enraptured audience of journalists from media such as BBC Radio 4 ‘Farming Today’ and The Guardian.

MAY

Continuing on from the media launch day for McDonald’s “Follow Our Foodsteps” campaign, the first public event occurred at The Balmoral Show, Belfast. Once again we were on-hand to lend support and training to the campaign team, who would be running the show for the rest of the calendar of events elsewhere.

Thanks to training and troubleshooting during deployment and having had the dry-run for the media day, the first event went without a hitch and sure enough, the show attendees and event staff were all amazed by the experiences on offer. The leaderboard of top scores was soon becoming a challenge talking point amongst other show exhibitors too.

Once back in our urban studio, we got our heads together to look at the roadmap for “Radial-G : Racing Revolved” v1.1 and the process ahead of us for launch on the 3rd commercially available headset due later in the year, the Sony PlayStation VR.

JUNE

It was time to switch our energies from potatoes to nuclear, with ongoing collaboration with our partner EDF Energy. Having worked with them over the past few years, we adapted an Android-tablet based application to an HTML5 one, providing an online version of the Hinkley Point C ‘Information Map’ application.

Related to the ongoing efforts of EDF Energy and Hinkley Point C, we also adapted the physical cabinet-based version of “Reactor Runner” we had deployed to Glasgow Science Centre in November, 2015, into an upright version specifically for the EDF Energy ‘Campus’ building at Cannington Court, Somerset.

The month ended with a quick flying visit to The Royal Highlands Show, Edinburgh to catch-up with the McDonald’s team as they prepared for their 3rd event of the “Follow Our Foodsteps” campaign trail.

JULY

Reaching mid-point of the year, with McDonald’s happily up-and-running with their VR experiences supported by remote assistance as necessary, we took on some new projects with either emerging technologies for existing partners or new clients, in the form of Chartered Institute of Builders (CIOB) and PROCAT respectively.

We had created a number of complementary training materials for CIOB over the years but with the degradation of the Unity web player, they were looking to futureproof existing and new materials through the use of WebGL and HTML5-based delivery mechanisms.

For the initial phase, we modelled a new housing development from their provided CAD plans and delivered a WebGL version in 3D, packaged up for them to run from their SCORM-compliant Moodle Learning Management System (LMS). This was created through the newly supported WebGL export feature of Unity 5; moving forwards with the recent leaps in HTML5 and WebGL/WebVR, we will look to create directly using other tools.

The new PROCAT product kicked off with a design workshop to thrash out desired learning outcomes and impact of the final installation, as part of a newly created digital, virtual learning zone within the apprenticeship college in Basildon, Essex. Focusing on electrical, plumbing and refrigeration & air-con maintenance professions, we began a lengthy design and development process to create environments for use with HTC Vive.

Mid-way through the month, we attended the Develop: Brighton games development conference and expo once more, again with our VR racing game title “Radial-G : Racing Revolved”. We launched our kickstarter back in 2014 at Develop: Brighton, being able to meet Shuhei Yoshida of Sony PlayStation Worldwide Studios and get on the PlayStation VR development roadmap alongside our initial plans for launch on Oculus Rift (HTC Vive wasn’t even a thing publicly back then).

Once again our Operations Lead, Sam Watts, was pulled in front of the camera for a series of interviews about Develop and VR for the conference team and talking about VR development in general for VICE (which unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor).

AUGUST

August was a fairly quiet month for us with just the deployment of the updated EDF Energy “Reactor Builder” serious game using HTC Vive. Initially this was a prototype VR experience we first created in 2014 using Oculus DK2 and Razer Hydra wired motion input controllers but the technology wasn’t ready for wider use then. It wasn’t until the commercial launch of the HTC Vive earlier in the year, that added wireless motion input controllers into VR, that the prototype could become a product.

SEPTEMBER

After the relative quiet of the previous month, September was full steam ahead in many directions, especially in regards to the future of the studio.

Firstly, we moved out of our temporary shared space and into vastly larger offices, allowing us to have multiple simultaneous VR systems operational for development and demonstration. This coincided with a number of new hires as well to help tackle the increasing workloads on a number of VR projects due for delivery later in the year or 2017.

We also curated a VRLab at The Old Market Theatre, as part of the Brighton Digital Festival that runs throughout the month with a wide ranging series of events tying art and technology together. The VRLab was a week-long series of events, including Storyhack, where our Operations Lead, Sam Watts gave the opening keynote talk about the past, presence and future of VR, and how VR turns storytelling on its head.

This was followed by a 24-hour VR hackathon with Oculus Touch, enabling developers to get their hands on the then unreleased tracked motion input controllers. With sponsorship from Oculus, AMD, Unity, VR Focus and local technology sector facing organisations such as Wired Sussex and the Brighton Digitial Catapult Centre. Two mini-games were created as a result, which were then put into the VRLab showcase.

This was the closer of the week, with 3 days of exhibiting a range of VR experiences from interactive stories, games, educational and art performance experiences that proved to be hugely popular with all 750+ attendees.

OCTOBER

The month kicked off with our Operations Lead, Sam Watts attending Oculus Conn3ct conference in San Jose, CA for the week, getting the opportunity to sit in a range of talks on and around VR development, learn from the leaders and network with some of the finest minds in VR.

Once back in the country, the senior team took the first phase of the PROCAT VR learning experience for electricians up for deployment at the college and meet with the SMEs ready to continue design of the other two professions.

We then hosted the first WebVR Brighton Meetup at the studio, inviting developers to come have a beer, discuss ideas with each other and learn from a series of talks about aspects of developing VR experiences for WebVR with the emerging toolsets.

NOVEMBER

Building on the reception of the EDF Energy “Reactor Builder”, we were approached by Sense, London to adapt the product into an asynchronous multiplayer version to be used as part of the #PrettyCurious campaign they were running with EDF Energy to help promote and encourage young women into STEM subjects.

The end of the month saw the launch of the PlayStation VR system that works with PlayStation 4 games consoles. We had been worked hard in the background to get ‘Radial-G : Racing Revolved’ ready for launch but were held up and missed out on the launch window. Stay tuned for an official launch date coming early 2017!

DECEMBER

We started the month by passing the comfort review for PlayStation VR and getting ‘Radial-G : Racing Revolved’ submitted for compliance testing. As a first time PlayStation developer with no prior experience of the process, we weren’t expecting to pass first time, which we didn’t but the list of issues to fix before our next submission wasn’t too long.

The highlight of the month was the commercial release of the Oculus Touch tracked motion input controllers, bringing the Oculus Rift system in line with the HTC Vive “full VR” offering. We’ve been developing with Oculus Touch for a number of months and find them a joy to use so it was great to see consumers get their hands on them too (and for us to play some of the awesome games available now).

Our last event of the year was inaugural Develop: VR conference and expo in London, which our Operations Lead, Sam Watts had been involved with since the beginning of the year when he was asked to be on the Board of Advisors, as well as a judge for the Indie Showcase.

It was a nice cosy event where we were the only non-gaming exhibitor so we turned heads, showing that the VR systems can be used for much more than just games, which is where a lot of the public-orientated focus is currently.

2017

2016 was quite the year! We deployed multiple VR experiences for EDF Energy, McDonald’s, PROCAT and enabled thousands of members of the public to try out the technology for the first time across various events.

We have even bigger, bolder plans for 2017 with releases on PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch, HTC Vive, Gear VR, Google Daydream and Microsoft Hololens in development. We’ll be announcing each experience in due course…

We would like to end the year giving a huge thank you to all our partners and clients and everyone else who we have met over the year. Merry christmas and happy new year!