Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Week 9

Monday, October 19, 2015.

Microsoft-HoloLens-RGB-640x360I get an email from Microsoft saying I can cash in my wait list spot to try out the Hololens!  I select Wednesday at 11:15 am at Pierpont Place in Salt Lake.

Ahmad will also test the device Thursday morning.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015.

The team is in favor of using Freedom VR for the non-Void experience!  It won’t make it into our IGF build, but something to look forward to.  I think it will really add to the investigation phase experience.  I’ll talk to the founder again this week.

We talk about additional texturing and assets for our initial IGF build, due next Monday.  We are not required to submit, as we already submitted to I/ITSEC, but the team feels it is an important part of the EAE experience.  We have a short debate over whether to change the name just for IGF.  Ahmad wants to call it #DontShootMe and pitch it as an empathy game, thinking that will have a better chance of winning, but Eric thinks starting with a hashtag is cheesy and inauthentic.

I think if we happen to get press out of IGF, it should not be the flash in the pan kind that lets us say, “We are famous!”  We want to pitch the game in a way that attracts the support, investors, contacts, etc. that we need to build our ultimate vision, our commercial and life saving Masterpiece, as opposed to the Rough Draft first scenario we submitted to I/ITSEC or a mostly attention seeking side show.

I suggest we consider not submitting to IGF this year at all, but wait until next year when the game is much more polished, if we want a chance to win.  Ahmad, who has a taste of competition success from his GApp Lab crazy eyes game, does not like this, though Brian, our faculty advisor, says this is what often happens at Florida Interactive where he previously taught.  Eric wonders if we can submit the same game twice?

The debate is not resolved, and we all just get back to our part in preparing for the base IGF deadline next Monday, which will at least motivate everyone to work extra hard this week.

imagesIn other news, I apply to be a GDC Conference Associate.  I have staffed events before for CEO Space International, and would enjoy giving back at GDC after a previous positive experience in 2014!  Tina Kallinger, a former GDC Conference Associate and EAE Producer, had some great advice for all of us who choose to apply, and I hope to live up to it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015.

At 11:15 am, I sign in for my Microsoft Hololens experience!

They invite me to sit down in a comfortable seat and help myself to refreshments, including organic Amy’s granola bars, cocoa animal crackers, and lemon water.  After about fifteen minutes, I and another guest watch a short video about how to put on the Hololens.  They show us the officially revealed gesture, the “finger tap”, which simulates a left mouse click, but is more like pressing the button on an old fashioned camera.  Our guide also uses a device to measure the distance between our pupils to make sure the holograms work properly without any adjustment.  They write the number on the back of our name and appointment time cards.  I am a 66.5.  Is that a new high score?  No, she says.

We then are escorted to individual booths, each about fifteen feet by fifteen feet with leather seats and complex wood and leather grained walls.  A row of five or six Hololenses are on display on one side of the chamber.  An attendant helps me put on the Hololens, and adjusts it to make sure it doesn’t weigh on my nose, but sort of floats in front of my face.

The Hololens starts up with a Windows logo, followed by a screen that says, “Scanning…”  I turn in a circle, as if using panoramic camera on my iPhone, but without having to worry if I have it straight or not.  A grid appears everywhere the Hololens has scanned.  I make additional circles to scan above and below the grid captured so far, until all but the ceiling and floor are scanned.  I can’t help but scan the girl in the room with me, but the scanner intelligently doesn’t treat her like furniture.

Project-XrayI am then treated to a game of “Project X-Ray” in which robot / alien scorpions and bees crash through the walls of the room in pods and shoot individual fireballs, arrays of fireballs, and laser beams at me in 3D.  They don’t move too fast, so I am able to dodge them as if they are slow moving softballs.

Gradually the difficulty increases.  Now some of the bees are on the other side of the wall!  I can hear them (excellent 3D audio, by the way!), but not see them.  “X-Ray ready!” the game announces!  The first time, the Hololens activates X-Ray for me, and I can see the robot creatures through the wall, and fire right through the wall at them!  Big holes are left in the wall, and the creatures disappear in a blaze of light.  Subsequent times using the X-Ray power, I simply say “X-Ray!” out loud, and it picks it up as accurately as Kinect 2.0 does, if not better since the mic is in the Hololens itself, on my face.

The finger tap gesture appears to have a limited range of visibility, mainly in front of and below the lens, a box that I tend to get out of, as if I am moving around a can of bug repellent, my natural impulse given the finger gesture.  This is frustrating to me, as I sometimes have to use the motion three to five times before I find the correct zone and actually fire.

Finally, a queen bee appears flanked by two drones.  The queen generally dodges any shot taken before the drones are taken out, though my knock out hit manages to take her out either before or at the same time as one of the drones.  I was expecting a bit bigger boss, but it is satisfying to defeat her and finish the game in one piece!  I manage 80% accuracy and a score close to 10,000, not the record.

Next I am led to a Surface Pro to give feedback.  I am a bit frustrated that it doesn’t ask for any subjective feedback, only numbers as to how I enjoyed my experience today.

Finally, the person who arrived at the same time I did and I had fifteen minutes with a Microsoft Engineer.  The rest of those present were contractors, employed just for the road show.  The actual Hololens Engineers are still hard at work on the device in Redmond.

I put on my due diligence hard hat and ask some tough questions that they are not allowed to answer yet, such as battery life.  (Not very long, but that is because the software is in beta.  They will have a better idea once the Windows 10 code is optimized.)  I also ask about outdoor use, and they say this version is not intended for outdoor use.  Will I have to have my office lights extra dim to use the device?  No, but it may make the experience a bit brighter.  (The test room is fairly dark.)

Overall I am pretty impressed by the technology.  I had heard that the visible area is still very limited, but apparently it depends on how close to your face you wear the Hololens, and every face is different.  The viewing angle is likely to improve before consumer release, but it was better than I expected.  The device is also a bit heavier than I expected, but will likely get lighter by the consumer release.  It is impressive that they are able to fit and balance a self contained, powerful computer into such a small space!

I think I will pre-order at least one $3,000 development kit in January, for delivery sometime in Q1 of 2016.  (Probably March.)

I feel lucky and honored to have been able to try it six months before the dev kits ship!

Since I wasn’t allowed to take pictures or video (it would be difficult to get a camera inside of the Hololens anyway!), the closest I can come to approximating the experience is to refer you to a video Microsoft released January 8, 2013 for a projection device called the Illumiroom.  Hololens takes that technology and makes it ten times better.  Note that the scanning and projection elements are still present, just focused onto the holographic lens instead of supplementing an HD TV screen.

Afterward, I stop by EAE to meet with A.J. Dimick for some resume tips.  My resume, intended mainly for internship purposes at this point, makes me feel like a commodity (especially the Skills section) whereas I have attempted to pitch myself in the past as a rarity, but it is definitely more bite size and therefore useful to an HR department, whether Disney Avalanche, EA Salt Lake or a similar studio that I can work with while still in the program.  (I am also considering applying to be a Producer intern at Rockwell Collins.  They make advanced simulators, and could add to my qualifications to get major government contracts in the future.)

After EAE, I would really like to start my own studio, given my strong Entertainment Business background and consistently award winning game designs, but will keep my options open.  Studio experience could help me attract bigger projects in the future, and it wouldn’t hurt to lend my innovation, production, and design talents to some of today and tomorrow’s biggest franchises.  On the other hand, I don’t want to waste my talent doing small things.  I am fearless when it comes to business.  There is nothing I can’t do.  So the question of taking on an internship or working for a studio is really strategic, not a long term plan.

Matt Anderson yesterday suggested I consider working with a smaller studio to start, as you can move up into high responsibility roles much faster, then transfer sideways into similar roles at a place like EA or Disney.  We plan to have lunch next Thursday or Saturday to discuss the future in more detail.

I also invite A.J. to have lunch one day next week.  He has a lot of industry intelligence I could benefit from.

In the evening, Ahmad calls to ask about my Hololens experience.  He is going tomorrow, together with John Langell.  I tell him as much as I can in ten or fifteen minutes, but intentionally leave our my judgments until he is able to try it for himself.  We will compare notes late tomorrow!

I also tell him I would like to sit down with John Langell about the future of B.E.S.T. sometime in the next two weeks.  John may have some funding ideas for us.

Thursday, October 22, 2015.

Ahmad is at the Hololens Developer Demo today and Charlie in Seattle, so we are a skeleton crew getting ready for IGF submissions Monday.  Lots to do, so I won’t write much!

We are told that IGF typically presses start to make sure the game works, then comes back to it a month or two later for full evaluation, so from here on out, we will be submitting an IGF build every week until we hear that they have reviewed B.E.S.T.

Meanwhile, I will try to keep our modifications on track to get investor backing and to support an eventual commercial, life saving release, not just win awards and get media attention, which can be intoxicating and distracting.  We have to remember our audience is not IGF judges, but police academies and the people who will help us get investor funding, then state and federal buy in beyond Utah.

After Projects class, I drop off my Application for Graduate Degree to the Registrar’s Office.  Graduation is not until May 2016, but it is starting to feel real!  The application is due November 1st.

Friday and Saturday, October 23-24, 2015.

Three days until the IGF deadline! We have Reese’s Cheesecake and Pumpkin Cheesecake Dunkin Donuts Friday and Saturday evenings and most of Cohort 5 is eating delivery from Himalayan Kitchen, so I order, too.  It’s really good.

While working, I watch Gameloading: Rise of the Indies, which is half price on Steam this week.