UX Lead with a passion for all things UX, IA, Product Design, and Music


Ferry Tales: VR Hackathon in Amsterdam

Though I've had prior experience working with Augmented Reality while working at Layar, I'm still new to VR, so I spent a day learning more at a recent VR Hackathon ran by Creative Coding Amsterdam.

Ferry Tales

The goal for the day was to build off of an initiative from De Pont, which is an interactive film and game challenge around the theme of the ferry that goes between Amsterdam and Amsterdam Noord. They offered 3-D assets that were already compatible for use in Unity.

Our concept, Ferry Tales, focuses on story telling that allows the user into the thoughts and perspective of people that ride the ferry every day. The tourist who isn't sure where the ferry is taking them, the hipster who is excited to go to this new hip neighborhood, the person who has lived in Amsterdam Noord for decades and isn't too happy about its recent popularity. As you scan around the ferry and set your focus on a passenger, you zoom in and become them. You hear their thoughts as if they are now your own. You look around the boat at the other passengers as if this is your perspective and vantage point. Our teammate, Ruud, came in with a great idea about wondering what people were thinking on the ferry and we worked together to produce the story, UX, and a working prototype.

Team: Ruud (Unity developer), Tessa (story telling), Holly (UX & Field Recording / Bkg Audio), Klasien (UX & Interview Audio)

We completed a proof of concept in about 3 hours, thanks to Ruud's quick coding skills and our multi-disciplinary team who was able to divide and conquer. Though best experienced with a VR headset, see the video below of our proof of concept that demonstrates the interaction and audio:


Binary Audio

One focus of mine for the day was to learn more about Binary Audio. I brought my Zoom H5 handheld recorder, as well as the Roland CS-10em headphone mics. Sound is a major part of any experience. It not only sets the tone, but can also provide cues to the user for where to look, what to interact with, and set expectations for what will happen as they navigate/play through the experience.

- Recording actual Binary Audio: True Binaural mics can be anywhere from $500-$6k (3dio), but the Roland CS 10em mics sit in your ears like headphones, which do an ok job, though have low sound quality. I'm looking forward to the launch of Binauric's Open Ears, which should be a better balance of quality, portability, and cost. There are also lots of DIY ideas for building binaural mics, like 3D printing your own.

- Binary Audio in Unity: You can use plug-ins like Two Big Ears and Realspace 3D to integrate binaural audio into your experience. Unity also allows you to place audio into the L and R channels for the users and trigger them at specific times. So you can basically simulate binaural audio while using mono sounds, or place the L and R channel of your binaural recordings in the right place in your experience w/ the Unity UI. This allows you to place the 'audio source' in proximity to a defined 'listener'. 

More to learn!

While our project was built in Unity, some attendees were learning how to develop AR experiences using Mozilla's VR framework called A-Frame. The entire day was a collaborative effort. Besides working on my own project, I also arranged for Mozilla VR cardboard sets to be used at the event and lent my voice as a character in another team's project during the day. After the end of day presentations we then went to De Ruimte to experience DuoDisco VR dancing.

On April 30th, 2016, this hackathon was organized by Creative Coding Amsterdam, which I've found to produce the most inclusive and welcoming tech events in Amsterdam. Keep an eye on what they're doing and definitely check out their next event. It was held at Lava in Amsterdam Noord which has a space that lends perfectly to workshops, splitting off into groups for productive work, and then gathering again for a presentation, performance, or party. Another important mention is that Hack Your Future and some of their current trainees were also participating. HYF trains new Syrian refugees to be developers and helps place them in companies in the area. It seemed like everyone was able to find a team and contribute whether they had coding skills or experience in storytelling, visual design or sound design... or just wanted to learn something new. Thanks to everyone for making this a great day!

Photos below from Lava Lab and various participants.




I'll leave you with a wonderful blog post and video about Phil Tippett and the Making of Mad God VR and the unlimited possibilities of combining handmade + VR +Imagination.


Links: Unity, Mozilla's A-FRAME, Creative Coding Amsterdam, De Pont Story Telling project, Lava Lab, De Ruimte, DuoDisco, Hack Your Future