Midsemester Update

The halfway point of the semester is past, and Spring Break is coming up. With that milestone behind us, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on where the project started, where it stands now, and where we expect it to be in six weeks’ time when we break for finals.

Where we started.

At the start of the semester, we planned to extensively research VR production, the Gaspee story, and educational techniques to deliver our learning objectives. Our goal was to deliver a hub-and-spoke-based HTC Vive experience of the Gaspee story incorporating 3D modeling, VR video, and other immersive VR technologies that could be incorporated into a high school history curriculum.

By the end of the semester, we planned to have about six VR “scenes”—mini-experiences that would tell the story of the Gaspee—that were launched from a central “hub” environment. There was no cohesive aesthetic plan; we decided to break into groups that would each tackle a specific scene, and those groups would design each of their scenes as they saw fit.

Once our minimum viable product (MVP) was complete in April, we planned to test the experience with a group of high school students. The test would measure student responses to several aspects of the experience: its immersiveness, the level of comfort students felt while in VR, and the effectiveness of the educational component.

Where we are now.

At this point, the project has changed fairly drastically. The basic hub-and-spoke structure is still in place, and our production workflow (groups designing their own scenes) has been the model. However, we discovered that producing this experience in a group of 14 students who had full course and extracurricular loads outside of this project came with a host of unexpected challenges.

First, shooting VR video with the Jump took more time and planning than anticipated. Only one member of the team had extensive experience with shooting in VR, so for most of us—even those with lots of traditional film/video experience—there was a learning curve.

As a matter of fact, the same can be said of the rest of this project. Only a few team members had much experience in Unity, and we quickly came to realize how integral Unity would be for the project. We created a development team dedicated to exploring the more technical aspects of VR creation, and they got to work understanding how we could make our environments interactive.

Currently, we’re in post-production on one scene, and in production on two others. Together, these three scenes will comprise the prototype experience that we hope to launch at the end of the semester. The Hub environment is in pre-production. Our goal is to have a completed hub and three scenes by mid-May.