'FLWR' for Solstice FWD
Solstice FWD is an annual innovation symposium exhibiting interactive experiences, explorations of new ideas, and the greater understanding of things we once thought impossible. Aligning with the theme of “Being Human”, the Solstice Labs R&D team was to produce an immersive emerging technology display that would serve as an examination of the intersection of humanity and technology.
Augmented and virtual reality technologies hold massive implications for the future of humanity, but we believe the greatest impact will actually be had in the mixed reality realm. FLWR merges an immersive VR gaming experience with a green screen-based mixed reality component. The player in the VR headset must grow their garden by watering sprouts with a virtual hose, while watching out for weeds! Using a mobile-tracked camera, a second player can project an alternate view of the game onto a large display, allowing the audience to view Player 1 standing in the virtual space, and assisting them in getting the high score. Focusing on virtual activity and collaborative training, FLWR applies design thinking to the latest in mixed reality technologies in ways that can be practically applied to other industries. Seen by 600+ executive-level prospects, FLWR was one of Solstice FWD's most valuable attractions for gaining leads.
Our engagement began with an open-ended criteria: create an output that shows the possibilities of virtual reality. With this limitlessness, our team initiated the concepting phase with two main goals: 1) As a conference centerpiece, the experience had to draw a large crowd, involving more than just the player wearing the headset. 2) The final product needed to present a simple and short user experience, focusing on visually rich designs. While going through possibile technologies, we investigated the idea of featuring an additional view outside of the headset for the audience see. By combining VR with an external mobile-tracked camera and green screen, we were able to display the user's body into the virtual space on a monitor for the audience to watch. This "mixed reality" experience combines elements of VR and AR, putting real objects into the virtual realm.
Centering around a gaming mindset, we produced several themes that could be implemented into our desired experience. From "ghost busting" to a "carnival shooting gallery," we settled on the idea of using the VR controller to water a garden of colorful flowers. With subsequent baddies, a speedy time limit, and a competitive score system, we knew this theme would make for a fun VR game that would leave the audience enthusiastic.
VR Design Strategy
The nature of emerging technologies is that best practices and expected paradigms are not yet defined. With this, the design team applied our general knowledge of UX to this new platform, with the mentality that we would need to test and iterate to a higher degree then most products. I created a "wireframe" of the game's components, including the VR-specific "Skybox" (the seemingly infinite background graphics), the inner realm where the gameplay happens, and the areas where players are standing.
What's a video game without lovable characters and naughty villains? Looking back to our key goal of rich design, the design team developed a series of floral characters that were charming enough to feel polished, but basic enough to design in the 3D platform that we were novices to.
Designing in VR
In order to fully immerserve ourselves in the emerging VR technology, I led the design team in an exploration of an untapped set of emerging design tools. As a bleeding-edge technology, there is a limited collection of design software, many of which are undiscovered and unexplained. We investigated Google's latest installment in VR design technology, 'Google Blocks.' Blocks uses the same principles as standard 2D design tools, allowing users to produce polygonal 3D assets while wearing a headset, in turn better empathizing with the VR experience. In addition to acting as design lead, I took on the role as Scrum Master to ensure our team stayed on track to meet the deadline of the upcoming conference, outlining design tasks for each team member.
Usability Testing for VR
With our Blocks assets fleshed out, we paired with a developer to acheive the desired environment and behaviors. Using gaming software Unity, we placed every asset in its rightful place and were able to start testing the gameplay. Running several rounds of usability testing, we learned that users loved the colorful characters and game idea, but the rate at which flowers appeared was too slow, making the game a bit boring. We also learned new VR best practices, such as needing to add in visual anchors in the environment to keep users from feeling disoriented, or reducing the angles in which users need to move their neck.
Final Gameplay: Mixed Reality
After iterating and finessing, the team was ready to set up the green screen and test out the full mixed reality experience. With Player 1 in the headset, Player 2 manning the mobile-tracked camera, and a few audience members viewing on a monitor, the game was a huge success. Players couldn't wait to jump into the headset, become immersed in a gorgeous environment of flowers, and produce their own virtual garden.
The Event Setup
Solstice FWD includes a half-dozen or more experiences, all of which required unique branding and setup. Appropriately named 'FLWR,' I conceived the brand identity to visually call out it's most unique technological feature, VR. The event setup revolves around a greenscreen housing the player and the main gameplay. Surrounding the greenscreen, large monitor displays allow the audience to watch the VR headset view and the mobile-tracked camera view with audience-specific content. Additional components such as a simple onboarding and a leaderboard help brand FLWR as a delightful, yet competitive experience.