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Virtual Reality Is In Play At The Los Angeles Film School Game Fair

Each month the Los Angeles Film School’s Game Production program holds a Game Fair to showcase the games our students are developing in their classes. Throughout the month of June I taught Game Design Project 1, which is an upper-division course where students work together in teams to design and create a prototype of a game that they will complete in Game Design Project 2. Both of the student teams in my class had decided to work on virtual reality projects, and I was so impressed with what they accomplished in just four weeks that I just had to also showcase them in my blog post for this week.

Confined

Confined is a survival-horror game for players who are interested in the development of VR. Resource management and good shooting skills are vital to your survival. Since you are going to experience the game from your own perspective it will really add to the immersion and threat of the game, and unlike Resident Evil 7 that had a VR function, Confined will be designed for VR rather than have it as a side feature. Now I ask you is being trapped underground really the worst thing to happen or is not knowing if you are alone down there worse?

For their Game Fair prototype, I gave the team a goal of implementing their flashlight mechanic for navigating through a dark, spooky lab and at least one puzzle to solve.  The puzzle they created took the form of a room littered with books, and the player had to find the one book that was out of the ordinary.  That book turned out to be the only book that remained on a bookshelf that could only be found by searching though the room with a flashlight before its batteries ran out.  When the player picked up the book with their virtual hand, a secret door would open, allowing the player to escape.

The players at Game Fair reported that this environment perfectly captured the right mood for a scary, horror game.  This mood was enhanced by the darkness and limited view through the virtual reality headset.  However, the avatar movement needed some work, because the player avatar would teleport short distances instead of walk and often would teleport right though the bookcase they were trying to reach.  But all in all, they were very excited about this game and saw its potential.

Development team:

  • Eric Castillo (Project Manager, Lead Designer, Programmer)
  • Will Mackey (Game Designer, Level Designer)
  • Vlad Altshuler (Co-Programmer, Lead Audio, Game Designer)
  • Jared Delatorre (Lead Level Designer, Marketer)
  • Jesus Soto (Lead Programmer, Level Designer, Mascot)
  • Anthony Reese (Lead Artist)

Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Now Open is a action packed level based first person VR shooter with a focus on tactical high intensity combat. Fight with anything you can get your hands on as you run and gun attempting to escape three levels of a secret super-soldier facility called Blackgrove. You play as Finley, the only patient to survive the Treatment, altering your genetic make up allowing you to posses super human abilities called Meta-Upgrades. Use these abilities to alter time, electricity, plasma and electromagnetic energy to destroy the ones who took not only your mind but the one you cared for the most, your wife.

I gave this team the goal of implementing one of the Meta-Upgrades and a situation where that special ability would be useful.  The team created a level in which the player started by choosing a gun from among an arsenal of weapons and then travel across the level to reach the exit.  As the player went into the main hallway, a horde of enemies would spawn into the far end and rush toward the player.  There were too many to kill with any of the weapons, unless the player activated the Alter Time Meta-Upgrade, which slowed down the enemies sufficiently to shoot them all.

Everyone who played this at Game Fair found the controls easy to use and the action to be exciting. However, not understanding this was only a prototype to test the mechanics, they did complain about the enemies being unfinished models.  They all enjoyed the immersion brought by the virtual reality headset, although several reported a slight feeling of motion sickness.  When I played the game, I too found it both to be a thrilling experience but felt a bit queasy when turning.  This is something the team will look into solving for the second month of the game’s development.

Development team:

  •  Jack Sabato (Project Manager / Lead Modeler / Assistant Texture Artist / Lead Writer)
  • Hassan Wansa (Assistant Project Manager / Lead Programmer / Lead GUI)
  • Brandon Deniz (Creative Director / Lead Level Designer / Assistant Modeler / Lead Texture Artist )
  • Desmon Jernigan  (Video Editor / Lead Story / Lead Dialog / Assistant Programmer / Lead Lighting Supervisor)
  • Jeremy Garrett (Business Manager / Lead Sound / Assistant Modeler / Assistant Artist)

 

 

At our next Game Fair, which is about five weeks away, I’ll take a second look at these games to see how they progressed.

 

 

Looking Back At The Virtual Reality of The Lawnmower Man

Last Thursday at The Los Angeles Film School we held a private screening of the film The Lawnmower Man, which is a 1992 science fiction film about an experiment in virtual reality gone wrong.  One of our alumni knew the film’s director, Brett Leonard, and asked if he could host a screening of the director’s cut of the film followed by a question and answer session with Leonard.  I had never seen the film before but seeing it was on my bucket list due to my interest in virtual reality, and I suggested that we screen it on the same day that we have our monthly Game Fair, where one of our student teams was demonstrating a virtual reality project of their own.

Based on a Stephen King film of the same name (although according to King himself, bearing “no meaningful resemblance” to it), the film stars Jeff Fahey as Jobe Smith, a simple-minded gardener (the titular “Lawmower Man”), and Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Lawrence Angelo, the scientist who decides to experiment on him.  Dr. Lawrence Angelo has been running experiments in increasing the intelligence of chimpanzees using drugs and virtual reality, When of the chimps escapes using the warfare tactics he was being trained for, Dr. Angelo finds a human subject to work with when he spots Jobe mowing his lawn.

Dr. Angelo makes it a point to redesign all the intelligence-boosting treatments without the “aggression factors” used in the chimpanzee experiments, and like the protagonist in the story story Flowers for Algernon, Jobe soon becomes smarter, for example, learning Latin in only two hours.  The story also has a resemblance to Altered States, where Jobe develops telepathic abilities and eventually becomes a being of pure energy.  Jobe uses the lab equipment to enter the mainframe computer, to become a wholly virtual being,  Angelo then joins Job in virtual reality to try to reason with him. but Jobe overpowers and crucifies Angelo, then continues to search for a network connection to escape. Each eventually escapes their entrapment in virtual reality, and the film ends with Jobe ringing hundreds of telephones all around the globe to signal his birth as a being that now resides in every networked computer system.

The story may be a bit derivative, but how prescient were its quarter-century old predictions about virtual reality?  Much of the technology was dead-on to where we are today.  Characters were connected to computers by wearing helmets with visual displays for seeing the virtual world, gloves allowing users to manipulate virtual objects, touchscreens for operating the computer controls, and hand-held controllers for additional input.

Unfortunately, time has not been kind to the film as the virtual reality graphics themselves are now primitive by today’s standards (although at the time they were state-of-the art, the eight minutes of computer generated special effects taking seven people eight months to complete on a budget of $500,000).  Also, the film did not anticipate bluetooth, as there were wires everywhere, and characters were locked into giant gyroscopes, apparently so that they could tumble through the ether when other characters punched them in virtual reality.

As far as the application of virtual reality goes, the film explored its uses for therapy, education, and training, which are indeed three fields for which virtual reality is being developed today.  Of course, for dramatic purposes this is all made menacing by the use of a not-properly-tested drug as well as an evil military overseer that introduces aggressiveness factors into the treatment with the inevitable disastrous outcomes.

So, is this a film worth seeing if you are into virtual reality and its depiction in cinema?  Unless you are a diehard science fiction film buff, I suggest taking a pass now that we have the real thing to now available to play with.  Brett Leonard told us after the screening that he was developing some virtual reality applications with his team. I trust that he’s learned from both this film and his 1995 similarly-themed film, Virtuosity, of the dangers of virtual reality, and it will be interesting to see what benefits filmmakers will bring to the medium.

After all, the film did inspire the scrolling action game The Lawnmower Man (1993) for Game Boy, Genesis and SNES as well as the full-motion video adventure game The Lawnmower Man (1993) for DOS, Macintosh and SEGA CD , which used clips from the movie and is a direct sequel to the movie, since Its plot begins. The adventure game Cyberwar (1994) for DOS and PlayStation is a non-FMV sequel to the FMV game.  Now technology is at a point where I don’t expect to play the movie, I want to be in the movie.