The Seattle VR Hackathon was the place to be last weekend! Take a behind-the-scenes look at the projects and judging process with Team Pixvana’s Julia Fryett.

This past weekend, 150 developers, artists, UX designers, engineers, and makers of all kinds gathered together at UW’s Center for Education and Research in Construction. They split into teams, camped out, and built 15 incredible and unique X-Reality projects in the course of two days. When Team Pixvana visited the event on Sunday to check out the final creations, we encountered a group of passionate hackers enthusiastically putting the finishing touches on their projects (despite having barely slept since Friday night). When you mix creative technologists and AR at 4AM, hilarity often ensues.

 

Our Director of Marketing & Community Development, Julia Fryett, served as a judge alongside Don Alvarez, CTO of Accelerated Pictures; Foo Hoang, Senior Product Manager at HTC; Lisa Weeks, CMO at Hashbang Games; Peter Brussard, SVP of Product at Rosetta Stone; and Trond Nilsen, Director of Development at Research Therapeutics. These industry leaders were responsible for awarding seven prizes: Best of Show, Best Visual Design, Best Use of Sound, Best Technical Achievement, Best Interaction Design, Most Novel Project, and Feature Prize for Language Learning in VR/AR. The Feature Prize recognized the experience that best used the Rosetta Stone Speech Recognition Engine (SRE): the SRE provides feedback on user pronunciation of over 30 languages.

 

Julia Fryett VR Hackathon

 

Hacking XR

We sat down with Julia to find out more about teamwork, innovation, and her advice for future hackers.

 

Pixvana: What was your impression of the hackathon and the Seattle XR community?

Julia: The Seattle VR Hackathon is an exceptional event that attracts some of the brightest talent in the region. Regardless of your skill level, it’s a terrific place to learn new tools and test new ideas. This was the sixth edition and the organizers (Bridget SwirskiEva HoerthHeather ZweigKarl SpangTrond Nilsen) have refined the hackathon down to a science—not an easy feat! They’ve secured an extensive industrial space out at Magnuson Park and include just the right number of participants (about 150) for the event to feel robust without becoming too chaotic.

The Seattle VR scene is quickly growing and we’re lucky to have a decidedly creative pool of developers, producers, designers, and artists. The local community is inclusive, curious, and ambitious.

I’ve seen a lot of demos over the past year and there has been phenomenal progress, both in terms of product and content. The projects created at this hackathon were far-reaching and inspiring.

 

Judges were given a set of rating criteria: Completeness, Visual Design, Audio Design, Interaction Design, Technical Achievement, Use of Narrative, and Novelty. Which of these criteria were most important to you? Were there any other factors that you kept in mind as you judged and ranked the projects?

I evaluated the projects closely for each of the criteria and was particularly aware of visuals, audio, narrative, and novelty. Probably due to my curatorial background in the arts, the concept is always essential to me. I look for strong concepts in the creativity and/or the utility of a project.

It’s that sweet fusion of concept and execution that makes a project really stand out. How does it leverage new tools to criticize, shape, and advance the medium of VR? How does it contribute to culture, society, and aesthetic innovation? What problem is it solving?

It’s easy for lazy ideas to hide behind slick technology and we see this often in the tech industry. Creators can get lost in the features of the latest Bright Shiny Objects or the pursuit of technical perfection. With our culture’s frantic obsession with innovation, it’s tempting to overlook the “why. In VR, there’s a lot of gimmickiness right now – in the clunkiness of the hardware, the immaturity of the content, the absurdity of becoming disembodied in order to feel present. Creators can think about how to acknowledge and employ these shortcomings as strategies. The art of creativity isn’t really about perfection, is it? It’s about interrogating visual and design assumptions, or connecting with deeper ideas of what it means to be human—flaws, limitations, and all. Push boundaries, tell stories that haven’t been told, take risks.

Hackathons are a great place to experiment with rapid ideation and failure. Don’t attend a hackathon wanting to win an award: attend a hackathon to create something that has never been done. And have fun. Obvi.

 

Do you have a favorite hackathon project?

The project that won Best in Show, Warmth, was simple, unique, educational, and enjoyable by viewers of any age. The team had thoughtfully considered each design decision – from the initial movement of kneeling down on a mat to the act of blowing on the embers to ignite them. I liked the metaphor of relating our primitive interaction with VR to the historical moment when humans built a fire for the first time.

There were also works I enjoyed that didn’t win awards but were incredibly inspiring, such as The Atlantis Project. The challenge was to visualize an academic research paper which proposed a new way of living in space—a human settlement tethered to a dynamic ring around the Earth, just a 10 minute elevator ride away. Revenue generated from selling these domestic properties would pay for the cost of supporting space launch facilities. The VR experience made it possible to feel what it would be like to travel up to the settlement and teleport around your future dwelling. I’d be down with buying a space home and renting it out on Airbnb.

 

Do you have any ideas for how future hackers could incorporate 360 video into their projects?

There are many inventive possibilities for developing 360 video projects at hackathons, such as filming a short video experience or creating cinematic VR by combining 360 photos or videos with CG objects. Here’s an off-the-cuff idea: shoot a 360 video around the military base and integrate graphical elements to visualize how the base looked in the 1930s. Users could teleport around the property.

 

What would you say to someone who’s new to VR but wants to attend a hackathon?

Do it and don’t think twice, it’s all right. VR is for everyone and the Seattle XR community is extremely welcoming.

The industry is early and we all remember that it wasn’t too long ago when we were newbies, so it’s easy to be empathetic. I’ve been at tradeshows where executives from major media companies are trying VR for the first time. Don’t be intimidated. Make sure you understand what your skills are so that you can clearly communicate this during the intro period—developer, designer, UX, artist, producer, non-technical project manager? Also, age doesn’t matter. There were participants at this hackathon aged everywhere from 14 to 60, and they all had something to contribute.

 


 

 

And the awards go to…

 

Best Visual Design: Giant Octopus VR & AR

In this VR/AR cross platform game, users become a giant kraken defending their city from invaders. This team worked alongside Giant Octopus AR, networking the game so that users could look at the AR cityscape on mobile and Hololens. This project showed that minimalist design can go far, especially across multiple platforms.

 

Julia poses with the Hololens while playing Giant Octopus AR
Julia poses with the Hololens while playing Giant Octopus AR.

 

Giant Octopus AR/VR teams
The Giant Octopus AR/VR teams pose with the award.

 

Best Use of Sound: Los Gatos Magicos

This immersive experience introduces Spanish to non-speakers by way of magical cats. Using the Rosetta Stone SRE, users save five cats by properly pronouncing Spanish words, bringing the village’s cactus—upon which the cats depend—back to life. Audio pro Joshua du Chene composed terrific music for the project.

 

Best use of sound award
Judge Lisa Weeks grants Joshua du Chene the Best Use of Sound for Los Gatos Magicos.

 

Best Technical Achievement: Vox Augmento

This team asked, “How could we build a musical instrument that could not be realized outside VR?” Their result was a program that combines physical movement and musical expression. Users create unique sounds and music by speaking or singing while simultaneously moving a Vive Controller: lifting the controller up raises the sound’s pitch and lowering the controller performs the opposite function. The sound manifests in VR as cloud bubbles.

 

Still from Vox Augmento
Still from Vox Augmento.

 

Winning team poses with award
The winning team poses with their award.

 

Best Interaction Design: Quidditch VR

In this multiplayer experience, players ride brooms around the Quidditch pitch, find and throw a Quaffle using a Vive Controller and Oculus Touch Controller, and score points for their team.

 

 

 

quidditch team poses with award
The Quidditch team poses with their award.

Most Novel Project: Project Human Simulator

In this experience, you’re an alien who’s crash landed on a planet called Erth. While wearing a human suit to blend in to your surroundings, you refuel at a grocery store by picking up objects and feeding them into your suit’s face-hole. Drop too many items and you’ll raise suspicions. In order to walk around in the game, users must wiggle their arms: this gesture quickly became ubiquitous at the Hackathon.

 

 

Xuny Haley of CoMotions Labs
Xuny Haley of CoMotions Labs demos the game.

 

Language Learning in VR / AR: Atomic Brunette

Feature Prize

This Oculus Touch game, which uses the Rosetta Stone SRE, was inspired by Atomic Blonde, the Charlize Theron movie featuring a spy with flawless language skills. While playing as Agent Brunette and embarking upon several missions, gamers practice their Spanish as they converse with locals. Pronounce words incorrectly and they’ll expose you: speak fluently and they’ll tell you all that you need to know.

 

 

Winning team poses with award
The winning team poses with their award.

Best of Show: Warmth

Learn how our ancestors first harnessed fire. This VR experience transports users to Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa and requires you to notch and use a fireboard in order to create embers and build a fire. While you sit and enjoy the flames, take some time to admire the historically accurate cave art that decorates the walls.

Still from Warmth
Still from Warmth.

 

Young creators behind Warmth
The young creators behind Warmth.

 

Warmth team poses with their award

 The team poses with their award.


 

Check out the full list of hackathon projects here.

Many thanks to the incredible organizing committee and volunteers behind the event. Your passion for the Seattle XR community is palpable and your organizational skills are enviable. We loved sponsoring the Hackathon and can’t wait to see what all the hackers come up with next.

 

 

It’s not too late to check out the fantastic projects built over the weekend.

On Thursday, September 28, Seattle VR Meetup is hosting a Hackathon showcase. Join the crew at Pluto VR from 7:00 PM – 9:30 PM to demo the creations and talk to the hackers and event organizers!

Tickets

 

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