Visual Story Theater
In advance of the playtest this week we’ve been pushing to implement as many environment and interface updates as possible to get them in front of a large set of users. First among the environments is the Visual Story Theater.
This space is inspired by a cabaret, night-time theater, with a darker, redder color palette. The space is populated by ticket booths, bars, and wall decorations to support this atmosphere.
Around the space are platforms representing each Visual Story team, who have all been working together for the entire semester. On each of these platforms are TV’s, that when clicked on will pop up a video of each project they worked on together. There is also a stack of newspapers on the platforms that guests can leave comments at about the work that they saw, acting as a review section.
Similar to the BVW area, there are exits from the space on the left and right-hand sides of the theater that will teleport guests back to their personal rooms.
We’ve also implemented the Project Park environment for guests to enter into as well as the BVW area. This area is themed around a park and features paths leading around the whole area, from statue to statue and over two small rivers that run through the space. The platforms that the statues are located on each have a frame on them that, when clicked will open up the project’s halfsheet with a description of that project. This way a guest will be able to find out what a project is about before entering a call with them. Clicking on the statue will launch the Zoom call that the teams will be waiting in.
Some of the other semester projects have begun submitting their statues representing their projects within the park. We’ve started to implement these, along with some placeholder logos for the rest of the teams. Each project’s statue will float, rotating above a plinth in the park setting.
Similar to the BVW area, there are exits from the space on the top left and right-hand sides of the park that will teleport guests back to their personal rooms.
In the BVW area, we’ve added more chat booths around the entire space, including several smaller chat booths on the left and right sides for smaller group conversations. We’ve also added in the environment assets provided by the art committee. Each project room has been updated to appear as a carnival tent. On top of these tents are signs with the project name and a sprite art asset. There is also space to the left of the tent is a space dedicated to a signature model that represents the project. We’ve given everyone in BVW the list of requirements that each project must submit when submitting their project to jury.
For the purposes of the playtest we’ve opened up our project to hosting Round 5 BVW projects that would like to try laying out a BVW room and hosting a Zoom call to playtest their own worlds. We had seven BVW teams ask to join our Nov. 22 playtest. Each of these teams submitted a stand-alone build of their project, a map of how they would like to lay out their rooms, environment assets, instruction assets, and a Zoom link that they will staff during the playtest.
The onboarding animation featuring Wiffi has been updated with iterated art and text welcoming guests to the space.
In the avatar system we’ve both emphasized the interactive arrows in the menu to ensure that guests know what to click on and when to do so. We’ve eliminated some of the unnecessary information on the screen at the same time that was pulling away from the focal points. We’ve also built out and implemented many new avatar assets in this system as well, including new shirts and new hairs.
After they go through this entire process they will be dropped into their personal room as always, but the theming and organization of this room has been updated to now match the UFO theme provided by the teleportation feature from area to area. The wardrobe is now open, inviting guests to interact with it in order to change their appearance. Instead of a rotating portal taking them to a new area, there is a teleportation platform that they should walk to instead.
After our playtests from last week we found that we needed to make some changes to the UI to make everything more navigable for a naive user. First we made the festival .exe launch in windowed mode. We found that it was difficult to predict when a BVW project or a Zoom call would launch behind the festival window reliably. This inevitably and understandably caused a lot of confusion for guests who would launch something, see no change, but suddenly be plagued by an unstoppable soundtrack of a game for example. By making the whole experience windowed, it now becomes much more obvious when a call or project launches outside of the build, and is much easier to switch back and forth between these things.
Within each of the spaces, we’ve added a mini-map to the bottom right hand corner that will constantly be up to help show your location in relation to the rest of the space. Clicking on the mini-map will also launch the larger, detailed map with which they may interact to find specific projects. Some of our playtesters had trouble finding the map initially, or didn’t even know that there was a map available, so keeping it on screen will help to show them what is available more readily.
We’ve also made the interactive objects within each area (download buttons, videos, Zoom links, etc.) clickable instead of accessible by a hotkey. We found that there was a disconnect for some testers in knowing when to use their mouse to interact with the world and when to use their keyboard. Because of this we are leaning into streamlining all interactions primarily through the mouse.
This week, we asked Caitlin to send out a reminder email to all invited guests asking them to RSVP by the deadline of Nov. 24. After we did this we saw a pretty sizeable jump in the number of RSVP’s and now we’re at just shy of 400 confirmed attendees. Luckily, the guests are still signing up roughly evenly for each session, so the festival should be equally lively for each portion.
We’ve been populating the student page of the website with small bios and photos of each ETC student and that can be viewed here!
Late in the week we met with the students who have offered to help with the livestream. Two of the BVW art TA’s have offered to help create visual effects and environments for the livestream for use in OBS. They’ll be providing individual environments supporting one host, two hosts, three hosts, and window frames customized for the BVW and project portions of the stream.
Several BVW students have also offered to help out with the stream itself. They will be helping to run rehearsals of the stream after Thanksgiving break next week and acting as a stage director, organizing and messaging the guest hosts to keep them flowing into the stream at the appropriate times.
The Playtest to End All Playtests
All this week we’ve been building up to the playtest on Sunday. We sent out invitations to all ETC students, faculty, staff, and alumni and scared up 70 people to playtest with us synchronously, which will likely be our largest true user playtest before the festival.
Contrary to previous playtests in which we gave testers very specific goals to accomplish, our protocol this time around was to essentially just ask them to experience the festival. All of our testers joined a Zoom call at the start of the playtest and had received a link to download the project ahead of time. After welcoming them to the playtest we unleashed them onto the world to see everywhere that it would gloriously break. It was truly magical to see so many people going through the space at once.
We kept the Zoom call open throughout the playtest for live troubleshooting and question answering, and troubleshooting there was.
There were a few initial hiccups that need to be addressed that affected the playtest, however. First were issues with the voice chat functionality. As of Sunday we were still waiting for approval to purchase the higher level subscription of Photon Voice that supports 1000 concurrent users. Because of this, we were using a free version of Photon Voice that only supports 30 concurrent users. So for moments when we had more than 30 people trying to connect across all of our different chat booths, anyone else joining beyond that initial 30 would not be able to connect. This made the voice chatting confusing and unreliable. Now that we’ve been approved for purchase on the better plan, though, this issue should be fixed.
The other issue that we ran into was Dropbox placing a limitation on downloads for a free account. We were hosting all project file downloads on a personal, free Dropbox account temporarily. We got an email halfway through the playtest that the external downloads were locked for all files on the account because it had hit the limit for the free account. This ended up causing all downloads after this point in the playtest to fail, so after a point, people were only able to watch videos and anter Zoom calls.
We’re still taking the time to go through all of the feedback and discussion that happened during and after the playtest, so we will update on the blog next week with that information. However, this playtest went incredibly well and was the best thing to happen for our project to give us a sense of what the festival will be like. Yes, there were plenty of bugs, issues, confusions and more, but everything that we saw and have been digesting after the fact is incredibly helpful for building out the project and getting us to the festival on Dec. 12. This was the best possible simulation of the festival and opened our eyes to a lot of overlooked issues that we can focus on ironing out.
Heading into next week we’ll be combing through all the feedback from the playtest and figuring out where we go from here and how to prioritize. It’s Thanksgiving break as well, so we’ll take a few days off, but we’ll be back with a vengeance for Soft Opening directly after.