Last week was the ultimate playtest week. We did one final brainstorming based on our feedback from halves as well as our own sense of progress and lessons learned. One common piece of feedback we received from our faculty as well as our peers was a desire for some form of rhythm in the world we were building. We revisited the ways that we might be able to achieve this in a world.

The most obvious method would be to create some kind of “loop” a circular track that played out like a clock, a large music box, or maybe ocean waves. But these just felt contrived, and no one seemed interested in testing them out. We had also already tried out using striking motions with the controllers as drum ‘hits’. This never feels great in VR, because you don’t have a surface stopping your motion, so you never get an actual impact. What it usually means is that the sound always seems slightly off.

One thing we hadn’t test was from our pitch demo. The idea of a bouncing ball was one way of layering complex rhythms. The height at which you dropped a ball would determine how often a ball bounced and there were some interesting possibilities with how the sounds might move in and out of phase. We decided to try prototyping this concept.

We also set out to make a version of  a installation piece that had been our inspiration for a while, Very Nervous System by David Rokeby. In this 1980’s-1990’s piece, a performer uses motion to control the way sounds are generated. A camera captures where the guest is moving within a set space, and each pixel on that camera corresponds to a set of sound clips. This project was one we could quickly translate to into a Vive prototype that was a stand alone experience, separate from our main prototype.

Our first major playtest was at Nova Place. It was an outreach day to help get kids interested in science and technology. We were given are own booth within Nova Place and had plenty of space to set up a Vive. It was a 3 hour event and we had about 25 different playesters try the experience during that time. While we primarily had children 6-12 test out the experience, often parents, guardians or teenage siblings were interested as well.

What we found was that most of playtesters did not connect this experience with music or sound creation. Most of these people had never tried VR before and so were wowed. But, their movements were chaotic and  their focus was clearly on physics as a toy within this world. The balls we had implemented to help people create rhythm were first of, difficult for people to use. In the case of children we often stopped trying to explain the combination of trigger and thumb-pad that would create the balls. Second, people never connected this to rhythm. It was about the way they could be thrown, or how they collided.

Our second playtest was the very next morning at the ETC Playtest day. We had no time to iterate on any of the feedback we had received from our primary prototype but we continued to receive similar feedback from the night before. Again, we saw people struggling with buttons and stomping ungracefully. They noticed the sound, but not much about it. When playtesting our newly prototyped version of Very Nervous System, we saw that people actually did choose to explore the space more. They searched for boundaries of each sound clip and tried to determine what made each sound play. Plus, because the sound only played with the velocity of the controllers, it meant they had to move to receive any feedback. This worked well to motivate movement, but was not the most intuitive to use. Guests struggled to find the boundaries of each sound.

After we finished this playtest we took a day of to weigh the feedback. What was clear was that the world we had created so far didn’t motivate the kind of movements we were hoping for. And, it was not clearly about music. In the coming week we need to consider what kind of mechanics we could introduce in order to help encourage more graceful movements. Or, realign our priorities.