Week 16 – The Final Stretch

The Simtopia team presenting their final presentation at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center.

The final stretch. After a long semester, Simtopia was able to give their final presentation to their department to showcase the work that they made throughout the semester as well as to pinpoint milestones made from halves to finals. The last week for Simtopia consisted of final presentations at the ETC, final play-throughs (which is when faculty comes to visit the teams’ various project rooms to try their experience and/or give feedback from the final presentations), and the last client meeting of the semester with Maxis Studios for a wrap-up.

It was definitely a huge win for the team from halves to finals as the team was able to clarify points made to showcase their experience of what it was – a technical prototype that demonstrated interesting interactions in virtual reality. This was then documented and sent off to their client for their research purposes. Simtopia just wanted to make the prototype to feel fun and exciting for guests to try as they explored these interactions – so if it felt game-like, then that’s totally fine!

Check out the ETC’s Final Presentation and Simtopia’s presentation here starting from (1:36:00):

Please also feel free to check out our final trailer that shows a recap of our experience here:

This week, the team also hosted their final playthroughs, as mentioned, with faculty members at the ETC.

ETC Faculty member and Simtopia’s project advisor, Carl Rosendahl tries out the Simtopia’s final experience. Here he is looking downwards with the Vive headset to try out the headset movement within the space station in virtual reality. He gives valuable feedback on the final presentation and the overall product for Simtopia.
ETC Faculty member, Dave Culyba, tries out the Simtopia experience as well during the Final Playthroughs. Here is him specifically working on trying out the building mechanics in the God Scale view for making his own customizable space station. Culyba then proceeds to embody one of the roaming creatures to utilize the first person perspective interactions. 

Simtopia felt great that after a semester full of a lot of challenges and exploration, that they were able to end on a high note with a great product. 

The last steps for Simtopia comprise of handing off the final build prototype to their client and their extensive design guide documentation to help Maxis with their announced game project title. 

Thanks for tuning in this semester with Simtopia! See you soon!

Week 15 – The ETC Festival

As mentioned from last week, for Week 15, the ETC Festival was hosted which is one of the biggest annual events for the department. Guests, industry professionals, alum, and more visit the ETC to try out various experiences. Simtopia was actually a big hit! We needed to give out tickets to guests so that they could reserve a time slot with us to make sure we were giving those interested in trying our experience enough time.

Guests visit the Simtopia team's project room and many people enjoy conversation on what the experience brings, other guests try out the interactions in the Vive Pro as others look on, and the team explains how the entire prototype comes together.

Simtopia's experience designer, Mengqi Wu, discusses how the design and interactions work for building a customizable space station in the God scale view and then how to embody one of the creatures to enter the first person view in the Simtopia experience to the festival guests.

Some guests just had way too much fun! Some people ended up enjoying the 3D building part more whereas other guests found the first person perspective to be more up their alley. The interactions in the both perspectives allowed Simtopia to see that the prototype was working well for users.

The prototype experience definitely came a long way since halves. To celebrate the victories accomplished this week, the team enjoyed their team Dinner at Monterey Bay Fish Grotto in Pittsburgh! It was surely a day to remember.

However, Simtopia could not rest yet. With their final presentations and playthroughs coming up, the team wanted to make sure to include their final polish to the experience and wrap up any documentation.

Here are the milestones achieved for week 15:

  • Design:
    • Simtopia’s Design Guide (Internal Polish)
    • Simtopia’s External Visual Design Guide (Polish)
  • Art:
    • Added effects for fixing modules
    • Fixed remaining animation fixes
  • Programming:
    • Festival build
    • Fixed AI bugs and improve AI
    • Improved building snap
    • Added fix VFX 
    • Added fixed animations
    • A lot of small bugs
    • Simimon Animation State implementation
    • Robomon Animation State implementation
  • Sound:
    • System sound:
      • TriggerUp
      • TriggerUpRight
      • TriggerUpWrong
      • Trigger Down
      • FadeIn
      • FadeOut
      • TouchPadClick
      • TouchPadSwap
    • Fixing Jetpad sfx

Thanks so much for reading and check out the team’s final post for the semester next week as we showcase our work for the final presentation and playthroughs!

Week 14 – Softs Opening

As mentioned from the previous week, the Simtopia team buckled down on adding more to their experiences and presenting their prototype to the ETC faculty during softs opening. For softs opening, Simtopia wanted to incorporate interactions in virtual reality for both the God scale and first person perspective.

Some of these interactions for the God Scale view included the following:

  • Building Mode
    • Allowing a player to build upon modules in the space station experience
  • Scaling Mode
    • Allowing a player to be able to scale and move around the space for ease of building in VR
  • Editing Mode
    • Giving the player the ability to grab a module and remove it from the space station for more customization
  • Embodying Creatures Mode
    • Having the player hover over a creature that they see in the God scale mode and clicking the trigger to embody and become one of those creatures.

Some of the interactions for the first person perspective view included the following:

  • Including two types of movement
    • Headset movement which allows the player to move in the direction of where their headset is pointing
    • Controller movement which allows the player to move in the direction that their controller is pointing
  • Collecting resources
    • Also known as delicious mocha in Simtopia’s experience
  • Combining and mixing the resources
    • Allowing the player to mix those mochi to get unique surprises
  • Unlocking resources
    • After the player mixes the resources, they get the option of either unlocking a module that the player can use in the God scale view or unlocking a new medicine that can enhance the ability of their Simimon creatures

The image above shows the basic experience loop of the Simtopia experience which allows the player to build modules in the God scale view in this experience, embody creatures which takes them from the God scale view to the first person perspective, collect resources in the first person perspective as the various Simimon (the creatures in Simtopia), and then finally the player is able to unlock new items (either a new module for the God scale view or a medicine item that can be used to enhance their creatures) when mixing the various resources (mochi) that they receive.

The interaction graph above dictates the internal controls that the player can use on the Vive controller and all of the interactions that Simtopia has utilized thus far with the limitations of the controller.

The image view above shows the Vive controller and the specific button controls that users can select to complete interactions in the Simtopia experience.

After sharing all of this at softs, the Simtopia team received feedback that the interactions are fun in the experience however, that there still needs to be a minimal gameplay loop of some kind even though we are not a game experience. After coming to the conclusion that our experience is an innovation design experience that came forth through the framework of utilizing the Vive to make our discoveries, we created an experience that allowed players and guests to explore these interactions in a customizable space station space. Our prototype experience is unique for design – allowing people to have fun building and exploring even though it’s not a gaming experience. It was fleshed out so much in this spotlight that it seemed to be a gaming prototype although it was not. To address this, Simtopia is actually adding the minimal game loop to provide clarity and understanding to their project.

Here are some updates from the team in accordance to their pipelines:

  • Design:
    • Updated the design guide
    • Updated the Simimon details
    • Updated the capsule details
  • Art:
      • Environment:
        • Created shelf model for jetpack
        • Created feeding timer UI
        • Created Controller Description UI
        • Fixed lighting with Tianyi
        • Implement script for jetpack shelf interaction
        • Implement script for triggering broken jetpack event
        • Add emission to creature texture
        • Worked with Mengqi on design guide for Softs
        • Composed technical demo for softs
        • Implemented dissolve shader
        • Implemented script for fixing jetpack
        • Created particle effect for receiving product
      • Creatures:
        • Fixed Mini Simimon animations in Maya
        • Improved creatures shading and textures in Unity
  • Programming:
    • Created a prototype for softs
    • Improved the lighting
    • Pick up mochi
    • Teleport mochi
    • Mochi Inventory for the green room
    • Teleporter animation
    • Feed the creatures with medicine
    • Medicine effect countdown
    • Pick up capsule
    • Teleport capsule
    • Mix mochi in Mixer
    • Generate Egg
    • Shelf Storing Updating System
    • Roll shelf
    • Roll Mixer
  • Sound:
    • BGM
    • SFX:
      • Mixer
      • Simimon_Normal:
        • Excited
        • Get poked
        • Angry
        • Sad
    • Simimon_Mini:
      • Excited
      • Get poked
      • Angry
      • Sad
    • Simimon_Large:
      • Excited
      • Get poked
      • Angry
      • Sad
    • Robomon:
      • Full Charged
      • Out of power
      • Get poked
      • Excited

Thanks for checking in with Simtopia! See you next week as we share our updated design guide, discoveries and innovations that we find at the ETC Fall Festival 2018, and our plans for gearing up for finals!

Weeks 12 and 13 – Preparing for Softs

For weeks 12 and 13, our team cracked down on the faculty feedback we received and was able to clarify the lasting direction that we wanted to showcase the Simtopia project as:

Simtopia Project Benchmarks:
  • Client interests: VR Interactions
  • VR Interactions: Combination of God-scale and first-person interactions
  • Design Doc: List of various detailed interactions with prioritized reasoning
  • Emphasis: Building a technical discovery demo prototype of VR interactions
  • Focus is placed on innovative discoveries and is not a gaming experience

With these benchmarks set, the team felt that their product was 80% an experience that was trying out different interactions and exploration for innovative discoveries for design and 20% on delivering a completed experience (as a secondary added effect). Emphasis for Simtopia’s product is exploration and discovery and is not considered to be a game. The team plans on documenting their discoveries in design documentation to share with their client and will be allowing them to explore their discoveries through their prototypes.


The above concept images give the trend of the new Simimon characters that will be incorporated into the customizable space station experience – anthropomorphic creatures in space suits that will be armored in jetpacks for exploration in the space station!

The team also incorporated interesting elements to add to the space station and developed upon their environment assets to enrich the feeling for the guests – stay tuned for this exciting surprise!

As shown above, the team also added in UI elements that gives the player context for the experience. The team plans on adding more UI and explaining to the guest what the functional modules are in the experience so they are aware of the options available to them.

Feel free to click here to explore and view the current prototype here!

Here are some additional milestones for the team this week:

  • Design:
    • Iterated upon Design Documentation
    • Worked on the General Interaction Graph
  • Art:
    • Environment:
      • Created UI instruction in Lab
      • Created animated instruction in Lab
      • Created UI for controller
      • Fixed/Remodeled environment assets
      • Created new texture and materials
      • Created lighting in the lab
    • Creatures:
      • Finished Robomon Pipeline and uploaded to Unity
      • Finished Venti Simimon Pipeline
        • Model, Retopology, UV, texture
      • Created animations for the Venti Simimon
      • Finished Normal Simimon Pipeline
        • Model Retopology, UV, texture
        • Working on animations for the normal simimon
      • Working on pipeline for the mini simimon
      • Working on hand models for the characters for VR embodiment
  • Programming:
    • Finished control mode system and UI flow
    • Integrated movement into program
    • Re-implemented embody mechanics and fixed bugs
    • Optimize on 2 movement prototypes
    • Integrate movement prototype to current prototype
    • First person-perspective interaction implementation (green room)
    • Put new mixer in Lab
    • Roll Mixer in lab
    • Push Shelf in lab
  • Sound:
    • Sound Effects:
      • Generate module
      • Change module
      • Change mode
      • Add module in board
      • Release module
      • Embodiment
      • Disembodiment

With weeks 12 and 13 being a crazy crunch week for softs, the team feels like they are headed in the right direction for the end stretch!

See you next week to share how Simtopia presented their softs to their faculty and Maxis Studios!

Week 11 – Diving into Development

As mentioned last week, the Simtopia team worked on taking the feedback received from the ETC Playtest to refine their experience and to develop upon interactions that would be meaningful for the players, especially when switching from the god scale view to first-person perspective.

The Simtopia team also invited the entire faculty at the ETC to their project room to make sure that they were moving towards a concrete direction and pinpointing the key areas that needed to be polished. Faculty members Mike Christel and Shirley Saldamarco try out the Vive experience and give detailed feedback on the design and how to improve the comfort and purpose of the experience for guests.

Simtopia received feedback now that the 3D building (God-Scale) view was nailed down, that it was time to delve deeper into the first-person perspective mode when guests embody the creatures. Therefore, Simtopia’s art team iterated upon their creature concepts to incorporate a fun look to them that also fit the constraints of design for the space station. The design team finished testing their locomotion patterns and moved towards building out the key interactions that Simtopia wanted to explore while programming set out to incorporate UI elements as well as AI development.

Here are some of the milestones that the team reached for the week:

  • Design:
    • Created the summary for all of the playtest information received
    • Made a design for the lab system
    • Created a general interaction graph
    • Updated the design documentation
    • Created design for the mode system
    • Created designs for the mixer and the cabinets
  • Art:
    • Environment:
        • Create Lab module
        • UV mapping for all assets
        • Create texture for all lab assets
        • Iterate on lab assets design
        • Create environment assets for Lab
        • Light up Lab module
        • Fix and light Green Room module
        • Organized asset structure in Unity
        • Pass all environment assets to programmers
        • Put together character and environment art to create visual mockups to see how the elements come together
    • Creatures:
      • Created a brand new Robomon and rig
      • Made a wing rig test animation for one of the Simimon
      • Thought of concepts for the venti sized Simimon
  • Programming:
      • Improved the 2 movement prototypes
      • Implemented physical effects for 2 movement (acceleration)
      • Integrated movement with our current prototype
      • Fixed some bugs (collision, unremovable base module, fade screen…)
      • Integrated new modules (lab, green house)
      • Rewrite the Input System
      • Scrolling UI for modules
      • New builds (1.7 & 1.8)
  • Sound:
    • Fleshed out more of the sound required for the experience

See you next week as we iterate more upon this plan and begin our preparation for soft opening!

Week 10 – Playtesting and Playtesting

From the halves feedback we received, our team made sure to run by our work towards faculty and our client especially to prepare for the ETC Playtest day. The ETC Playtest Day is a department wide event where guests visit the ETC to visit the project teams and either try out their experiences or playtest their current work. Getting this feedback is extremely helpful for receiving feedback from different demographics that would help Simtopia iterate upon their work.

Simtopia's Experience Designer, Mengqi Wu, gathers important feedback from a younger audience that tried both of Simtopia's building and movement testing prototypes.

The feedback that Simtopia gained from the prototypes were positive and guests could not tear themselves away from building!

Both movement tests for locomotion were also well received and guests found themselves enjoying both movement by headset and touchpad when exploring the space station. Thus the team decided to try to incorporate a way to switch between both of these modes in VR!

While taking in feedback received from guests during ETC Playtest Day and refining on the experience to target those key areas, the team also made sure to progress on the features. Here are some of the development milestones for the week:

  • Design:
    • Discussion on more purpose within the space station and incorporation of a lab system for this
    • AI Interaction discussion
    • Lab system interactions
    • Creature and player exploration
  • Art
    • Environment:
      • Incorporated environment assets for the green room
      • Added lights for the green room
    • Characters:
      • Finished Robomon and tested within Unity for 2D animated textures
      • Wrote glass shader for the creatures’ helmets
      • Retopologizing the character and fitting the jetpack onto their backs
      • Concepting the design for the other Simimon characters
  • Programming:
    • Research gathered for the different movement types
      • Created two prototypes to test the movements of headset and touchpad locomotion in the space station
      • Integrated new art assets (starts, green room, other updated modules)
      • Added simple module selection UI
      • Implemented simple creature controlling system and AI states
      • Fixed previous bugs (scaling and change of perspective)
  • Sound:
    • Discussion of the list of sounds that we will need for the experience

See you next week as we dive into deeper asset implementation and integration based on our playtest feedback!

Week 9 – Halfway there

For Week 9, the Simtopia team presented their ideas for their halves presentation at Carnegie Mellon. The presentation was showcased in front of ETC faculty, industry professionals, alumni, and other ETC students.

Simtopia shared their work all the way up to halves and how they reached their design from testing out two different prototypes that they made from scratch, taking the best interactions that were tested from these prototypes, and how they plan on iterated from halves up to softs.

We had our faculty advisor, Carl Rosendahl test out our latest prototype as well to give us feedback on the current interactions that our experience had.

ETC faculty advisor, Carl Rosendahl, tests out Simtopia's prototype and gives direct feedback on how to improve our experience, direction on what we can incorporate for the creature AI, user interaction, and how to make the experience friendly for our target audience.

Additionally, here is the progress that the team made for the week:

  • Design:
    • Created the interaction graph and list
    • Designed the movement for the Simimon
    • Plan to design the UI interactions for the characters
  • Art:
    • Environment:
      • Created stars for the environment
      • Finished the green room model
      • Fixed previous models in the environment
    • Creatures:
      • Finished the remainder of the pipeline for the Robomon
        • Texture
        • Rigging
        • Created 2D animated textures for the face and screen
        • Created 4 animations for the Robomon that included ‘Idle, Running, Out of Power, and Fully Charged’
        • Plan for retopologizing new jetpack onto the Simimon
        • Plan for connecting the remaining Simimon characters
  • Programming:
    • Installed an additional Vive for development
    • Research on movement manipulation
    • Research on VR UI implementation
    • Changed grabbing function to trigger down
    • Added a scale and translate down function
    • Added an experimental change of perspective of the creatures for the experience
  • Sound:
    • Created a list of sounds that we need for the experience

See you next week for the next Simtopia update!

Week 8 – Refining and Iterating

For this week, the Simtopia team continued to refine its experience and iterate upon its existing design. From taking in the feedback from various guests and industry folk, our team felt prepared to further flesh out the design.

We created a artificial intelligence states graph to give the faculty, our client, and visiting guests of our project a better understanding of the interactions in our experience.

This gave context of what the characters (both Simimons and Robomons) do in the experience. We also did research on various movements in virtual reality that we would find interesting for the guest experience such as allowing the guest to utilize a jetpack that will be found on one of the creature’s for movement.

Additionally, we also included additional textures and shaders to the modules in our experience so we can add to our theme of the customizable space station.

Furthermore, as a whole, the team continued to prepare for their halves presentation next week which is the midway point of the semester. From this halves presentation, the team went through several workshops and play-tests to better equip themselves for this evaluation.

Our team updates for the week include the following:

  • Design:
    • AI States Graph
    • Research on movement developments in VR
    • Design priority list
    • Interaction Graph
  • Art:
    • Environment:
      • Finished texture and shading for the various environment modules
    • Character:
      • Texture and UV for the Robomon Character
      • Sculpt definition and retopology for the Simimon
  • Programming:
    • Imported new modules
    • Applied new render pipeline for the shader graph
    • Improved the creature artificial intelligence
    • New build and video

We’ll see you next week to let you know how our halves presentation went!

Week 7 – Developing the Experience

As mentioned from last week’s update, the Simtopia team jumped headfirst into production last week and is gearing up for our halves presentation next week. Ultimately, we hope to come out with a working prototype that can showcase our experience as a whole.
Our team took considerable time in refining our design and sharing our project with additional ETC visitors.

This week, we had our project graced by the presence of Anthony Daniels, renowned actor of the Star Wars franchise and visiting professional at Carnegie Mellon.

Anthony Daniels plays Simtopia's space building experience on the Vive and delivers important design feedback on our change of perspective feel in virtual reality as well as finding purpose and goals for the guest to enrich their experience.

Additionally, our project was also visited by Activision which was extremely helpful for our game discovery project. We received feedback on our current prototype and was told ways that we can further make the development of the prototype interesting for the guest experience including changing the modules and shapes that guests can build with.

Employees at Activision visit the Simtopia testing room to give them important feedback on their design and experience. Seeing their perspective on user interface design was useful for further prototyping and development.

Furthermore, a lot Simtopia’s efforts this week was channeled into developing the prototype and experience more. Art and sound have been worked on while programming further iterated upon its framework. By continuing this process, we hope to integrate our assets for the following week that we will showcase for halves. Our progress for the week included but isn’t limited to the following:

  • Design:
    • Research on possible virtual reality interactions
    • Received feedback from faculty and reviewed the design with the team
    • Important design discussion with the team
    • Design documentation update – Detailed interactions and motivation for Simimons and Robomons (which are the characters in the experience)
    • Design documentation organization
  • Art:
    • Environment:
      • Studied and researched unity shaders
      • Implemented sky box shaders
      • Flushed out a storyboard for Simtopia’s experience
    • Art:
      • Modeled out the robomon design
        • Jumped into the UV and texture process while thinking about the rig setup for stretchy and flexible robot arms
        • Further iterated upon the sculpt for the Simimon
          • Added clothes for the space suit and a more defined form, thinking of retopology and design
    • Programming:
      • Implemented post connection detection
      • Coded simple path finding artificial intelligence

With art, sound, programming, and design all underway – the Simtopia team aims to deliver a working prototype and strong presentation for the halves midway point for their client, Maxis and to showcase themselves at the ETC!

See you next week for the next Simtopia update!


Week 6 – Kicking Up Production

For this week, our team took the feedback we received from our quarter walk around and sit downs from the ETC faculty and our client as well as the results from our playtests from companies that visited our project room to define a clearer plan for our project.

We were able to define our experience as a first person perspective exploration experience in a customizable space station! Our team met together to make strides in the design which allowed us to kick off production this week – allowing the art and sound assets to start generating for the following week.

Additionally, our team was able to host two company visits to our project room: Sky Limit Entertainment and Electronic Arts! We also had a visit from art director, Kevin Lee Allen which provided us insight into a great direction for a cohesive look and feel for our future experience.

Check out Simtopia’s current prototype here: Link to Simtopia’s Week 6 Prototype Video.

The Simtopia team conducted an interview with the designer of the previous ETC project, Blueprint, (that also had Electronic Arts as their client), to gain a better understanding of their user interactions and design. It was quite interesting to try out all three of their prototypes as it provided a unique experience to each one!

Art director, Kevin Lee Allen, visited Simtopia and tested out the current prototype. With his focus in entertainment design and production, Simtopia was able to receive great insight on how to create a cohesive art style for their future space station experience.

Hosting Electronic Arts was an absolute treat for Simtopia! It was wonderful to have the parent company of our client project to test out our current prototype and give us feedback. It was super cool to see how they expressed their player creativity and moved around the space.

Lastly, here are some pipeline updates that were completed for the week from the Simtopia team:

  • Design:
    • Games research
    • Concept research
    • UI research
    • Simtopia’s creature design
    • Design documentation and summaries
    • Base concept for an art style
    • User stories and design hints
  • Art:
    • Modules and connector models were created for the environment
    • Environment and character artist worked together on a cohesive art style guide and mood board to set tone for the experience which they ran by their faculty advisor
    • Began concept phase for the creatures
  • Programming:
    • Implemented and tested the preview function
    • Implemented and tested the collision detection function
    • Imported rough modules into the program
    • Built the updated version of the prototype and created a demo video

See you next week as we continue to develop our art and sound assets to gear up for our halves presentation in two weeks where we plan on showcasing a working demo of our prototype!