Night at the Museum


Introduction

Night at the Museum is my final project in the second term of Udacity’s VR Developer Nanodegree program. This term focused on VR design and development process, VR platforms and the industries impacted by VR.

This term introduced me to an incredibly wide range of applications I wasn’t aware of previously. My last thought-experiments (part1, part 2, and part 3) also helped me realize that there’s so much more than just ‘VR’ and that the future may really lie within the full spectrum of realities ranging from augmented reality, augmented virtuality, mixed reality to fully virtual reality.

My goal for this project was to provide a few examples across this spectrum and how various industries are using them today.

This collection is by no means complete. The few examples I found during my research can merely touch the surface. But I plan to update this project with new examples and favorite experiences as I continue to learn more about them.

I completed the current version of this project in the course of about two weeks. Although I only had a limited amount of time available in the evenings, I was able to move it forward a little every day. I was once again pleasantly surprised how much could be accomplished in such a limited amount of time.

Outcomes

I created this project with Unity3D for Android phones with Google Cardboard and tested successfully on a Google Pixel 2XL. All project files and assets are available in the GitHub repository.

The following is a video of the final result, captured in the desktop game view.

The Design Process

Statement of Purpose

“Night at the Museum” is a mobile VR application for new VR users to introduce them to the full spectrum of AR/MR/VR applications and industries impacted by them.

Persona

During the design phase I had an audience in mind who may have heard about VR in the media and are now curious to find out what all the hype and excitement is about.

They may have seen VR used in games, but they haven’t been exposed to other use-cases yet. The app presents a first impression of the range of entertaining as well as serious VR experiences.

Meet Dave:

Keir Dullea in Kraft Mystery Theatre (Public Domain)

Name: David

Age: 35

Occupation: Actor and Space Enthusiast

Quote: “Open the pod bay doors”

Summary: Dave was an early adopter once and spent lots of money on technology that would soon become obsolete. He still gets excited about technology but often ends up tossing them into a box of electronic gadgets after the initial excitement has worn off.

He has become sceptical about new toys and wants to know if they would prove to be useful and pass the test of time, or if they are just another candidate for his gadget graveyard.

What he has seen and heard about VR piqued his interest but he wants to learn more before he takes a deep dive.

Experience with VR: He has little experience with VR, but curious to find out more using a entry level hardware, e.g. Cardboard Viewer.

First Sketches

To get this project started I drew a sketch on paper to get an overall feeling of museum might look like. I started with a simple room assuming I might need to build the the room from scratch. I envisioned a front entrance and various information booths along each wall of the room. Each information booth would include a waypoint, a category panel, and various panels to present text, images, audio and video content. Two buttons would enable navigation from one panel to another.

First Sketch

First Prototype

To create the first prototype I searched the Unity Asset Store and Sketchfab for a suitable architecture model and found a large T-Rex museum space I could use and customize as a foundation for this project.

Museum Prefab

Feeling inspired I decided to diverge from the sketch and simplify the booth a little so that all content and buttons were part of a single monolithic station. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but turned out to be a mistake.

I conducted the first user test to see if the scale of the environment and the information booth worked in principle. Unfortunately, I had only one user available to test the scene with, but the feedback still was very helpful to improve the experience.

Q: How do you like the space and scale of the museum?

“I really love the setting. The museum looks very impressive. I’m a bit confused by the dinosaurs. They’re cool but isn’t this a VR museum?”

Q: What do you think of the information booth?

“I like the info booth because it reminds me of the monolith from 2001. But I don’t think there is enough room on it for your text. I guess that’s why you have to click a couple of times to read everything. I think it would be better if all the text fit together on the display and you just click once to watch the video.”

Second Iteration

I had to agree with this feedback. Although I personally liked the dinosaur & monolith scene hinting to a 2001 inspired leap in evolution, it didn’t work very well for the goals of this project.

I removed the dinosaur and rearranged the information booth to a landscape format. I was able to fit the text on one panel, and used the full area for a video on the next.

Q: How do you like the new layout of the info booth?

“I love the new shape of the display in the information booth. It still has the monolith feeling, but the larger space makes reading all the text easier. Not having to move through several pages of text is a huge improvement. The video looks great now that you have more space for it. It’s easier to watch. The button feels a bit generic though.”

Third Iteration

I had to agree again - the button did indeed feel generic. Presented with the text panel the user wouldn’t know that a great video clip was awaiting them on the next panel. I updated the panel to change the text on the button depending on whether the next panel was a video or a text object. I also changed the script to highlight the button when you move the pointer across it.

“I like the change to the advance button. It makes it clear that pressing takes you to a video.”

Now it was time to move around, and I added a waypoint system to the scene. I added the first three information booths of the entertainment category and placed them in the appropriate places.

“I love how bright and sparkly the navigation dots are. They’re easy to spot and use. They make it easy to move around.”

Fourth Iteration

With the waypoint system and booth layout in place I completed the scene with ten booths for the examples I found during my research. I also cleaned up the scene and removed the prefab’s remaining dino objects.

Last but not least, I added ambient sound, audible feedback to the button clicks, and created a set of banners for each category to guide the visitor to the industry sections.

Can you describe the level of visual comfort? Anything you find difficult to see?

“Everything feels comfortable to me visually. The lighting feels natural, the posters are all easy to read and each of the information panels and videos are easy on the eyes.”

Can you describe your general experience with the scene? Anything you’d like to see in the next version?

I love the overall look of the museum and the sound that was added really completes the experience. The posters that we’re added are a nice touch. I’m really impressed with the whole scene. The only problem I had was that I wasn’t able to easily navigate through all of the booths when I was sitting down. I had to stand up and shift my body. I think it would be better if you could walk through the whole scene even if you were seated.

Conclusion

I was able to move this project forward relatively quickly, but there still were a few challenges that took me some time to resolve. The content, video player behavior and scripting took their time, but I probably would consider the arrangement, UI layout and lighting the most challenging tasks in this project. I found it quite difficult to troubleshoot problems with the lightmaps after regenerating them. And what looked/sounded good and reasonable in my head didn’t always work in practice.

Especially the positioning of the info booths just didn’t work out in the end. It worked well during my initial tests, but it didn’t work for me and my test user once there were 10 booths to navigate to. The horizontal viewing angles should stay in the comfortable main zone. It was a huge mistake to neglect this during my design phase.

I wish I had more time but the deadline is approaching fast, so I will have to leave these needed corrections and improvements for the next steps. It was another great learning experience!

Next Steps

Need to improve positioning of info booths so the user doesn’t have to turn around by 90 degrees all the time. Especially important if the scene is viewed when seated.

I also want to revisit my research and find more and better examples to fill out the space in my museum.

It may be a good idea to optimize the video player and its script, perhaps keep one static object instead of a new instance for each video?

The waypoint navigation system will probably no longer work once there are more booths to explore. In the next generation I will probably replace the waypoints with ground raycasting to give the user more freedom to move around the entire space.

Once the user has more freedom to move, I could accessorize the museum with VR related models in the currently empty display cases. These objects could be animated or made interactive, so the user can really find more in this museum. I’m thinking about the great First Contact that introduced me to the Oculus Rift and the controllers.

I planned to implement some of these ideas in this project but ran out of time unfortunately. But this project will be continued and not put on ice when this course is completed. :)

https://youtu.be/7C1Di2t8sfg