New Halloween experience: Miner Difficulties

Jasmine and I have been working most of our waking hours this past month to bring out our best contributions to the Halloween contest. I split my time between Alfy's (Subway Nightmare) and Jasmine's "Miner Difficulties":


Jasmine is a storyteller. She follows up her award-winning Through the Waterfall experience with this second story and really hits it out of the park with an excellent build and a concept that is both whimsical and blood-curdling.

Jasmine really stepped up her game as a relatively new mesh modeler, combining realistic scanned models and textures with skillful hand-crafting. I used my years of Second Life sim landscaping to help with scene layout, too.

The real innovation in this experience is the introduction of interactive non-playing characters (NPCs) like the bird you encounter when you enter Part Two. The two main NPCs are there to tell a classic, linear story, but they do it at the pace you set, waiting for you to discover and follow along. Thus far I have not seen any other experience like this, but I have no doubt that interactive NPCs like these firsts are going to be the key to future storytelling in Sansar.

Although I consulted in much of Jasmine's creative process, my main contribution to this project was as a scripter. Many of you have already seen my commercial script lines. My free Reflex scripts are already starting to power basic interactivity in many experiences here. And Clockworks is all about driving complex, cyclic motion. Miner Difficulties uses both, but I introduced a major innovation.

One of the basic limitations of Clockworks, from my perspective, is that the machines you create are like "plants" that are rooted wherever you put them. They can't really get up and move around. So I created a "dolly" system that can carry a Clockworks machine around anywhere in a scene, as though it were on a Hollywood-style camera dolly. The invisible track can be a series of straight lines, but it is usually more natural for it to use a track made from smooth Bezier curves.

Watch closely as the NPCs follow perfectly smooth, curved paths as they travel around the scene, following the uneven terrain and curved tunnels and avoiding obstacles.

What's more, the tracks are naturally dynamic. See how the bird "mills around" at some points, hopping from place to place as it waits for you to follow? When you catch up, it takes off from wherever it currently is and quickly gets on track for its next destination, flying whimsically around you and the scene. And the bird displays a variety of different behaviors that it switches among somewhat randomly and as needed. This makes it seem very natural.

Another key innovation is our technique for animating our NPCs. We decided against using Sansar's new mesh animation techniques. You can see a lot of good applications of it already in other Halloween experiences, but you can also see its critical limits. Most of the animations are clearly following tight, usually circular, loops that seem completely unaware of the surrounding scene. And they rely on rigid body motions instead of the sinuous movements possible with animation "bones". To overcome this, we opted for a unique frame-swapping tactic. Our NPCs are composed of a large number of whole models representing frames of 3D animation that we swap among very rapidly. The result is the sinuous, natural motion you expect of living organisms instead of the more robotic feel of rigid body motions.

There are some very impressive entries to the Halloween contest this year. This contest has really brought out some of the best in Sansar's talented designers. But I believe that Miner Difficulties showcases truly original, groundbreaking techniques in interactive NPCs and pushes the envelope for storytelling in VR. Please do check it out. And be sure to tell your friends, too. But as with books and movies, please don't spoil the ending! Cheers.


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