Today we want to address elements of Virtual Reality production. Sure, you already know some of this stuff, but it is important to understand the “whys” along with the “how”. Those that read the blog regularly are probably aware of our affinity for all things Disney and Imagineering. In fact, we are so serious about it we have created many of our working protocols and processes based on the methodologies of Disney’s Imagineers… we have even gone so far as to promote ourselves as “Imagineers without the ears”, but I digress. In this blog, we want to discuss how VR production, and AR for that matter, align so well with Mickey’s 10 Commandments. "What!?" You say . . . think about it: Walt Disney wanted nothing more than to transport his guest into a new reality . . his reality. At the time, he had no choice but to construct that new reality as a physical place. We’re simply doing the same thing with the tools we have available today! The clear and concise practices put forth in these commandments are a sure path to success, provided you do not get too distracted along the way. Without further ado, let’s dig in!
1. Know your audience - Don't bore people, talk down to them or lose them by assuming that they know what you know.
While this sounds pretty straight ahead, in theory, we have found this to be far harder to implement than we initially thought it might. Really understanding your audience requires that you learn to see with their eyes and hear with their ears. It is easy to assume people have certain knowledge or experience because we want everyone to be just like us (not literally, but I think you know what we are getting at, here.) and most people have a hard time viewing projects with eyes other than their own. So how do we accomplish this? Start with questions… Lots and lots of questions, trying to get an honest feel for the needs of the users and the end goals of the development is critical to the end result. While nuMedia has a vast gaming background among our staff, we do a lot more development for training and design tools, so we tend to dig a bit deeper when it comes to the purpose of a development, but the same concepts would certainly apply to entertainment, after all what is Disney known for?
2. Wear your guest's shoes - Insist that designers, staff and your board members experience your facility as visitors as often as possible.
We covered a bit of this above, but when it comes right down to it, you must “dog food” your creations! If you do not like the results, do you think your clients and end users are going to like it? Even our C-Suite guys get involved at this point. Products simply do not get delivered until we have a unanimous agreement on the quality of the project. Then, after delivery, we tend to revisit projects every so often, just to make sure that the content and the functionality are up to current standards. It is not unusual for us to go back to a client a year later with suggested updates and changes that we believe would be effect for their purposes. Even our interns are invited to review old projects just for the extra commentary and input from a new set of eyes.
3. Organize the flow of people and ideas - Use good story telling techniques, tell good stories not lectures, lay out your exhibit with a clear logic.
While it is true that the physical aspects of this Commandment apply to the “real world”, “laying out your exhibit” applies to the Virtual World too! Storytelling and strong narrative make a powerful difference in a successful project. It is not enough for a project to look good, if there is no way to keep the user’s attention, then your development is going to flop and you are going to lose a client. Take the time to understand and effectively communicate the story that is being told. This leads to better retention and results for training, better ergonomics for tool development and we all know that story is far more important in the realm of entertainment.
4. Create a weenie - Lead visitors from one area to another by creating visual magnets and giving visitors rewards for making the journey
Why on Earth Disney chose to use the term “weenie” we may never know, and frankly I do not think I want to know the origins, but visual anchors are incredibly important in VR. This is perhaps even more important in the VR realm than it is in the real world. It is very easy for user to become disoriented in the VR world. This problem is easily resolved by using strong visual anchors within the scene. These “weenies” can help drive the narrative for entertainment and training purposes and when it comes to design, knowing your origins and foundations is critical. So, to summarize, learn to effectively use visual anchors within a VR scene!
5. Communicate with visual literacy - Make good use of all the non-verbal ways of communication - color, shape, form, texture.
For most designers, this is a “no-brainer”. However, I have been appalled with the poor quality of the basic design elements that we have seen in the VR training arena. I cannot emphasize enough, good design matters, colors matter, and 90% of human communication is non-verbal! Be concise and accurate, of course, but do not skimp on the visual literacy! We see a lot of VR training packages get rejected because the product’s visuals were an afterthought. These also leads into a conversation about realism in Virtual Reality and that is something we will be covering in an upcoming blog. For now, it will suffice to say visuals are critical to effective communication, so learn to use them effectively!
6. Avoid overload - Resist the temptation to tell too much, to have too many objects, don't force people to swallow more than they can digest, try to stimulate and provide guidance to those who want more.
We have all heard the design adages, but this is one of the most important. Good design is not about adding everything you want, it is about stripping away everything you do not need. This applies even more in the world of VR! When it comes to designing applications, it is critically important to not overload your users. Being in VR, particularly for new users, can already be disorienting and adding unnecessary distractions in the form of grandiose content can really ruin the quality of a VR project. Create and implement everything you need. Be as detailed and realistic as the project requires, but keep the distractions to a minimum. Few things will ruin a VR experience like overloading the users with redundancies and sensory overload.
7. Tell one story at a time - If you have a lot of information divide it into distinct, logical, organized stories, people can absorb and retain information more clearly if the path to the next concept is clear and logical.
There is not a lot that one can add to this other than to say that this is even more critical in VR development. If you are developing training applications, chunk it up. Give the user small, concise packages of information, lead them along with strong narratives and effective visual communication. Innumerable studies demonstrate the increased effectiveness and retention levels when information is parsed out in smaller, easily digested segments. While we do not typically announce it to our clients, we learned that most people are only able to grasp and retain 4 to 7 basic concepts at a time over a full day. This means a lot of reiteration for training and a lot of carefully and subtly repeated information. Keep it simple and keep the progression logical and, more often than not, the project will succeed.
8. Avoid contradiction – Don’t destroy the “Suspension of Disbelief”
We’re going to borrow from Disney feature film and our experiences in the game industry on this one. When you are in a place, whether real or imaginary, everything, however outlandish, needs to “make sense” and be consistent. When the world has “rules” that it abides by, your brain can truly believe what’s going on. Why else would you actually cry over when Bambi’s mother is killed (admit it! you did!) She was a make-believe character in a make-believe world already! But, you were on a believable journey and although the imagery was all hand drawn, you believed in that world and the characters in it.
9. For every ounce of treatment, provide a ton of fun - How do you woo people from all other temptations? Give people plenty of opportunity to enjoy themselves by emphasizing ways that let people participate in the experience and by making your environment rich and appealing to all senses.
This is one of our favorite commandments! Everything, and I mean everything we do is centered around fun. After all, our entire staff comes from the gaming and entertainment industries, we just happen to have a lot of technical know-how too. Whether it is training, education, or entertainment, when people have fun they are more engaged and more aware of what is happening. Armed with numerous studies, it was decidedly long ago that every development simply must have an element that is intended to be fun and engaging. There is simply no better way to keep a person’s attention!
10. Keep it up - Never underestimate the importance of cleanliness and routine maintenance, people expect to get a good show every time, people will comment more on broken and dirty stuff.
We alluded to this earlier in the article, and it cannot be said often enough, keep it clean, keep it maintained and keep your development up to date! If your products look out of date or your supporting hardware is in shambles you will soon find clients and user fleeing to the brighter penny in the pile. To paraphrase on old marketing adage, complaints are louder than praise. You are far more likely to lose a client if your team is slow to update and perform routine maintenance on project deployments. Knowing and understanding your infrastructure, keeping designs current and making sure that updates to operating systems do not terminally break your applications will go a long way to keeping your clients and end-users happy and coming back for more!