This weekend’s Seattle VR/AR hackathon felt different. Once again it took place at Magnuson Park in a building usually occupied by UW construction students, with teams creating games and other immersive experiences. Team members camped out with Vives, Rifts, Hololenses, and all the gear necessary to bring their visions to life. Developers gazed intensely at monitors and worked out innumerable issues with their code, snacks were consumed, and white boards filled up with schematics. This was the sixth Seattle VR/AR hackathon, with about sixty fewer participants than the last one in April. Walking among the teams, spotting familiar faces from hackathons past, I could sense less manic excitement and more purposeful expertise. The hackathon one year ago seemed to bubble with enthusiasm for the potential of this new media. This weekend’s event was about pulling together the expertise to deliver on that potential.
This was the latest in a string of accomplishments by the indefatigable organizing committee of Trond Nilsen, Bridget Swirksi, Eva Hoerth, Karl Spang, and Heather Zweig, and volunteers and mentors including Jordan Kellogg and Xuny Haley. It’s hard to overstate how lucky this community is to have this self-organized crew of passionate, brilliant VR pioneers blazing a trail for everyone. They’re the heart and soul of the Seattle VR/AR community, and they keep getting better and better at putting on a solid show. What replaced the manic energy of hackathons past was a confident professionalism, a sense that things are proceeding according to plan, radiating from these individuals who somehow manage to devote their time while maintaining their own busy careers.
This growing confidence resulted in some superbly entertaining experiences. I created blobby musical instruments using Vive controllers and my own voice, attempted to shoplift as an alien in a human simulator, and saw an augmented reality cityscape appear on the floor while players operated an octopus in this environment from within a Vive. Everything looked and sounded better than ever. The collective quality has definitely risen.
Before I wrote blog posts about technology, I wrote novels. I learned to identify certain phases of the creative process, and discovered that many other novelists went through these phases, too. In the beginning, at the very start of a novel, it’s common to feel a burst of excited optimism. You have this great idea in your head and every word you commit to the page glows. You fool yourself into thinking you won’t need to revise your golden prose all that much at all.
Then, three months or a year or two years in, you wake up and look over what you’ve written so far and recoil, horrified. The prose you thought was perfect creaks and oozes and you realize what a mess you’ve made. At this point, your discouragement presents you with a choice. You can either abandon the project and try to forget that such an exercise in self-delusion ever happened, or you can take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves, and start the painstaking work of fixing stuff and making incremental improvements. The transition from a rough draft to a revision requires heaps of humility and patience as you confront the truth that you really aren’t as great a writer as you fooled yourself into thinking you are. But then the payoff for going through the painful process of revision is that you become a better writer than you even imagined.
Something similar appears to be happening within the VR/AR community. We seem to be emerging out of the rough draft phase into the long but determined slog of steady, incremental improvement. Collectively, the community ties feel stronger, the knowledge deeper, the commitments deeper, and the collaborations more fluid. Everything is working.
Two eight-person teams melded minds to create the sophisticated VR/AR hybrid cityscape experience I mentioned previously. This was the mega-team that included 14-year-old VR developer Avery Wagar, who has quickly established himself as a talent to watch. I observed Avery on Sunday directing various adult members of his team and introduced myself. He quickly shook my hand, correctly assessed how much of his time I was worth (three nanoseconds), then plunged back into his work. His focus and confidence were extraordinary to witness, and at that moment I knew that, decades from now, I’ll be bragging about seeing him in his element from the beginning.
Elsewhere, Evie Powell and Ryan Smith, who used to share a space at Indies Workshop and now rub shoulders at CoMotion Labs, applied their talents to a climbing game and a VR version of Quiddich, respectively. Eugene Capon, wearing some sort of Pokemon-like costume, caught me up on his recent trip to China. I watched Shawn Whiting dismantle an Oculus Rift on purpose, and eavesdropped on a team that included audio pro Joshua du Chene as they scripted their “Gatos Magicos” Spanish language instructional experience. The awesomely-named Team Meat Suit had users propelling themselves through their human simulator by wiggling their arms in a pretty good approximation of break dance moves I attempted in fifth grade. Meanwhile, Megateam, creators of the music creation experience Vox Augmento, accompanied players with a real-life ukulele.
These experiences will be available to try at the upcoming Seattle VR/AR Meetup, September 28, at Pluto VR in Ballard. Just another occasion for Seattle’s most vibrant creative community to proudly show off their latest work, which is bound to be eclipsed by what comes out of future hackathons.
Keep going, Seattle VR/AR community. It’s working.