Agatha Tutia
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VR Hackathon: Ava

 Artwork by Terence Tolman

Artwork by Terence Tolman

The weekend before starting my first day of grad school, I decided pretty last minute to sign up for my first ever hackathon. (To be frank, I thought hacks were about hacking into the mainframe of the CIA but turns out, it's just making some sort of product in a matter of a day or two. Who knew?)

Which is kind of a crazy thing to do since our first week of class was our Immersion Studio, basically a five-day long hackathon of sorts. But I'm a bit crazy so no surprise there.

Over the course of Friday night to Sunday afternoon, my team created Ava, an adventure-journey game inspired by Monument Valley's emotional design. In the game, you must return a magical crystal to its home with the help of its guardian, Ava, in order to break the curse on your city.

You have returned from a long journey of trials and tribulations to the city of your ancestors, Mattana.

But something is amiss...

The Crystal of Mattana has been displaced. You must return it to the tallest tower.

Through VR Motion Capture technology, all the movements you made using the hand controllers, Ava copied. Whenever you move your hands, Ava moves her hands too. In a series of levels, there are obstacles preventing you from accessing certain environments due to cursed force fields or floors, however, Ava is impervious to the curse. Using the controllers, you can move Ava to grab blocks and put them in their respective slots in order to complete levels.

The Team

 Compiled mood board inspired by Monument Valley and optical illusions.

Compiled mood board inspired by Monument Valley and optical illusions.

Ishita Kapur - Project Manager
Agatha Tutia - UX Lead
Terence Tolman - Concept Artist/Game Designer
Simon Manning - Game Designer
Eric Carter - Developer
Victor Brodin - Developer
Kyla Park - Jr. Developer
William Mortl - Jr. Developer

Expectations

This was my first time taking on the role of a UX Designer and owning it. I wanted this to be a learning experience, but I also wanted to everything in my power to contribute and make our VR game amazing.

What I Did

  • Contributed heavily to the plot and the design. Night One, we discussed quite heavily the overall direction of the game.
    • Named the guardian "Ava" after "Avatar" and the city "Mattana" as a tribute to my friendship with Livia Matteucci by combining her last name and my Italian second last name Campana together.
  • Compiled a UX Guidelines and Interaction List with the assistance of my UX mentor, Heather Coles, and a lot of googling. I wanted to document everything I could about this project: the narrative, goals, characters, levels, interactions of the controllers in reference to gameplay, etc. especially since I've never worked on game development before.
  • Sketched four storyboards of all the levels. Using my iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and Evernote, I spent a good amount of Day Two visualizing the plot of Ava. Level 0. Level 1. Level 2. Level 3.
  • COMMUNICATED. My goodness, at one point, I had four back-to-back meetings with Heather (UX mentor), Ishita Kapur (Project Manager), Simon Manning (Game Artist), and Eric Carter (Developer).
  • Tested out the game sporadically and providing feedback.

Takeaways

  • Hackathons are ridiculously fast-paced. If I was gone for five minutes, I'd returned to our room only to discover XYZ was irrelevant and we were now doing ABC instead. Crossing out and repopulating my UX Guidelines was a common occurrence.
  • Communication. Communication. Communication. If I were to do it all over it again, I would squeeze myself in-between the two developers and keep vigilant. I missed out on so much on-the-go testing and I didn't even realize it. There was also one moment where Victor Brodin, Developer, called me out for not telling him about an interaction sooner. With everything happening so fast and new, I just assumed he had checked the Interaction List that I didn't take ownership of directly telling him. Being on the same page requires active updates, not assumptions.
  • Hackathons are not real life. While working on a team with a PM and devs for the first time was riveting and true to what I could be doing in the future, the process will not be the same. The fact that we were working within an extreme time constraint, I know that there'll be more time to fully and thoughtfully design and execute a project.
  • But relationships are. No matter what scenario, respecting and trusting your teammates will take your project far. A steadfast fealty formed to do our team and Ava right. And what a joy to have been apart of that.