Hong Kong 1995:to pay the bills you work as a promo producer for Cartoon Network/Turner Classic Movies. At a wild party in a hair salon on a Sunday morning, a beautiful Japanese woman says you should meet Seki, because, “he’s a genius.”You:
Get Seki's contact info
Thank her and misbehave
You show up at Seki’s. Your eyes immediately become glued to:
Seki, a short, charming man with a moustache; part Mr. Magoo, part card shark
The wireframe mode of a lens displayed on his laptop
The postcards of rabbits on Seki's wall
The Handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China is over and you have become a freelancer. You get a job as a producer for CNN, a music program called Worldbeat. You go to Singapore to cover the WOMAD Festival, with the help of a fantastic assistant and a great cameraman. As you get back onto the plane to return to Hong Kong, you think:
I ‘m never coming back here again
What a fascinating multicultural, cosmopolitan first world country. A truly desirable and charming place in which to reside!
You are now in Tokyo, to set up and manage the six television channels operated by Fox, who have just set up operations in Japan.That contract ends and you write a movie script and search out ways to produce the film. Eventually you have to leave and re-enter the country for visa reasons. You go to:
Singapore is where has Seki set up his $3.2 million startup. The company has two divisions: one is doing something like Youtube; a platform for user-generated video content. (This is three years before Youtube.) The other division is creating a 3D/VR software for game development. The software is educational and entertaining and you have never seen anything like it. Seki asks you to join him, for a reasonable salary and a stake in the company.You:
Return to Tokyo to make a film
October 24, Singapore Science Center. Two years after joining Seki, the gamemaking software will premiere as part of the three-month long Planet Games exhibition at the Singapore Science Center. You set up a small table with a large monitor and big CPU. Next to you is a large maze made out of plastic sheets; something called AR Pacman. You and the AR Pacman team are the ony exhibitors in the Future section. Finally after more than ten years of hard work, Seki’s dream is a reality. The morning of the premiere, Seki:
I am presently in Johor Bahru Malaysia, where I am duotasking: writing a book and concluding the research necessary to begin a VR-related startup. The questions that investors ask are a must for for my startup and an interesting way to look at my book project. The VR section immediately follows the book section.VC Questions for Touching JB, a book by Stephen BlackWhat is it?A 50,00 word book based on the experiences, thoughts and blog posts of Stephen Black, written during an unexpected stay in Johor Bahru, Malaysia i the spring of 2017. Topics and themes include cultural issues, human relationships, food, comedy, art and virtual reality.What problem does it solve?There are no fact-based fiction books about Johor Bahru. As JB continues to gain international recognition, Touching JB will also gain prominenceCompetitionThere are no comparable books about JB.Who is making it?Bestselling author and producer Stephen Black is making it, aided by Book Merah, who made i ate tiong bahru a bestseller in Singapore.Potential audience?Ten thousand readers within five years.What work has been done?25,000 words have been written. On schedule.How will it grow?Book Merah will handle promotion and marketing. The readers of Black's previous books will be the first group contacted. Once reviews are secured, large scale promotion will begin.ReferencesGoodreads, Amazon,Art Review Asia, Expat Living MagazineScheduleFinish writing in April. E-publishing and promotion to follow immediately.VC Questions for a VR-related startup being initiated by Stephen BlackNote; Parts of the following are intentionally vague and for now SVRP (Steve’s VR Project) is being used as the project name.What is it?A Google Daydream ap and platform for nongaming casual VR users.What problem does it solve?Entertainment, education, tourism and other industries will have a tool to build audiences with.CompetitionThere is, presently, no competition.Who is making it?Experienced 3D and gaming producer Stephen BlackPotential audience?Tens of millions+What work has been done?Extensive research, planning and paper grey boxingHow will it grow?Carefully chosen beta testers, then alpha companies and individuals, freewareReferencesPrevious projects were successfully used by the Singapore Science Center and the Singapore Ministry of EducationSchedulePrepare mockup. Find money. Go forth and prosper.
I began working with VR in 2002, with a software development kit for children, the CDK. The Creative Development Kit allowed inexperienced children AND serious game developers to create games and projects, using our models and commands. The CDK was studied by the Singaporean Ministry of Education and used in schools throughout Singapore, as well as in the Singapore Science Center.
I took a hiatus from VR to write books, one of which has become a best seller in Singapore. I also began research f0r a book on digital cinematography/VR/art, co-produced/curated SPOKEN, a virtual gallery with Eugene Soh and wrote/co-produced/starred in a 360 short film called Beach Road.
In the middle of 2016, I decided that the time was right for my VR ideas. This blog is filled with posts about research , seminars, meetings etc. I am now refining my pitchdeck for presentation to investors/VCs. I would prefer to bootstrap, but for this company, at this time, that is a challenge that would seem to take a long time to solve.
Here are my replies to some of the basic questions investors want answered:
Potential audience? One billion (yes, that is a 'b')
What work has been done? Extensive pre-production including: research, research research, paper mockup, paper grey box mockup, troubleshooting bootcamp with trusted associates, started theoretical command sequences for programmers, UI design(fonts, layout color patterns)
How will it grow? I have compiled a list of personal connections and carefully selected industry leaders (mainly bloggers and journalists). These people would form a base for testing. Additionally, when the time is right, a press release will be sent to the VR media and notification give to VR social media groups. The user base will grow through these channels as well as through word of mouth. Other methods of promotion have been planned.
In addition to meeting a need, the project is fun to use. Though the project is simple and functional, the user experience will feel like the best parts of a five star restaurant, Cirque Soleil and driving a Ferrari.
Business projections: Huge
If you would like to know more or be a beta tester, feel free to get in touch.
An outline of reasons as to why Singapore is the place for Stephen Black's planned VR startup.
As Creative Director/Producer for the CDK, a CG-generated VR project for a Singapore-based joint venture, SB became very familiar with Singapore's working environment, including government policies and business practices. (The CDK is described more fully elsewhere on this blog.)
As a long-term resident based in Singapore since 2002, and the author of a bestselling book about Singapore (i ate tiong bahru), SB has a familiarity with Singapore as well as a personal and professional network.
As a teacher of VR-related educational software in the Singapore educational system, SB has experience "in the trenches", regarding the demands of institutions, schools, teachers and students. The Singapore Ministry of successfully tested the CDK and presented the results at an international educational symposium.
Singapore is a regional hub, with strong connections throughout Southeast Asia,India, China and Japan. This fact, combined with SB's living experiences in Japan, Hong Kong, Paris, New York and Bali create a strong possibility for an active beta network that will be an influential force for global take-up.
Stephen Black and Eugene Soh in the virtual lobby of gallery.sg, the location for the SPOKEN exhibition
6. Safe and stable, Singapore has trustworthy legal and business infrastructures.
7. English: yes! Other languages? Yes, yes, yes and yes!
8.Singapore's multicultural population is also very smartphone savvy.
(image by David Severn)
The Art/VR startup idea...the time is now!
The Tiong Bahru Mouth the book , the photos, the haikus, the videos. The Tiong Bahru Market is closing for three months at the end of February. Seems like that would be a punctuation mark of some sort. The i ate tiong bahru audiobook is now being checked by Amazon. The iatb glasses were successfully crowdfunded. So was the design for the Tiong Bahru poster. I ate Tiong Bahru, the book itself, is due for a second printing...
I Ate Tiong Bahru Audiobook Really...this could go live any day!Voicemaps I have Tiong Bahru mapped out... Bali Wave Ghost After three years+ of doing the starving artist thing,it's time to work on the net net and synergize so as to secure maximum ROI.(that was written last year also, on another blog post. Have not done marketing.. no sales action.)SPOKEN I wrote the following last year, and it has received attention, should receive more...SPOKEN needs to increase its audience...it really is an incredible piece of work :a virtual gallery built by Eugene Soh and filled with contributions from an extremely diverse collection of artists and writers.
And these two projects, carry overs from last year. Hopefully by midyear, they can be picked up again...INSEIN Last year, I spent almost ten days in Yangon. I created images with a digital camera. I would like to exhibit them and create a book.The images use Yangon as a starting point...I Ate LaPhet Thoke Conceptual art meets culinary research. A booklet co-created with Sayuri Okayama.Beach RoadThis 360VR movie will hopefully continue to attract viewers.
Towards a New Cinematography, the book, has been plodding along. I hope it will plod faster.AND I WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH MY MOM AND DAD AND BROTHER AND DAUGHTER!
Two hundred percent. Ten thousand percent. Whatever it takes.... I am finalizing a pitch deck now and calmly, but urgently, looking for a Unity/C# person who works hard and dreams harder.
VR and more. NOW.
Various notes without a single topic, but all related to the possibilities of immersive art and text. CG and 360 possibilities are innumerable and exciting...but aren't there also untapped resources in the traditional 2D artforms?
What if someone like Virginia Fleck had a way to easily, and dramatically, present her works in VR?
I am just thinking out loud here...would love to hear your comments.
OK...some links related to this. Oh yes... the image used at the top of this post was "borrowed" from the blog of Skarred Ghost, who is doing some amazing things with VR and full body presence.
Here is a link to one of his superb posts: on https://skarredghost.wordpress.com/2016/12/28/how-to-show-a-video-in-a-texture-with-unity-on-android/
Netflix home theatre in the Oculus. http://techblog.netflix.com/2015/09/john-carmack-on-developing-netflix-app.html
The screens on the Gear VR supported phones are all 2560x1440 resolution, which is split in half to give each eye a 1280x1440 view that covers approximately 90 degrees of your field of view. If you have tried previous Oculus headsets, that is more than twice the pixel density of DK2, and four times the pixel density of DK1. That sounds like a pretty good resolution for videos until you consider that very few people want a TV screen to occupy a 90 degree field of view. Even quite large screens are usually placed far enough away to be about half of that in real life.
The optics in the headset that magnify the image and allow your eyes to focus on it introduce both a significant spatial distortion and chromatic aberration that needs to be corrected. The distortion compresses the pixels together in the center and stretches them out towards the outside, which has the positive effect of giving a somewhat higher effective resolution in the middle where you tend to be looking, but it also means that there is no perfect resolution for content to be presented in. If you size it for the middle, it will need mip maps and waste pixels on the outside. If you size it for the outside, it will be stretched over multiple pixels in the center.
For synthetic environments on mobile, we usually size our 3D renderings close to the outer range, about 1024x1024 pixels per eye, and let it be a little blurrier in the middle, because we care a lot about performance. On high end PC systems, even though the actual headset displays are lower resolution than Gear VR, sometimes higher resolution scenes are rendered to extract the maximum value from the display in the middle, even if the majority of the pixels wind up being blended together in a mip map for display.
The Netflix UI is built around a 1280x720 resolution image. If that was rendered to a giant virtual TV covering 60 degrees of your field of view in the 1024x1024 eye buffer, you would have a very poor quality image as you would only be seeing a quarter of the pixels. If you had mip maps it would be a blurry mess, otherwise all the text would be aliased fizzing in and out as your head made tiny movements each frame.
The technique we use to get around this is to have special code for just the screen part of the view that can directly sample a single textured rectangle after the necessary distortion calculations have been done, and blend that with the conventional eye buffers. These are our "Time Warp Layers". This has limited flexibility, but it gives us the best possible quality for virtual screens (and also the panoramic cube maps in Oculus 360 Photos). If you have a joypad bound to the phone, you can toggle this feature on and off by pressing the start button. It makes an enormous difference for the UI, and is a solid improvement for the video content.
Still, it is drawing a 1280 pixel wide UI over maybe 900 pixels on the screen, so something has to give. Because of the nature of the distortion, the middle of the screen winds up stretching the image slightly, and you can discern every single pixel in the UI. As you get towards the outer edges, and especially the corners, more and more of the UI pixels get blended together. Some of the Netflix UI layout is a little unfortunate for this; small text in the corners is definitely harder to read.
So forget 4K, or even full-HD. 720p HD is the highest resolution video you should even consider playing in a VR headset today.
Dragon Front Card Game
(Interesting in terms of card size/distance from viewer) For a card game, Dragon Front was an exhilarating experience that mixes the tense moments of high-level strategy play with the full-body escapism of VR. Yet after a few turns going back and forth, you start to completely forget that you're even playing a game with a headset on. The competition starts to feel as natural as a physical table-top experience, while the Rift just becomes an interface for your virtual showdown."
After just 10 minutes or so of tutorial playing, I was able to grasp the game's lengthy turn-based combat and try my hand at a real one-on-one fight with another human being in VR. For a card game, Dragon Front was an exhilarating experience that mixes the tense moments of high-level strategy play with the full-body escapism of VR. Yet after a few turns going back and forth, you start to completely forget that you're even playing a game with a headset on. The competition starts to feel as natural as a physical table-top experience, while the Rift just becomes an interface for your virtual showdown.
Dragon Front makes you forget you're playing a VR game
Dragon Front has a couple fun quirks to amplify that sensation. For one, your opponent's face shows up as a omnipresent floating mask above their fortress, and it will mirror the direction of their gaze and facial expressions in real time so you can feel as if you're sitting across the table from the person. Dragon Front also relies on in-game voice chat so you can talk to your opponent as the game progresses.
So Dragon Front may not be the most immersive VR title out there or one you could show your parents to convince them of the technology's potential. But it's certainly a unique rethinking of the VR approach, one that will most certainly catch on as headsets like the Rift start becoming a more common way to play a wide variety of games and not just first-person experiences.
(the photo used at the top of this post was obtained from Pinterest, where the following credit was provided: Michael Naimark, media art guru. | KR8V | Pinterest | Medium Art, Aspen and Michael O'keefe I did not create the image, am using it without permission and I hope that is OK. )
On December 10, 2016, I was fortunate to attend a small workshop conducted by Michael. Michael was extremely informative and his personality allowed everyone to ask questions and share information freely. I have a separate post about notes taken during the workshop. It was great!
This post serves as an introduction to Michael's work.