Plan. Make. Play.

Hi! I’m Shaun Norton, from Melbourne, Australia. I want to be a Product Manager in VR/AR/Esports because the world is waiting for next-level digital, physical, social games; I’ll bring together a team and make it happen. Let’s make the future of play; hire me.

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Source: Populous

Blog

My thoughts on virtual/augmented reality technology, game development, arcades, and esports.


The road to here

I recently shared my long road through university on Twitter, arriving at Business and with conviction that Product Management is what I need to be doing...

"great product managers are often the “weird kids” in the MBA program who, while sitting in a finance class, wonder if they should have enrolled in a design school or coding bootcamp instead".

This explains why I've tried uni courses in Science, Multimedia Systems, Geomatics, Professional Writing, Engineering and finally... Business at @victoriauninews #foundmycalling

What I learned from previous studies:

  • Science - Don't pick up Biology because Physics and Chemistry were SO 2004. I should have stuck with Physics instead of dissecting frogs and celery sticks.
  • Multimedia Systems - Pseudocode is useful. Sometimes university teaches basic stuff that makes the class boring (I was already making corporate websites at the time).
  • Geomatics - I studied maps and maths before Google Maps. I loved using the theodolite to survey landscapes, but I hated everything else about being outside. We calculated complex polygon areas in reverse notation #chores
  • Professional Writing - I learned to share my experiences verbally and in written form, during workshops. But I didn't cope with assignments pushing me outside my comfort zone.
  • Engineering - I pick up tools REALLY quickly. I was zooming around AutoCAD in no time. I found I have incredible attention to detail but couldn't understand why I would want to be drawing 5mm reinforced concrete diagrams for a living.

No glasses for old eyes: What I see, she will not.

This week my nanna died. I'd like to share one of our last moments, as it has added an emotional aspect to my drive for VR/AR experience innovation...

I visited her in the nursing home with my mum on Easter Saturday. I was resting on nanna's recliner, which she hadn't used in weeks, because her body was failing her. The afternoon sun and gentle sea breeze washed the windowsill with light. A row of happy solar-powered bobbing plants moved in unique rhythms. Nanna could only listen, laugh, and say "yeah".

There were lots of awkward silences that weren't really awkward. Because of the dementia, they were half-awkward silences. She wasn't able to identify the awkwardness, rather I think time had lost its meaning to her, as she floated from one word, one face to the next.

An old favourite topic, "What's Shaun doing these days?", came up. Mum started to explain Virtual Reality, which she'd only just learned about in the car ride down. I quickly jumped in, saying, "In the future, everyone will have glasses with computers in them," and I put my hands to my face, trying to look like a clown with binoculars. She loved a bit of clowning around.

It should have been funny.

Nanna raised a wobbling curved finger and clawed at the corner of her eye. No, she won't see it.

She won't see the Virtual Reality tourists hopping between Egypt and Mars. She won't see teams of Augmented Reality gamers fighting giant Pokemon in the street. She won't chat with me in Facebook Spaces while I'm releasing a major update for my users.

But I will see it - I will make it.

My other Nanna died last year, and my Auntie said that if she'd been born 50 years later, she would have been in Tech or Engineering. I used to think, if I was born 20 years earlier, I would have owned a book store. Now I'm here, in this time, and my eyes are open. Digital experiences are about to explode.

I see it now.


VR Potion Bubble Bending


Sketching VR: Dragon Dentist and Epic Monsters

I loaded up Google Blocks to sketch out a Dragon Dentist game, and brainstorm ideas for epic-sized enemies.


Aetherball: Easter Sprint

This Easter I've been working on my VR project, Aetherball. I decided to approach it as a kind of solo sprint, to produce something playable.

I separated my time into the following:

  • Concept
  • Core
  • Level
  • Art
  • Sound

Saturday: Concept

I found the easiest way to settle on a concept was using tonnes of images and short sentences, which is why I put it all into a Powerpoint presentation. The presentation is 30 minutes long, and it's not truly a pitch - it's more of a motivational piece, verbalising and visualising concepts that I've been connecting mentally. It's a snapshot of what I'm most excited about in the VR/AR space.

Sunday: Level design

I took on level design with a simple aim: to lay out groups of targets with timers. If the player can trigger all the targets in a group, then the group disappears. The purpose of this level is to establish the expectations of the core mechanic. So in a sense, this is a kind of test and training ground.

Monday: Core development

I have implemented a first version of the flow mechanic; the player can wave their hands around, and the balls or "elements" will smoothly follow that path. I plugged in the teleselection mode I developed the week before, and put together the above video.

Tuesday: Work :(

Wednesday: Art

I had work in the afternoon, but I managed to learn and apply some noisy toon rim shaders to my balls, which is good enough for now...

Thursday: Sound

I was relying on an overnight download (Sonniss, see previous post) to give me sound effects, and on Thursday discovered that it didn't have what I want. Instead, I decided to make this a "career" day and post some updates. This was inspired by a recent video showing off the office of a large Melbourne game studio.


Cosmic Weedkiller: The Game

Source: shaunnortonAU on Vimeo

I took a day off on my birthday this year to delve into my new Vive and Unity. I had an idea a few days ago where the player would "grab" incoming balls and rapidly release them in a line to eliminate enemies. I wanted it to feel like a smooth, constantly moving sequence of actions in which the player doesn't need to click or hold any trigger.

The morning started with a quick brainstorm on theme. I settled on an idea of a "Cosmic Weedkiller" in the vein of Bard from League of Legends - a character who has the job of maintaining balance. I wrote a short design doc outlining the core loop and identifying entities and actions or "verbs":

Core Loop
- Player picks up 2 lanterns
- A flower is vulnerable for a time, then grows the plant further
- Balls are fired from beacons on the map
- Player grabs 2 balls, activating a link between lanterns
- Player releases the link and it moves in a direction
- The link can destroy multiple flowers
- Link can ignite shrines to activate a checkpoint
- When the plants are all cleared, a boss emerges

Entities
- World
- Plant
- Flower
- Beacon
- Ball
- Player
- Lanterns (type of Prism)
- Link
- Shrine

I took some detours through the day to explore shaders and hinge physics. By the end of the day, I had something that could be called a "game" - see the video above. It is interesting, challenging, and it has a win state. I will need to fine-tune the alignment of the lanterns (the beam is difficult to aim because it is off-center relative to the hand). The next step is to make the level more interesting. I recently watched a talk by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild developers, which has opened my eyes to the exponential options a player is given when the game is designed with several basic actions that interact; another talk by the developers of Journey made me think about how to approach game design with player emotion at the core; finally, a talk by the writers of Portal 2 reminded me that prototypes and old ideas can be recycled later.

video game art print based on concept art for video game journey for playstation

I've almost finished reading Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. The magic systems in his books are very logical and provide plenty of action. When I was first getting into Unity 2 weeks ago, I felt like I was both designing a magic system, and feeling what it's like to use it. I've now designed energy balls, shields, swords that fire slices, and swords that fire homing missiles. I think I may keep going, and build a library of cool interactions and effects. I briefly considered whether I should come up with a "studio" name, and .Do(magic) popped into my mind.


I got a Vive, never felt so alive!

I got a Vive, and that more or less explains my lack of updates. I've been digging in to Unity game design. I am experimenting with projectiles, swords, shields and lasers. I feel really proud of my progress thus far in Unity, and cannot wait to share it with you. Game engines have come a long way from where they were last time I looked, back in 2008.

A little hickup in getting the Vive was that I discovered my desktop's HDMI ports don't work at all, and I can't figure out why. So I've switched computers with my boyfriend, and that transition has left me feeling a bit in the lurch. While I've got Unity and SteamVR here, everything else like Office, Photoshop, my documents, are still on my own PC, which is more powerful if it weren't broken.

I applied unsuccessfully for a job at a Virtual Reality place. I continue to work in my sport marketing placement, where I mostly do internal quality assurance and data entry with very little exposure to client work, though I hope to get involved in qualitative feedback soon, and anything esports-related. My job plan is to keep on the look-out for a "perfect" job in the first half of the year, and in the second half I'll widen the net.

I have my last summer exam for Statistics tomorrow. This year (2018) at university will consist of 7 marketing units and 1 final business unit. I switched from Event Management to Marketing as a result of better understanding of the Events role, and realised I wanted to do something slightly different. I am considering product management and/or community management - some kind of role between consumer and engineer - around games and/or experiential marketing. I see potential avenues being in analytics or social media management.

I'll share my Virtual Reality game with you soon - I promise!

p.s. The service at Harvey Norman Maribyrnong was atrocious.


Learning Unity & Blender

I'm learning Unity and Blender in my spare time, so I can make some of my ideas come to life. In the long-term, game development will not be my field, but it will help to understand the tools and work flows. My goal is to produce a virtual reality multiplayer strategic ball game; I'm calling it Sourceball.

My Unity learning plan

I've broken down the elements of the game to discrete building blocks. As I approach each element, I will draw from various tutorials such as shooter games, physics-based ball games, and so on. The first few items on my list are:

  • First-person POV, movement and actions
  • Sprint
  • Basic user interface
  • Basic level design
  • Throw ball
  • Throw ball harder
  • Throw and explode ball
  • Detect ball collision
  • Walled off play area
  • Bounce ball off walls
  • Trail effect on ball
  • Block ball
  • UI for hit/miss feedback
  • Block high and low
  • Ball node
  • Node claim zone

This is a very exciting time to be getting into the 3D interactive space, as I believe VR/AR is the next leap beyond the web browser.

My previous 3D experience

While I fumbled around the Blender interface, I was reflecting on my past in 3D art. I've included two pictures below. I modelled the wand in 3DS Max about 2007. The Team Fortress 2 pose used the Source Filmmaker application with existing assets.

The two tutorials I have used are: Roll a Ball and Blender Beginner Tutorial


I hit the “on” button

I soon turn 31 years old, and I’d like to reflect on the past year.

At the beginning of 2017, I was working full-time in my own retail business, and also part-time in office administration. The business had stabilised into a steady downward trend, and I thought there was nothing I could do to fix it, because I had already given it 100%. I tried to be creative in marketing and provide a unique customer experience, but at the end of they day, I was limited by the location of the store, and the products I could stock. I didn’t know what the future would hold for the business, but it wasn’t looking good.

In the week before my 30th birthday, I was playing around with the idea of converting the shop into an escape room. I wanted to design an experience. I had had enough of selling physical objects, designed by someone else, manufactured in a third-world country, and delivered in bubble wrap. I needed to have more power over the offering. My escape room idea was essentially a zombie-horse-outbreak scenario, to capitalise on Halloween and my location in Flemington, during the Spring Races. Virtual reality seemed like a far-off thing, so I didn’t look into it much.

I had somewhat of a crisis that week, cleaning out the storeroom of the shop. I was preparing for my birthday party with close family, and considered playing some old cassettes that had followed me through the ages. These cassettes have recordings of 1990’s radio (yes, the commercials are hilarious) interspersed with me singing nursery rhymes and “Aga-doo, doo doo, push pineapple shake the tree” - a song banned from the BBC in 1984 for being shit. The crisis occurred to me while thinking back to myself as a 7-year-old, how many crazy hopes and ideas I’ve had since then, and how little I’ve done. Twenty-three years of random activities amounting to not much at all - it wouldn’t have meant anything to that naive kid, but it meant something to me as I approached 30.

I did what any rational person would do: enrol in university the next day.

From the first day back at university, until now in late Summer 2018, I’ve completed 10 units: 9 core and 1 events. I’ve taken the lead in all my team projects, I’ve engaged with teachers, barely missed a class. I got credit for 6 prior units, and completed 2 summer units - which means I finish my degree in 2 years, not 3. I got a tonne of High Distinctions. Why the hell did I drop out all those other times?

 

I guess I woke up and hit the “on” button. And now I don’t want to stop.

I’m joining a dodgeball team so I can get fit and ponder a dodgeball-like virtual esport. I constantly keep 5+ books checked out of the library. I’ve spoken with a virtual reality creator from Japan, and considered being a sales representative. I’ve attended a Google Tiltbrush tournament. I’ve attended esports business networking events. I’ve tried out a VR zombie experience, and applied to work for them. I’ve started a blog. I walked in a gay marriage march down the city streets.

What’s in store for 2018…

This year will be all about Marketing. I am taking all second and third year marketing units in a single year. I’m looking for part-time work in VR or experiential marketing. I plan to graduate in 2018, get married in January 2019, and travel to Tokyo in 2020.