Like many businesses we are making the best of it and working hard to maintain progress with client projects, most of which have been unaffected by the lockdown. Business must go on as normal, so we’re now trying to settle into our Business-As-Almost-Normal routine. This is how we’re getting on.
Toby – Boss, mentor, friend and all-round wonderful human being, leading from home
It’s a strange old time. If League Tables of Difficulty are your thing, then I guess none of us at MXTreality would make it into the Top Ten but the unusual circumstances of this pandemic do bring challenges for everyone. We’re trying to be mindful of each other’s circumstances and adapt where we need to.
Working peripatetically (plenty of time to use the dictionary) seems to be ok for the team. I am struggling, still, to ensure that they all take breaks and have downtime – we are getting our Virtual Pub built as a side project.
However, we’re busy too. Three calls this week regarding the virtiualisation of event spaces which could be quite an exciting space for us. In the meantime I’m focusing on getting some articles written so watch this space…
Josh – Programme Manager
Quite a typical week, this week. We are reaching the end of the ‘Eyes and Ears’ component of the customer experience solution for our client Highways England – more on this elsewhere.
It’s due to be delivered soon and we’re ahead of schedule, which perhaps shows working remotely has actually increased the team’s productivity. My role was facilitating client tweaks, sourcing voice over artists and prioritising work items.
We also spent time discussing the concept of a virtual event brief we just received, which is an immediate response to social distancing guidelines. But long term, remote and virtual conferences could well become a viable answer to the large environmental impact of events and conferences – just that alone, makes it quite an exciting brief.
Lastly, I have been doing some initial research and planning for changes to the MXTreality’s website. Not enough to talk about just yet but I will probably use much of my blog space in the coming weeks to document how we get on. Very meta.
Cat – Lead Programmer
This week I’ve been getting used to working from home and spent some more time setting up the hardware we’ll be using – a very powerful PC and the Varjo XR-1 headset.
We’ve suffered a couple of teething issues with missing adapters making the setup tough, all made slower by everyone being at home. I’ve had to be doubly careful and methodical as I set things up as I don’t have the other team members on hand with their typical useful advice!
I also spent time preparing the Unity project ready for the main development. Following our pipeline experiments the other week, we’re working hard to identify any issues at the start, rather than be surprised by them later.
Documenting this part of the process will undoubtedly increase the speed with which we can start projects in the future. Kyung has done a great job of outlining a pipeline from the artists’ perspective, so now I’ve got to try to do the same for the programmers.
Lastly, I took a few hours to start writing a Discord bot (called Tobot – guess why?). As Discord now forms a core part of our work-from-home toolset it makes sense to make it as useful as possible, firstly with daily reminders for the team.
As it’s a fully-fledged custom application, we’ll be able to get it to do just about anything, including integrating it with Jira and Gitlab, two more of our most-used tools.
Sergio – Programmer
Given the current challenges of the lockdown restricting our ability to record new voice and animations with actors in our office, my focus was mostly on our hazards on the road experience.
With our old bendy road, it feels like I have been driving for ages since each part of it consists of sitting in the Traffic Office’s virtual vehicle and trying to see if the last feature I just implemented, works as expected.
Our quality assurance (QA) process requires many iterations which results in me driving from A to B many times, but fortunately, our recently implemented speed variable allows us to skip unnecessary parts.
I have been populating the road with familiar structures such as directional signs, electric boxes and gantries, all of which are very important details, as they help the viewer perceive reality in the virtual environment.
It is crucial to understand the balance between a well-populated space where objects have a purpose versus overpopulated which can essentially break the immersion. For this reason, we follow accurately motorway construction spacing guidelines while placing the structures along the road.
It’s important to understand that the amount of information being processed at any one time can slow and distract the user’s focus from the goal of the training, which is why we position structures in an orderly sequence to drive the user’s attention to desired angles of their peripherical vision.
Slava – Lead 3D Artist
This week I was working on a large number of relatively small, but important tasks. I made several new talking animations for new characters, which included a specific setup of each character for lip synchronisation of blend shapes.
Another task was modelling of demarcation hazard, which is compatible with specific road bending shader and hazard systems in our project. I also prepared a new car for traffic by merging interior into the car body and adding more detail.
I also continued work on a presentation video about the workflow here at MXTreality, which may make it to the new-look website. Finally, I made predefined indication on gantry monitors for our ‘Eyes and Ears’ project.
Stefano – 3D Artist
This week started by finishing my dog animation, with its new bark. I also created the facial expression for every character from the last project, giving Slava the ability to create the lip-sync animation, he talks about earlier in this blog. Then I animated all the gestures of the different characters getting inspiration from the audio file.
When undertaking the animations manually, it’s challenging to imagine the details of the person’s movement. Every detail and timing of the movement helps add to what the subject is trying to communicate – and sometimes things that are involuntarily expressed. A fun and satisfying week.
Kyung-Min – 3D Generalist
Working from home is blurring the line between work and rest, but there’s something special about waking up in the midst of a lockdown to drive down a virtual motorway and suddenly see trees spawning off into the sky.
The spawning is an error in the world we had created and one we must fix, but I enjoyed watching this surreal scene as the trees flew into the sky as if to reveal a hidden path, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of serenity.
I spent time this week focusing on the documentation of progress in JIRA, through images and descriptions of work done including the many bugs or issues behind the scenes.
The business is healthy and it’s a great comfort to know it cares for us with regular check-ins to ensure we are all well and have everything we need, be it the latest and most powerful NWME M.2 SSDs (can’t wait to benchmark their transfer rates!!) or something as simple as toilet paper!
During our team VR meetup, amongst the joys of walking through bugs together or drawing in the 3d space as a team, I experienced something truly special that I will remember the rest of my life, the closest thing to a first MXTreality group hug – tough in the real-world given thefear of being touched (aphenphosmphobia) that I experienced when I was younger.
Who knows what next week will bring and what wonders I might see, but all I know right now is that these trees need to return to their hills!
Jordi Caballol – Programmer
This week we’ve continued the work in the infinite runner, in my case polishing the random generation of the road and its surroundings to deliver a better and more realistic scenario, whilst making it possible to adjust different aspects, like the weather, in runtime.
This, combined with the terrains that Kyung has been working on, led to a huge improvement in the visuals of the experience, adding more variety and quality to create a truly immersive environment.
Aside from the infinite runner, I’ve also put a lot of work in the menus of the application, adding the functionality required to navigate between the different experiences and to unlock new experiences as we complete them.