Living the minimal life

My whole childhood I have been collecting junk. I have been buying and keeping things for no apparent reason at all and then dumping them in my room. When I started living outside of home, mainly hitching around, I realised the value of having a small amount of things, because you must be able to carry them on your back. Fit them in a single backpack and then carry it around with you (thank God for Kindles!). This changed my perception on material things and their use.

Although, I haven’t stopped myself from collecting things and dumping them in my room, it got a lot better on its own. What I posses now in my actual bedroom (back in Bulgaria), are either things from before or things that I haven’t gotten around to throwing out – yet. But moving to university in the UAE made things so much simpler. I had only two suitcases allowed and my obsession with clothes and shoes (they are not junk to me) made sure I won’t be brining in any other items of questionable value.

5 Objects

Thus to describe the atmosphere of my lifestyle here is very easy: my bedroom is white, my sheets are white, my walls are white, my candle is white. As a proper human fitting in the collective all of my things are white, so that is the first very important contributing factor to the atmosphere – a white bed. I have a fluffy light purple blanket, which is to me a symbol of the fact that there is a soul living in the room, and so it is an important part. A laptop next to the pillow to represent the “stay in bed but on the internet” life that I live. The plain above mentioned candle to show my love for the night and fire.

This description of the atmosphere comes quite close to the reality of my bedroom right now. However, there is a part of it that cannot be portrayed but only represented by a symbol – there are clothes literally everywhere, on the floor, on the bed. Everywhere, but the actual wardrobe. So, I decided to represent the openness of my love for clothes by an coat hanger.

In five objects I can give a pretty solid representation to my reality, which makes me feel that I manage to represent the atmosphere quite right.

2 Objects

In order to represent the atmosphere of my bedroom with only two objects I will pick the fluffy blanket and the laptop. This way I am removing the effect of the all-white environment which suggests a room similar to an asylum room, which is key to the atmosphere here. However, I still keep the feeling of solitude and also a suggestion of my window to the world – the laptop.

Primitives

By using only shapes I can keep the atmosphere of my room. I would use a semi-transparent sphere to replace the room, bed, and blanket, which provides comfort and solitude. On the side of the sphere there will be a rectangular cut, or “window” that will stand for my laptop and my engagement with the world.

I feel that a sphere with a window for an “eye” is quite the popular si-fi concept and quite well resembles both the atmosphere of my room and also my whole being as well.

Up is Down and Down is Up

The unlimited possibilities of VR turn out to be a problem from me rather than a liberation. As times passes and I have to come up with more and more ideas about VR I am realizing how limited my mental space has become. Although, I have always been on the creative side in writing, coding, creating in any possible way, my brain has become limited by the limited resources that I have (I guess that is just growing up and facing reality does). And now this new VR opportunity presents a mind-bothering issue.

I mentally went through any superpower and magical thing that I can think of and then on my own found them all to be already existent in one video game or another, not necessarily in VR. So, I set out to think of something which would engage more senses in VR and would thus make use of how real it all seems once you put the headset on. Seeing and hearing have been engaged for decades now, movement is engaged in HTC VIVE as well. But I wanted to dig deeper, engage the unseeable – our sense of spacial position and balance.

Readily in my mind came the movie Inception and how by manipulating spacial position the characters were able to do many things. And then into mind came the concept of the impossible staircase.

Relativity
July 1953
Lithograph
27.7×29.2cm

The only way to go through this maze is if you are able to rotate your space according to the position of the next staircase. “Up” and “down” become not something set, but something you have control over. In this manner one becomes more aware of their vestibular sense. In real life almost no one (except of aeronauts and people using fly machines) pays much attention to this sense because special equipment is needed in order to affect it. For us the sky is always up and the Earth is down. However, like everything these concepts are subjective and not set, but for evolutionary purposes we have gotten used to calibrate according to these two big objects that are always in sight.

Thus, a game that makes you break the tradition of up and down can cause some trouble for most people. It is incredibly important for coordination and balance to know which is where, so when this certainty is removed many people might feel sick. But just like any other sense or muscle you have to go through the pain and trouble in order to improve. So, I feel like this has an application in body training and also poses a challenge.

It is also a challenge to make. For the past week I have been trying to create a level of impossible staircases and it is very hard for me to imagine everything in 3D while imagining to change my spatial rotation. Using other softwares like TiltBrush allows me to better imagine how it might look like, but it is still a struggle to open up my mindset to remove the usual concepts of up and down. Which makes me believe even further that having a way to learn it (like in such a game) will bring us closer to unravelling our full human potential.

As a second interaction me and my group discussed scaling of the world, similar to the beginning of Alice in Wonderland. This makes the design of the level even harder; however, it also works very well to present an “out-of-the-box” way of thinking. It is an interaction that again messes with one’s mind-set about position and control over the world that they are in.

Fire All Mighty

Life

My idea behind the creation of my first project for Cardboard had many dimensions – social, humanitarian, and pure joy of creation. I portrayed a calm night in a forest, with a full moon in the distance and peaceful background of night bugs singing. This whole utopia was extended by a not-so-utopian factor – it was all on fire. There were fires burning everywhere around the player, their sounds blazing and covering the peaceful melody of the night. The only possible interaction with the environment was to shoot out more fireballs, thus making the player unable to prevent the disaster from happening, she could only make it worse.

In the social context lays the first interpretation of my project. It is about the literal destruction that humans cause in Nature. It is our involvement that only makes it worse, as we are unable to turn back time and prevent the disaster from happening in the first place.

The second interpretation of my project is a little bit more subtle. I imagined this forest as a mind map of human brain and consciousness with its sulci and gyrus as the terrain, a mountain, on which ideas, trees, grow. When destruction, or depression, or any other mental condition takes over – the fires – often times the individual cannot stop it from happening by rushing to take some action, shooting fireballs in my example, and should stay calm and just take it all in; let it flow through them. To me this is a very important issue, both because of my own recent and not so recent struggles, but also because I have come to realise that many people suffer in their everyday lives because they are not willing to stay calm and let go. I wanted to show this struggle and also give a way out of it – listening to the peaceful sounds, looking around and enjoying what one has. This works in the context of NYUAD because we live in a desert so such forests are not present but they are still highly appreciated by many here.
Of course, it can be interpreted also as the inability for humans to prevent entropy and a metaphor for our ongoing struggle. This is a more dark interpretation, but still a valid one.

Lastly, I enjoy forests and fire, and I wanted to experience it. Virtual reality allows to interact with fire like never before, like a superpower, and to be able to manipulate it in previously impossible ways. It empowers people, which makes them feel good.

On the topic of creation I will now say a few words about the actual code behind the project. For the fires spread around the forest I used a free asset available in Unity Store, which had the fires and their sounds already prepared for me. The background, the terrain, the forests and the moon I made using already existing in Unity options. For the realistic forest sounds I used a free recording from a forest I found online.

Shooting the fire, my interaction, was naturally the hardest one to make. At first I wanted to use the Fire Assets’s options; however, I learned that reading someone else’s code and being able to understand, and use it, is not always the most straightforward thing and I was unable to do it. So, I did what my professor recommend me – “Why not make it yourself?”

Thus, I created a particle system that I connected to the Cardboard trigger with an if function, so that only when you press the trigger it fires. Then I got the position of the player’s view in order to make the particles shoot in the right field of view. Using the position and rotation of the camera I told the particle system to go in that direction with the Instantiate function.

My biggest problem was making the particles move uniformly in the direction in which they were shot, because by default they spread around. In the update function of their script I added a transform.forward function multiplies by the time it takes them to travel, which I could control. Then I used a material and sound effect from the Fire Asset to attach to my particles so that they look like little fireballs.

If I had to work more on this project I would do the following:

  • make the fires in the forest appear gradually for the purpose of player immersion
  • make a single particle when triggering the button
  • make the particle induce fire where it lands – this would be made by checking if there is anything on the way of the particle with a Raycast function and then triggering a fire asset or particle system on a spot, defined by the location of the original particle, when the raycast function returns a small distance 0.4f(for example)

First Contact (or my favorite interaction)

When you touch another human being there are a lot of ‘defences’ that trigger. Personal space, peripheral neurones, societal concepts, personal understanding of the matter and many more. For the most part, especially since I have been living in a muslim country, I have learned that touching someone is too private for many and it is not a great way to establish first contact. Handshakes, a manner of the West, serve exactly the purpose to break these defences and force people to establish a more intimate and honest interaction, however, not everyone is used to this manner.

So, I have learned to establish first contact in another way, a more distanced way that allows people to remain calm and mindful in the interaction – giving them an object. It is almost the same as a handshake, however, the spacial distance that the object provides and the inanimate touch that it gives make the interaction process more subtle and smooth, without the explicit feeling. Of course, the more subtle something is the less people notice it, so you can say that often times this interaction is one sided, but not always, which makes it even more exciting for me to participate in.

An example of such an interaction is the mythological story of Prometheus who gave fire to the people. It was one sided and included no physical contact but it is the greatest gift from the gods to humanity and it is essential for their survival. Like the Doors sang “come on baby, light my fire” there is a lot to giving things to people that stays below the surface of explicit interactions. My personal favourite is giving someone a lighter. It is a very mixed-blessing interaction to being with – satisfying a desire, and poisoning at the same time. Its importance is overlooked by most people because it is such a small mundane event but I see the irony and thus very carefully consider people’s involvement in it.

Furthermore, giving something to someone unexpectedly or without him asking, is also beautiful and unpredictable in results. The moment you stretched arm meets the other person’s, even with the object barrier in between, you kind of get connected. In many sci-fi works there is an object that symbolises this connection, that serves as a transmitter better than a normal touch. I think having a special object to emphasise the importance of making a connection, amplifies the interaction and minimises the feeling of it. So it is a thing for people who care.