Campus / News / May 3, 2018

Class explores creating virtual realities

Senior Errol Kaylor demonstrates the virtual reality game his group made in CS 332: Software Engineering. (Dan Perez/TKS)

Working in a tight space with four other students, six computer monitors and a chalkboard covered in writing, senior Errol Kaylor dryly commented on the team’s difficulties as they worked out remaining bugs in their virtual reality project less than a week before they had to present at SMC-Down.

“So, it’s possible we have just destroyed our project,” he said.

Kaylor and his group’s project, titled Gimbal’s Field, allows a user wearing a headset to be surrounded by stars and explore the constellations of the night sky.

“We wanted an experience that is not something we already experience in everyday life,” senior Jamie Nguyen said on why her team chose to do a stargazing simulator.

They are one among three teams working on separate virtual reality projects for professor Monica McGill’s CS 332: Software Engineering course. For most students in the class, it was their first experience working with virtual reality software.

“The fact that it’s VR has had a learning curve for sure … it’s a lot of learning from mistakes,” sophomore Patrick Steppan said.

While some of the students had past experience with game design, creating a convincing 3D virtual reality was full of intricate challenges for the students.

“Making crickets sound like they come from over there and the fire crackling sound like it’s coming from the fire [was difficult],” Steppan said.

With the students’ projects varying from stargazing to a flight simulator to a haunted house game, McGill noted the various applications the technology had, highlighting the zen mode featured in Gimbal’s Field.

“It can be pretty calming … you’re looking at stars but there’s a campfire, there’s a lot of audio going on, cricket sounds and other ambient sounds … it’s almost like a destressing type environment,” she said.

On the opposite end was the horror game and Temple Run-inspired project, whose team members included senior Lydia Ha and junior Nhi Cung, in which players are chased in a haunted house by monsters.

“You feel like you are in a real horror movie,” Cung said.

Ha discussed the kind of intense experience that virtual reality provides, noting that she herself got motion sickness from experiencing certain 360 degree flips within the game. While that was a specific effect her team hoped to remove, she did say it was fun seeing how strongly testers reacted to the game.

“Some people, they’re not used to VR and they didn’t know that you only need to use your head to move, they moved their whole body … a lot of them screamed too, so that was fun,” she said.

Cung, who had previously taken a 2D game design course at Knox, enjoyed that the project allowed her to combine her interests.

“I’m very interested in like creating things that have something to do with CS but related to art and visual stuff É it’s something really attractive to me,” Cung said.

This is the first time Knox students have gotten to directly work with VR technology. McGill has just introduced it into this course and hopes to continue using it to instruct students.

“Now that we have them, we can hopefully do more with them in the future as well … virtual reality is not going away, so giving students exposure to this newer technology will definitely help them,” she said.

While students were surprised by the presence of VR in the course, they were pleased with the unique experience it provided.

“It’s sort of like a class that can’t be offered at larger universities because of limited hardware, but also the fact that we’re in such small teams makes it impossible to do on a wider scale,” Steppan said.

The VR projects are serving as a capstone experience for students working toward a CS degree. The projects are getting two public presentations, first as part of SMC-Down on May 5 followed by a final presentation on May 18.

“I’m really hoping people are kind of wowed by it. Maybe that’s asking for a lot, but I think that people will definitely be like ‘oh this is so cool,’” Kaylor said.

Students were in unison about their hope that students come out to test the projects and that virtual reality was something that needed to be experienced first hand.

“Everyone is still there, but when you put on the headset, another world appears in front of you … it’s more real than I thought,” said Cung.

Carlos Flores-Gaytan

Tags:  computer science CS 332 smc SMC-Down Showcase software engineering virtual reality VR

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