Journey from Hologram.cool to native VR and 2018.

I — Hologram.cool ?

Do you remember ? A few months ago – at the beginning of August 2017 — I was launching Hologram.cool — a tool to help web creators get into webVR and prototype for this new medium. A few weeks later I would put the project on hold to focus on native VR. Here is the brief story of what happened.

In early 2017, I worked on an iOS and Android app for a few months (I will not get into details, maybe I will write about it later). Whenever I had some free time, I would explore A-Frame: a webVR framework that allows you to get into 3D/AR/VR with ease and fun using simple HTML.

Coming from a 2D background, adding a new dimension was a total change of paradigm and it felt like new creative possibilities were now open to me.

One day, my friend Karan Ganesan sent a link for a landing page of an upcoming tool that was named webvrstudio.com. This tool would allow you to create a webVR scene without the need for code and was built on top of A-Frame. Truth being told, I really wanted this tool for myself. Unfortunately it was not yet available. However, I did not want to stop there, instead I wanted to improve on this project and create a simple tool that would allow people to get into webVR with a great looking interface as well as the possibility to interact programmatically with a VR scene to add more advanced interactions. And last but not least, it had to be fun to use.

A few months passed, when in June I started to write the first few lines of code of this new project. My first instinct was to use Cocoa to create a native mac app but it would have taken too long to get something working. Instead I opted for ElectronJS. For about seven weeks, I worked day in and day out to bring Hologram to life.

Because I was impatient and because I was too excited to publish this project, the launch was completely chaotic. I wanted to ship as soon as possible to see if people would be even interested in it. Turns out, you were, however I forgot to run basic tests and naturally, I ended up having some stupid bugs on day 1. It was definitely an overwhelmed time. Nevertheless, I met with incredible people, and if you are reading this you might be one of them!

II — Native VR

Two weeks after launch, I would release version “2.0”, an improved version with a bunch a new features. The turning point occurred when I went to New York to met with Jason Toff — product manager at Google VR — this meeting radically shifted my vision towards virtual reality.

I felt like I had to stop everything I was currently doing and just dive deeper into VR … native VR. I realised AR/VR were the creative doors I wanted to enter. I had to keep looking, keep exploring. Jason was the push I needed to trust myself and not settle too soon. Leave no stone unturned.

In the meantime, I felt deeply depressed, for some reason my mind would want to push my heart to continue with Hologram because people were actually using it. I started to work on Hologram 3.0 except I had a new quest that I needed to take. I was back in the unknown, at the bottom of a new creative mountain to climb.

A few days after my visit to New York, I decided to get an HTC Vive. “Wow”! Indeed, coming from the cardboard (and DK2 on a macbook a few years earlier), this was absolutely insane ! At first, I really wanted to explore VR for Web from top to bottom. I started to write my own A-Frame components, then started to explore ThreeJS entirely and as well as trying to understand and use shaders, to end up switching completely to Unity and C#. I spent four months learning Unity and native VR as well as modelling tools. From VRTK to handle VR interactions, Unity shaders, building small/crappy games, to creating VR avatars using Final IK. I also explored a lot of source code from Unity third party scripts to understand how they were made.

Compared to a 2D apps or webapps, a native VR experience requires a lot more work and various 3D skills to create something worth downloading/buying. In other words not really something I can do on my own at the moment.

The primary reason for this journey was for me to understand in details how to build VR experiences from scratch and being able to create my own. Secondarily, I was seeking the best approach to let people explore the frontier of their own reality in a creative way.

At this point I can look back at creative apps like Google Blocks, Tilt Brush or even Facebook Spaces, know how it works behind the scenes and think about what could be next. In my mind, you should never let technology limit your thinking but also you need to understand many technical aspects of technology to think about valid ideas.

Conclusion

This has been a wild ride since August, I have been learning a lot and unfortunately not sharing enough — I was in what I call “Monk mode” or observing consciously and learning silently.

If you are a 2D developer/creator wanting to get into XR(3D,AR,VR), try A-Frame and don’t be afraid to explore native VR as it will help you understand all the basics of game development. The switch is not easy — it was pretty weird– you suddenly have to use entirely different tools with new workflows, still I would recommend it.

I hope to be more active this year and above all, meet and talk with you guys. If you want to chat about anything, you are more than welcome to do so (on Twitter 🐦)!

Lastly — in 2018–I want to commit on a project for the long run, it’s time. Yes my friends, there is more to come (very🙊) soon… !

Thanks for reading ! 😘

– Etienne