From the 15th-17th of January, four Sound and Music Computing-students participated in the Virtual Reality Hackathon event in Brussels. After four Hackathons in the United States, Microsoft Innovation Center and Impulse Brussels among other sponsors organised the first VR hackathon of this kind in Europe.
This event called for participants ranging from game developers and designers, storytellers and audio designers to innovators with the purpose of networking and developing not just games, but immersive storytelling experiences, data visualisation and new collaboration tools.
The Hackathon kick-started on Friday afternoon. On this first day, we had the chance to mingle with the other hackers, try out demos of different virtual reality gadgets such as the Samsung Gear VR, the HTC Vive and the Google Cardboard and finally, it was possible to pitch an idea for a project and listen to the ideas the other people had. A significant part of these ideas were for gaming, but there were also a surprising amount of ideas related to data visualisation! One of these ideas, for example, was to list politicians’ tweets and public contributions in an accessible and compelling way. Another idea was about improving visualisation of emails for a more efficient and pleasurable usage.
One of the ideas we liked was an interesting new approach to storytelling in which the viewer was immersed in the story. A first idea was an escape room; an adventure game in which the participant is locked in a room and has to find clues using elements of the room to find the way out. After talking with the group behind this idea (two girls from a cinema school in Stuttgart), we thought that the cues could be sonic cues and the player could find them by listening carefully and interacting with them. We all liked the idea and we decided to form a group. Two more members from the same school decided to join us as well. The next day, we split up depending on the tasks we decided to work on. While some of us were creating the storyline, others started to set up the audio engine and creating the graphics. In the afternoon, we already had the script of the story which was decided to be a drama. We changed the first idea of doing an escaping game, and instead of that, we decided to do a story where the player had to interact with the elements of the room to continue with the story - like watching a movie from a first perspective so to speak. We recorded, designed, edited and searched the sounds needed for the story. As time was short, it was also great to experience how everyone was dedicated to solve the problems that arose and to come up with good solutions. All in all, the Hackathon was a great experience to get to know the state-of-the-art technology for Virtual Reality, to meet people from different backgrounds sharing ideas and knowledge and to start a project that one might even continue working on after the Hackathon.