SoundStage. Image courtesy of Hard Light Labs


Jamming out in VR

Last modification: 14 Sep, 2017
6 mins

If you’ve always wanted your own custom-built studio, this might be the next best thing. SoundStage lets you put together instruments, synthesizers, and other gear so you can rock out in your very own VR music studio.

Logan Olson, the one-man development team behind the VR app, discusses a few development shortcuts and some unforeseen VR hurdles.

Was SoundStage your first VR experience?

No, I started in VR almost a decade ago. My way to pay through school was doing VR prototyping at USC Institute for Creative Technologies, which is where many consider being one of the founding places of modern VR. I was doing room-scale VR, but instead of using $800 equipment, it was hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment and instead of having a Vive controller, you'd have something like a 2x4 with LEDs taped to it.

That's where I learned 3D. I got my student license and just taught myself Maya so I could model. It just escalated from there. That experience helped me transition into Walt Disney Imagineering, which is where Disney theme parks are made. I did that for a while, then hopped over to toy R&D. Then I got a personal Vive and I was like “hey, I should probably mess around with this”. 

In VR, you always gotta ask yourself “what can you do better in VR?” Beyond just copying a physical thing, ideally, you're taking advantage of what VR has to offer. Nobody was really talking about doing VR music instruments, so that became my hobby project. As it went along it, as per most hobby projects that turn into businesses, it takes up more and more of your nights and weekends until it becomes all you're doing at home. Eventually, this project culminated in a Steam release.


What did your pipeline look like?

I sketch ideas on a piece of paper and then do the bare minimum amount of modeling in Maya LT as possible. When I can, I just use greyboxing in Unity and try to set up the interactions to get a feel for what it's like with the controller and iterate from there.  I then start refining the look of it in Maya LT.

The thing is, I am by no means a formally trained, I'm not a trained engineer or artist. I just pick these things up as I go, so Maya LT felt like the right fit for my needs.

SoundStage. Image courtesy of Hard Light Labs

How did you manage the challenges of being a one-person dev team?

One of my big strategies was reducing my scope or overhead by not relying on really nice textures, but instead getting everything permanently shaded. I don't even have to worry about UVs for the most part. I can just focus on getting the forms correct and then primitively shading it. So far, I've been fortunate enough that I haven't had crazy things that made me go back to the drawing board.

Are there any VR-specific problems you came across?

There are things that are difficult because of the technology, and then there are things that are difficult because of humans.

A concrete example of that would the dials in the game. When you use the Vive controller to touch a dial, pull the trigger, grab things, that's the paradigm for my application, is it's all about touch and grab. So you touch a dial, grab it and then you twist it like you twist it in real life. If you walk up to your car stereo and you grab the dial, you're going to have to twist your wrist to turn it up or down. In VR, I'm very surprised to see people grab the dial and lift it up and down. And if that didn’t' work, they'd start to slide it left and right. After digging into it a little bit, it became clear that they were trying to operate a dial like they would on an iPad or iPhone. That's how you turn a dial on an application on a touchscreen. I think in the last eight years, smartphones and tablets have trained people to interact in a specific UI when it comes to virtual items. So to see people try to apply that to something that doesn't need to be so divorced from reality is interesting. It's something that you have to train the user out of.

That’s the stuff that's surprising in VR: how humans have left the virtual touch screen world leak into their real world. Everything's kinda blending together.

SoundStage. Image courtesy of Hard Light Labs

How do you think VR will change the entertainment industry?

I think this technology's going to have a huge effect on everything. You're basically asking “what is the effect on anything when you can make and destroy things at will in your reality?”. For creativity, that means that your creative potential is no longer blocked by what you can afford, assuming that you have this headset. What you can obtain or the space around you is largely limited by your raw creativity.

Ultimately, the effects are vast and unforeseeable, but I think what it's really gonna come down to is the ubiquity of entertainment and democratization of creativity.

SoundStage was made using Maya LT and the Unity engine. Start jamming on Steam Early Access.

  • Maya LT
  • VR
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