HistoryMaker VR is a virtual reality puppeting tool for middle and high school classrooms. Over the course of two months, we built this proof of concept where players use a full-body puppet to take on the role of Ben Franklin. 

What's HistoryMaker?

Project Overview

Game Details

Game built for: Schell Games - Phase I SBIR Grant

- Genre: VR puppeting tool for classrooms

Platform: Oculus Rift

Game Engine: Unity

- My roles: Project Director · Design Director

Logistics Breakdown

- Year: 2018

- Project Duration: 2 months

- Core Team size: 10

  • Laura Norwicke - Producer

  • Michael Lee, Mike Traficante, Rachel Gu - Engineers

  • Josh Hendrix, Niara Chambers, Ross Kimball - Artists

  • Abby Ince - Rigger

  • Brooke Morrill - Grant writer

  • Julian Korzeniowsky - Audio designer

  • QA Team

HistoryMaker VR Logo

Gameplay

About HistoryMaker

  • Main gameplay loop: take control of VR puppet, record a performance, leave puppet, watch performance

  • Performances can be performed live using an external screen or recorded for later playback

  • Tool can theoretically be used for a number of in-class activities developed by history teachers

  • Ben Franklin VR puppet includes a number of features to make the performance more lifelike, including:

    • Automatic eye look and blinking​
    • Easy-to-use facial expressions (e.g. surprised, angry, sad)

    • Hand gestures (e.g. pointing, fist)

    • Auto lip flap that matches the noise from the headset's microphone

    • Natural orientations for grabbed objects

    • Full upper body articulation and foot shuffle for larger full-body movements

  • Stage included three key tools in addition to the puppet:​

    • Mirror Mode: With Mirror Mode activated, players could see a version of their puppet appear a few feet away from them, which helped players get a sense for how the puppet controls worked

    • Teleprompter: Players could load prepared speech notes into the teleprompter​ to use during their performances

    • Cameras: Players could watch their playback through one of several cameras placed around the theater

  • Proof of concept shipped with an in-game tutorial that was both student and teacher friendly as well as more in-depth documentation for teachers​

  • Project was made possible by a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) government grant

Becoming Ben Franklin
Becoming Ben Franklin

In HistoryMaker VR, you use VR to take on the role of Ben Franklin.

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Getting Into Character
Getting Into Character

In addition to a number of props, you can complete your performance with a selection of hand and facial gestures.

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Play It Back
Play It Back

Once you've recorded a performance, you can leave the puppet and play back your performance from a seat in the audience.

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Becoming Ben Franklin
Becoming Ben Franklin

In HistoryMaker VR, you use VR to take on the role of Ben Franklin.

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Process

HistoryMaker VR - teleprompter design
HistoryMaker VR - controller remapping chat
HistoryMaker VR - hand control

Documentation for Teachers

  • As part of the external testing process, we created a set of documentation for teachers, including information like:

    • The app's purpose​

    • In-depth tutorials

    • How to use the video recording software that we had included

    • A set of suggested classroom activities that the app could help facilitate

My Contributions

  • Directed the team of devs in building the proof of concept from the ground up

  • Created and maintained design documents for features like the in-game teleprompter, the facial and puppet hand controls, the object pickup system, the puppet itself, the UI tools, the performance recording suite, etc. 

  • Worked with Laura (the producer) and studio execs to maintain project schedule and staffing

  • Made decisions about feature direction, team feature assignments, and project priorities

  • Prepared builds and documentation for the RAND Corporation, a third-party testing company that gathered data in accordance with the grant

  • Coordinated with studio execs, history teachers, the RAND Corporation, and other stakeholders to make sure we were targeting features that would be the most useful for classroom use

  • Assisted studio in preparing materials to submit for the Phase II of the SBIR grant, which we then received (read more)

Documentation for Teachers
Documentation for Teachers

In addition to building the software, we put together an introductory packet for teachers.

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High Level Design
High Level Design

We used storyboards to describe the app's purpose and features.

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Classroom Activities
Classroom Activities

Since by itself, the app doesn't offer specific classroom activities, we included a number of suggestions in our teacher packet.

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Documentation for Teachers
Documentation for Teachers

In addition to building the software, we put together an introductory packet for teachers.

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