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

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

Process

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)

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© 2019 by Marlena Abraham

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