It's Just a Matter of Time
It’s Just a Matter of Time is an immersive interactive VR experience in which players must traverse through a looping series of transient non-places.
It’s Just a Matter of Time is an immersive interactive VR experience in which players must traverse through a looping series of transient non-places. With each repetition, elements of these spaces change reflecting the temporal malaise of the traveller. By presenting these non-places within a virtual reality, the piece aimed to draw attention to spaces that are often forgotten, even whilst within them, as well as the people who inhabit them.
Background Research And Developing Practice
“The place offers people a space that empowers their identity, where they can meet other people with whom they share social references. The non-places, on the contrary, are not meeting spaces and do not build common references to a group. Finally, a non-place is a place we do not live in, in which the individual remains anonymous and lonely.” Augé (1995)
French Anthropologist, Marc Augé, coined the term non-places (Augé, 1995). Non-places as defined by Augé refer to places of transience, like subways, bus stops or busses. It was argued that in the time of supermodernity, people in these spaces become anonymous. They are places between the here and now. I see the city as a constantly evolving source of inspiration – a heaving, breathing mass of individuals, industry and intersecting beliefs. It is these non-places that I find particularly fascinating and have become a common feature within my artistic practice. This piece represents the third installment in a series of works examining the city and our interactions with it and within it.
The first piece made in 2019 was a 2D interactive animation entitled How The City Feels created using P5.js as well as crude digital line drawings. This project featured spaces such as bus stops, buses and train stations and focused primarily on social interaction and introspection. In this project I was specifically interested in leaving the tone of the piece ambiguous. Upon play testing some people reported feelings of curiosity, sadness, relief and shared experience. I wanted to explore this topic and these reported feelings further.
In early 2020 I produced my second work within the City Series as part of the Computational Arts-Based Research and Theory module. Through this project, my work developed into looking at the non-places themselves and what effects these spaces have on our perception of time. Pulling from vast psychological literature it has been shown that being inside these non-places can cause people both over estimate and underestimate time passing (Yarmey (2000), Hess et al. (2004) and Meng, Rau and Mahardhika (2018)). We are not in control in these moments, we must move as a passenger of those with more control than us, stopping along the journey to pick up others with the same temporal affliction. It was this stuttered nature of time that I delved deeper into.
I wanted to combine elements of my previous work for my thesis project to make a piece looking at social interaction, self reflection, temporal irregularity and the monotony of travels. I wanted those experiencing these spaces to feel as though they were truly in them. This is why ultimately I decided to develop the experience within virtual reality to allow for full emersion.
COVID effected some aspects of my projects. In terms of theme I decided to incuded the home as a non place. During these times I believe that the home became a place of transience where people were left in waiting. Secondly, COVID changed how I was going to exhibit my piece. Initially, I of course wanted to people to experience the world for themselves. However, this was not allowed due to health and saftey guildlines. Therefore, I ended up doing a performative demonstration in G05. This brought in a new performative element I had not intended.
This project was created within the game engine Unity. I also decided to use the new XR Interaction Toolkit package that was recently released by Unity instead of the more robust and tested Steam VR. I did this as the Steam VR plugin comes with a vast amount of things which is fantastic when building a complex interaction system but as I was looking to only include simple interactions I decided to go with the very slimmed down new XR toolkit. This had its pros and cons. It meant ultimately that I had to write a lot of code myself and get help from my beloved VR with Andrew who recently started a youtube series on the new XR toolkit. Unlike with Steam VR plugin, I had to write/follow along with Andrew in order to just get my player moving. This was very rewarding as it meant I needed to actually think logically as to how to achieve simple tasks. For example, I needed to implement a flying mechanic for some of my scenes which hadn't been covered anywhere and so I chose to create movement based on the rotation of the players head.
The rest of the project was made with a combination of scripting, VFX/Shader Graph, photogrammetry, Kinect and 3D Modelling. Within the experience I had 6 separate scenes. The player/traveller has to move through the scene by opening doors and pushing buttons. The game keeps track of what scenes have been entered and how many times using DoNotDestroy objects that remain permanent throughout the experience. This bus scene was maybe the most complex technically. I wanted the people to deform/reform based on where the player was looking. In order to do this I used a raycast shot from the middle of the players head. If the player was looking at one of the people then it would change parameters in the VFX graph that controlled the position of the particles pulling them back together. If the player is not looking at the person mesh then the particles move away from one another. The same technique is also used to control the voices that can be heard. They are slowed down when the player is not looking at the person in questions. I created the people modules using photogrammetry techniques shown in the video.
I do not believe this VR experience is totally finished and nor is my work looking at these spaces. I want to delve deeper into the elements I picked up in my Research and Theory project - about how over time these spaces affect one's perception of time. To do this I want to add more to the durational elements that build up over time, the distortion for example. I also want to flesh the scene out to make them feel more complete. Due to the current circumstances no one could experience my game themselves and so I am wanting to finish the build and release it online for free so I can have feedback.
Overall, I am very happy with where I got with this project. While I would like to add new elements to the experience I am extremely happy with where it is headed. As I had to demo this project - rather than have the public experience it - I accidentally fell into a new sort of experience of live VR demos. This has made me think more about live cinema as a potential medium to explore as I had many comments about how powerful it was to see me interactive with an on show imaginary space. This is something I would like to think about more as I move on with this project and with VR development in general.
Derrida, Jacques, Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning & the New International, translated by Peggy Kamuf, London: Routledge, 1994
Fisher, M., 2010. Capitalist Realism. Winchester, UK: Zero Books.
Hess, D. B., Brown, J., & Shoup, D. (2004). Waiting for the bus. Journal of Public Transportation, 7(4), 67-84.
Meng, M., Rau, A. and Mahardhika, H., 2018. Public transport travel time perception: Effects of socioeconomic characteristics, trip characteristics and facility usage. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 114, pp.24-37.
Korstanje, Maximiliano. (2015). Philosophical problems in the theory of non-place. International Journal of Qualitative Research in Services.. 2. 85-95. 10.1504/IJQRS.2015.076912.
Yarmey, A. D. (2000). Retrospective duration estimations for variant and invariant events in field situations. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 14(1), 45-57.
How the City Feels [Available at: https://cityfeels.itch.io/how-the-city-feels]
VR With Andrew - XR Toolkit Tutorials
Keijiro Takahashi Azure Plugin - This was adapted to work for kinect skeleton data
Ali Green for being my photogrammetry model
The ever affable Owen Planchart for voicing the people on the bus