In October of 2016, a student at ITI G. Ferraris in Italy reached out looking for VR equipment for his class. This was forwarded to us and we were able to connect him and his classmates with the tech. This is his story as he shares the experience of collaborating with his classmates and foundry10 to create VR content.

Istituto Tecnico Industriale “Galileo Ferraris”

In early July, I was really excited for VR, the HTC Vive had come out barely 3 months before and the hype for the new technology, especially for us developers, was really high.

I’m a 12th grade student here in Italy, and I started thinking on how I could get my hands on a Vive to work with my class during my last year. That’s the main reason why I contacted Gabe Newell, with very little hope and a big dream. I remember spending 2 days, thinking of the words I could use to express my feelings about VR and how I wanted to be a part of such a big thing with my classmates, all developers like me.

After sending the email, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get answered, why should someone care about a school developer group and their dreams? But I was quite wrong. Later that day, at 8:00 PM here in Italy, I received a mail from Lisa Castaneda (Co-Founder and CEO of foundry10) in which she told me that Gabe forwarded her my mail and that the foundry10 team was really interested in the things we made here.

I couldn’t believe my eyes and in the following conversations, I explained everything that we could have do here. I explained our position, but I’m just a student and their target was a teacher, so the technology could be experienced by as many student as possible. In less than 3 days they gave me full trust, something I couldn’t believe, and sent me the HTC Vive.

[Note from foundry10 team: we encourage all who are interested in learning and VR to reach out. It is our policy to at least have a teacher or organization official as an advisor, and we did connect with a teacher at ITI, but Luigi was (and remains) the main driver.]

I then spent the entirety of August planning the best way to get the newly founded VR class to experience the technology. The teachers, students, and everyone involved were really excited to try VR and see what it is all about.

So, September came and the 12th grade year started. We began by trying to gather as many resources as possible, asking our principal for a new PC to make this work, and in the meantime we studied Unity to do our part as developers. In order to get this computer, the VR group worked really hard to learn the engine. Eventually we participated in and won a competition called “The Big Hack” in early October. Our principal was really happy with our work, and he was very willing to help us get the tools we needed.

By November everything was ready, so finally the class got to experience what VR is all about. It can be difficult for newcomers to understand how someone can be somewhere else, like space or a mage’s tower, just by putting a helmet on their head.

However, everyone really enjoyed it, it was one of the most fun times we had all year. Some got to experience Waltz of the Wizard, the thrill of being a wizard was something they won’t forget easily. Some other students wanted to experience the thrill of a Rollercoaster VR run with No Limits 2 Rollercoaster Simulator and, while a few got motion sickness, they all really enjoyed their time, they were like babies experiencing reality for the very first time, interacting with everything and everyone like they never had before.

They all had, by the end, the smile of something fresh, of inspiration, of the future, it was a blast. Even more exciting was the fun we had in the next months when we started developing for it!

With our GPO (management and company design) teacher we started organizing as a group, so we could all give our best while we worked as a real company. This gave us a shot at finding out what working in a development team was like while we developed in a platform we really enjoyed.

We had a deadline for our content, it was the 23rd February of 2017, and we were in January.

The first thing we did was brainstorm content ideas, almost everyone pitched an idea for a total of 22 by the end of the brainstorm.

The main 3 ideas we selected were:

-A space walking simulator, but we ruled it out because we really didn’t know how to program well yet in Unity, and we wouldn’t have made it for the deadline.

-Escape the room VR, based on some informatic base, but it still required too much work for our deadline and we really had to show we were working by the end of it.

-A school simulator, where we could try to rebuild our school on the inside based on assets on the Unity Assets Store and program some part, like archery or basketball. We also wanted to include a little cinema where you could watch a clip of a project we made to support Parkinson‘s disease cures.

We settled down on the last idea, it was the one we could make in a relatively fast time while looking good on design.

First of all, we started with the assets. Part of the team worked on textures while others tried to implement new models on the basic layout of the school we have. Then the programming group, the one I took part in, worked on the SteamVR API, the bow system, the object grabbing system, and the physics of some objects (like the basketball). Finally, we had the sound engineers work on sampling, our studio audio for the school, basic school sounds (like items dropping), and the Parkinson clip sound.

We experienced the collaborative elements of co-working in a company, used new platforms to share the project, and while it got very rough overtime, we were able to manage it all, and overcome all problems that came our way.

Finally we needed a name, and we decided on VEX (which stands for Virtual Experience, our fantasy wasn’t really on the names!). Eventually we all came to really like it, because while in some ways it sounded very basic and dumb, in other ways it sounded professional, so we stuck with it.

The experience really helped us consolidate as a good work group, and helped us construct a shared objective in ways we never thought of before!

Time passed by and we arrived at the end of February (before the deadline) with the ALPHA 0.1 of the Vex Project. It was so satisfying to know that we did it and that we could, after a break for study (we still have exams to do by the end of the year), try to improve it more in all ways we can imagine. For example: improving performance(it runs at about 60 fps, but we’re working on reaching the target 90 fps for VR), adding a chemistry lab, adding a computer lab, and an electronic-puzzle lab/minigame that we’re still brainstorming.

Below are some screenshots of the work we did in VEX. I have to say that we were highly inspired from the archery game in The Lab, most of us are really big fans of that game right now!