Behind the App

Planting the seed
The seed idea for HoloPhone3D started way back in the late 90’s during college. At that time I was doing a lot of work in 3D graphics studies including building fully immersive 3D environment (CAVEs) for virtual reality applications. Ultimately, I wanted to create holographic quality 3D experiences that merged physical objects with 3D rendering overlays for unique augmented reality experiences. While very cool and cutting edge at the time, the technology just wasn’t really able to create super compelling experiences. At that time I wanted to create both a device and a headset that could create the realistic effects of objects using 3D as if they were holograms. Fast forward to 2011, I’d spent the last 10 years as an industry developer doing LOB apps for internal software projects, never really having anything to do with 3D.  In my personal time, I’d started playing with the latest release of ZBrush4 and I was having tons of fun.  People kept asking to see what I was working on or what I was creating, but images and videos never really did what I was working on justice.  So I decided that I could write a cool app for my Windows Phone to show them what I was working on – in 3D.  From that, HoloPhone3D was born.

Building the Hologram tech

I’d seen a few cool example of head tracking in 3D so I knew the idea was sound but I wanted to write it from scratch by myself.  In order to ensure that I was doing the math correctly and getting the angles correct, a friend of mine helped me build a simple ‘dice rig’ to check a few key angles.

Rig for visually comparing the depth angles in HoloPhone3D with the real world

The rig was so helpful that I even shipped the test Dice scene in HoloPhone3D as an interactive scene.  Once I had gotten the viewing angles pretty close (which took ages), I spent some more time building out some content, integrating BEPU Physics and generally learning XNA.  While XNA is awesome, doing complex lighting can be a little tricky.  I knew I’d need an easier long-term solution to getting the lighting effects I wanted (more on that later).

Shipping v1.0

HoloPhone3D v1.0 was shipped to the world in late July 2011.  It was a great proof of concept but was far from the polished application I knew I wanted to deliver.  However, I knew I needed to release it to get feedback on what people wanted to see – and just going through the exercise of shipping software and the final end game and testing is essential.  HoloPhone3D v1.0 initially got tons of great press. There was definitely lots of interest and excitement and the feedback I received was pretty consistent. People loved it, but they wanted more. Specifically, people were asking for more content, a more refined UI experience, more interactive scenes (gestures just weren’t good enough) and more mini-game content. All of that translated into my goals for HoloPhone v1.5.

HoloPhone3D v1.5 (almost a 2.0 level release)

My goal for HoloPhone was always to create a fun, family friendly entertainment app that could really showcase cool 3D graphics and interesting experiences on Windows Phone.  To that end, HoloPhone 3D v1.5 contains almost 3x as much content and 11 mini-games. I also integrated the amazing SunBurn engine into HoloPhone3D giving me the ability to create the lighting effects that I wanted.  I’ve also included an all new ‘Gallery ‘ section that showcases some of the best 3D lighting visuals you’ll see on the phone. To improve the UI, I created a brand new ‘metro-inspired’ holographic UI that is highly focused on iconography and images to help make sure that non-English speakers can understand and enjoy all HoloPhone3D has to offer. Expanding the interactive experience was accomplished by implementing full multi-touch support. This enables users to have the most realistic interaction with the objects in the holograms. (All the touch and physics is powered by BEPU Physics) You can now literally grab a die and spin it on its edge while simultaneously rolling another die – you can even multi-touch the same object and suspend it between your fingers as if it was attached to virtual springs!

Mini-games and Holograms : two great tastes that taste better together! 🙂

Finally, I created 10 marble maze levels and an all new ‘Asteroid Attack’ mini game. All mini-games have persisted top scores and gold, silver, bronze ratings – for maximum replayabilty. Each marble maze level has a unique feel that requires different approaches to master and every level also has short cuts and tricks you can discover to get a top score. In each maze, you’ll see the advanced lighting at work here with shadows cast by the burning torches and the lighting of the marble changing as it moves in and out of shadows adding to the realism.

The new ‘Asteroid Attack ‘ mini game has a ‘Fruit Ninja meets Asteroids’ kinda feel. You defend Earth from 1000 incoming asteroids by grabbing and flinging them away. As asteroids impact Earth, our shield is weakened – once the shield is broken Earth is destroyed. Luckily there are also orbiting green energy packs that you can flick into the shield to recharge it. Since this game is a hologram, the radar arrows on the screen edges indicate the direction you can tilt and rotate the phone to literally look around Earth and see incoming asteroids sooner. I think it’s a super fun blend of lots of simple elements that make for a unique take on fun ideas.

Adding value for everyone

Overall, in this update I spent a lot of time trying to really polish the experience. Part of that polish was making sure that I made the changes that would be most impactful to the people who gave feedback about HoloPhone3D. I also wanted to extend out the content in the trial because I felt like people weren’t fully understanding what HoloPhone3D was capable of with just one scene – so I increased the content from 1 scene to 8. Although I’m putting more in the trial, I really wanted the trial to stand on its own and be enjoyable and valuable even for users that weren’t sure if they are going to purchase.  Regardless of if you’re a trial user or a purchaser, I want everyone to have a fun experience, because that’s what a good Entertainment app should do.

One thought on “Behind the App

  1. Pingback: HoloPhone 3D und eine Schneekugel | the-oliver.com

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