July 22, 2016 Student Spotlight: Lyte
Patrick Donoghue
Patrick Donoghue

The Playcrafting course, Building VR Games, gave me the tools I needed to continue my pursuit of creating new and innovative experiences for people of all ages.

I have been focused on imagination, storytelling and visual art for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I built replicas of the props from Star Trek and dressed as Mad Max. I played Dungeons and Dragons and made animated films using my Bolex. Later, I taught myself how to create 3D and computer animation on my Amiga. I became a filmmaker, website developer, designer, and eventually an executive in the cable business where I was lucky enough to get a few Emmys and patents for groundbreaking work in interactive media. I recently returned to my roots as a maker and dreamer. I am actively working on 3D modeling, 3D printing, and using electronics such as the Raspberry Pi to make a Porti-Pi arcade console. I also founded a boutique agency called “Next Stop Willoughby,” a company where we make 360 films, VR experiences, and, in general, focus on making digital life easier and better for users.

Through it all, I was and am a gamer. It started with Pong, and continued with Intellivision™. We were probably not the only family that wore out many sets of controllers playing Astrosmash and Sea Battle. Through the years, I acquired pretty much every game system and computer game that was out there. Games tied together all of my interests in storytelling, film, science fiction, action, design, and technology. I was enthralled and immersed in games such as The Legend of Zelda, Tomb Raider, and Halo, and saw them emerge as a new way to tell stories and grab the audience. Gaming and filmmaking were converging into an ideal medium that was greater than either of them were individually.

VR game development became an obvious next step for me because I saw VR as a new piece of the puzzle I was assembling. What better way to make games and films more real, more immersive, more compelling? I began teaching myself Unity by doing tutorials and watching how-to videos, and although I fumbled my way through it all, I loved it! It’s an amazing tool and so empowering.

I used my skills in 3D, sound design, cinematography and graphic design and made a Google Cardboard app based on the Shelley poem “Ozymandias.” I have always been intrigued with how this simple poem could evoke such powerful emotions, and I was finally able to share my vision.

I signed up for the Playcrafting course Building VR Games to really learn Unity and C#. I was also looking for a chance to dive into the NYC game developer community and make some friends. I could tell from the Playcrafting events that I had been to that this was a cool bunch of like- minded, creative oddballs who were doing really great things. The class was the highlight of my week as I learned the ins and outs of Unity and VR development. The teacher Andrew Garrahan was friendly, helpful, and created a great environment for us to learn. Thanks to Andrew and his assistant John I learned how to use Git and SourceTree for collaborative development and version control. I also learned more C# scripting than I ever thought possible and was able to compile apps for Cardboard, GearVR and Oculus. By the end of the course I knew Unity well enough to build real games and VR apps.

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The class was a great excuse to obsess on making new VR experiences such as an interactive version of the topiary maze from The Shining, to a proper English sitting room exploration game ala The Room.

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For the final project I wanted to really challenge myself. I always strive for hyper-realism in the images I create. This means high polygon count models, large texture maps, and plenty of lighting. As a cinematographer and 3D artist I have always focused on the power of light to make great images and evoke emotions, so I knew that i wanted light to be a key element of the game. VR technology today is not suited for that so I forced myself to try something different. I relied almost exclusively on in-game primitives such as squares and spheres with no texture maps and set out to make it fun and satisfying. The game is called Lyte. Every level begins with complete darkness and a lonely soundtrack whispering in the background. Soon users realize they can cast balls of light out into their surroundings, illuminating interesting environmental components, including goals they must launch the balls into.

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Each level has a unique character, such as the rolling plains where UFOs lurk overhead, or the undulating landscape where glowing hot air balloons are set free to drift into the sky. The physics and rendering in Unity allowed me to create a fascinating little game that should entice users into more play time and provide them with a new VR gaming experience. I brought in a collaborator Appsolute Media to provide finishing touches of my original concept for Lyte. We plan to launch VR and non-VR versions for Android and iOS very soon.

Because I have always been very hands-on as an artist and maker, I see Unity and VR as incredibly useful tools for creating and expressing myself. This would not be possible without Playcrafting.

Quick Questions

1. How did you get into games?

I have been doing computer design since the early 90s and playing video games since they existed (Pong Anyone?) It has always been my dream to make video games and have done level design for Doom, Marathon, Halo and any game that has an editor.

2. You’re part of the first manned mission to Mars! You’ll be gone for 5 years and can only bring 3 games to play alone or with your 3 fellow astronauts. What are they?

Best games ever? Halo Reach for great multiplayer and FPS fun, Legend of Zelda – Wind Waker for a good story, and Minecraft because I can never get enough of it.

3. What would be your dream game to build?

I am inspired by innovative games that challenge the payer to think and feel. The Unfinished Swan, Journey and Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture are good examples of he type of game I want to make.

4. What do you love best about the game community in NYC?

The NYC gaming community is full of some of the smartest and most driven developers I have ever seen. The colleges and universities in New York have bred a new generation of creative and highly technical game creators.

5. Choose 5 words to describe your experience making games so far.

Challenging, Frustrating, Satisfying, Invigorating, Motivational