Easier said than done, and I debated with myself tirelessly whether I should write this post or not. It’s not easy to open up when you have been going through mental health issues but I wanted to do this as part of my therapy and to help others to try and get through similar difficulties.
I have been dealing with a form of mental health called emotional distress, emotional distress can be caused by various reasons such as personal, family or work. For me, I have been dealing with a childhood trauma, which over the years up until May 2016 (last year) resurfaced in the most unexpected way, bereavement. It has led me to this position now where I’ll admit I am in need of some professional help.
At first, I was very hesitant I would need any professional support, uncertain whether it was something I thought was necessary. I thought I was coping well. Friends, colleagues and family all saw me in a good light, I guess it is easy to hide it when work is so busy and it actually helps with not thinking about my issues.
Looking at this retrospectively, I wish I took a more proactive approach and took a step or two back from work to work on myself. Not thinking about myself. Not putting myself as priority number 1 was not helping me get over my issues. I very much enjoy my job, i found it to be a pleasant distraction, but even in a job like that you still need to take a step back and dedicate some time to working on yourself.
I needed to try and channel my thoughts to the forefront. Not accepting them. Not dealing with them is potentially going to make things worse and it did.
How did I know the time was right to seek help?
For me, I started to feel unwell, to a point where I couldn’t work, tension headaches lasted more than a week, not ideal when you look at a computer screen for 10 hours a day. Energy levels depleting and tiredness caused by depression, at first I thought something physically was wrong so I got myself checked out at the Doctors. When something started to really effect my life physically, it dawned on me to get myself checked over.
Mentally, I think it was always apparent but I believe I was putting this to the back of my mind, not accepting it was happening, my body needed to let me know in a different way and it came out physically for me, to a point where working and home life was becoming a struggle.
When these symptons started to develop plus others such as anxiety, I knew it was time to face the fact that seeking professional help is something I have to try.
I have never had counselling before, I have found it hard to admit this is something I might of needed in the past, I am afraid people might see me in a bad light, think I’m weird, crazy even, and people won’t want to associate themselves with me, and as a professional in the software development industry it is even more important that I maintain a positive image.
How I was wrong:
So far everyone I have told have been super supportive, opening up has been the best decision I have made since deciding to propose to my now fiancé. It has surprised me how supportive and understanding everyone has been, I didn’t expect this at all, not many people talk about mental health issues, it’s not a common subject, but it should be, so many of us will go through moments in our lives where mental health becomes an issue.
My message today is you are not alone. open up, acknowledge what you are going through, talk about your emotions, cry, seek the help you need and most important don’t be afraid.
Iceland, what a beautiful piece of rock! The island was one of my dream places to visit since I was a young boy, due to many areas of my personal interests covering: geology, volcanoes, nature, ice, astronomy, a lot of Science and the sense of adventure. Iceland has it all. Although, this trip was my second visit I definitely didn’t have the same experience first time.
Where to begin?!
I’ll start with my actual reason for visiting and this was for an interactive media conference focusing on Virtual Reality called Slush Play.
Representing Unity, my role at the conference was to catch up with the local game development scene (which is on a steady rise), meet new contacts from different industries and companies and continue sharing my knowledge and learning more about Virtual Reality, all achieved I must say.
The event was one of my favourite experiences at a conference and I have attended many. I only stayed for the one day, missing the second day of the conference but the time I spent there I had many productive and interesting discussions with new and known people, everyone I met we seemed to get on and have a laugh which isn’t always the case at conferences, it felt like everyone was there for the same reason and objective.
On arrival, I went straight to the Blue Lagoon, from the airport it is surprisingly close, 15-20 minute drive, the general advice is to go after or before flying due to the proximity.
I find it a little hard to describe my feelings towards the Blue Lagoon, I was excited to be visiting and I actually feel a bit disappointed post visit but I believe this to be because my expectations leading up to the visit were wrong.
My vision for the Blue Lagoon was no way near what it actually is, this might sound a bIt silly as I had read about it online via reviews and other blog posts and the official website of course. I thought, what I would be swimming in was something that hadn’t been so man made and crafted, I thought it would be more natural (I wonder if anyone reading this knows what I mean?), the whole site is heavily crafted for what I imagine is safety reasons, I mean we are technically swimming in a big bath that is being heated by geothermal energy.
There isn’t much to do when you get there, it is basically you taking a very long bath, in a big bath, outside, with other people in it. Before you reach the bathing areas you would need to navigate through all the naked people (men in my case), it is a requirement that you shower without your swimwear on, this is for hygienic reasons. Luckily there are one or two private showers.
There’s a bar which you can swim up to, expensive drinks obviously, alcohol is on sale. There’s another bar which serves silica mud masks, which you can apply on your face and leave for 10-15 minutes then wash off. After, you can apply an algae mask for moisturising your face.
Once you’ve had fun spreading mud and algae on your face, I just tried to make the most of what was on offer, so I bathed and practiced some meditation techniques I’m learning, actually this was very nice and relaxing, I felt rejuvenated, energised by the natural surroundings and soaking up all the healthy minerals and goodness in the sea water.
I would recommend visiting the Blue Lagoon, please don’t be put off by my comments, I don’t regret going at all, the average time someone spends there is 2-3 hours, this seems about right, I wouldn’t take a day out of my trip to do this again, it definitely makes sense to do it on the same day as flying. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to go a second time. I actually buy the silica mud mask and other products online.
The second day in Iceland was the speakers excursion day, I wasn’t a speaker but I got to attend in place of my colleague who was speaking but was arriving on the day of the excursion.
The excursion consisted of a 2-3 hour drive to a Glacier, which we would then drive snow mobiles on, are you fucking serious? Snow mobiles? Me driving? On a Glacier?! Yes they were serious, adrenaline rush coming up.
Before the rush, we stopped for a break, which happened to be the site of one of Iceland’s famous Geysir’s, I had the pleasure to witness the power of a rare hydrogeological condition, which is only possible in a few areas on Earth which are near active volcanic areas, Geysir’s happen because they are near Magma. It is interesting to know you are standing relatively close above Magma..
What a beautiful site, great to witness the power and energy planet Earth showcases in the form of a Geysir.
I’ve always wanted to see a Glacier, huge powerful blocks of ice that shape and cut the rock beneath it, this seemed quite a scary thing to do, knowing about how cracks and deep crevices form on Glaciers, what happens if there is a crack opening and I drove into it?! Well, I wouldn’t be coming back that is for sure, that fear of driving on ice that’s slowly moving down a rocky mountain sounds a little crazy, I have experienced other extreme sports before, jumping out of a plane at 15,000ft to name some, but this actually felt like a step up from that believe it or not. All I could do is embrace it, so I did, I’m not one to shy away from doing something new, whether I would do that thing again is another matter.
When we arrived at the Glacier there is a hut where the crew hang out who organise the excursion, we also had a nice warm hotdog to get an energy boost to prepare us for what was about to happen, the hut is very close to the Glacier, it is right there, a huge mountain of ice just sitting looking quite menacing, I was thinking I’ll be driving a snow mobile on that shortly, is this actually happening? Am I dreaming?!
Soon after, we started suiting up, the only time I would ever wear a onesie is for extreme sports, this onesie was incredibly thick and warm, designed to be placed on top of the already warm clothes I was previously advised to wear. I also wore a helmet that was thicker than any other helmet I’d ever seen, it almost felt like I was gearing up to go to space or something, but what I did know is that I will be going to quite an inhospitable place which is extremely dangerous.
I hopped into the super jeep, this was the first challenge, the drive had to take us over the bed of rocks, it looked like something from Mars, this was off road at it’s finest, driving extremely slowly so we didn’t tip over, we were told to keep our helmets on inside the vehicle and to try to avoid head butting the glass windows. This short drive took 15-20 minutes to reach the base of the Glacier.
We drove up the Glacier to meet the nutters who regularly drive snow mobiles on Glaciers, oh, I mean these totally sane people who would no doubt teach us how to drive one. To my surprise the safety instructions took no more than 60 seconds, keep your feet inside the vehicle, that’s the throttle, that’s the break, don’t break while using the throttle. Okay?! ready?! Uhmmm okay, hey why not, remember let’s embrace it, so I picked my snow mobile, obviously trying to pick the most awesome looking one, there were different colours and design variations, some cleaner than others but all do the same thing..I hope.
Driving the snow mobile is definitely more challenging then I thought it would be, the throttle was almost like a side angled Xbox controller trigger but in a position for your thumb to use as if you were changing gears on a bicycle. This made it particularly challenging to maintain your speed while turning left or right, you also had to lean into the turnings as weight distribution is super important on that type of terrain. The terrain is very bumpy, uneven, icy and generally treacherous and the trails left from other snow mobiles tend to off balance and redirect you slightly.
All is going so well, I’ve got the hang of it and I actually got some air time in one instance (not sure how many points I got for that), standing up as well, I was also going quite fast up the slopes.
No, it wasn’t going as well as I thought, maybe I got a little complacent? I crashed!! It wasn’t a crash into something, the snow mobile decided to throw me off to the side and it flipped over, it was actually all my fault, I didn’t lean into the turning properly and the slope on the turning was steeper than I anticipated, weight distribution wasn’t correct and it chucked me off, luckily I knew it was coming, so I partly jumped out of it and landed as comfortably as I could, otherwise that 300kg snow mobile would of landed on my right leg crushing it between the vehicle and hard ice layered on top of hard rock, that would not of been fun I promise. I picked myself up instantly, my heart was racing and adrenaline was rushing around my body, it is actually quite important that I checked myself over properly, adrenaline can mask any pain you might have, I was a little worried that I may have broke my wrist as this was what I primarily used to land on, of course this is never recommended but it’s such a natural thing to do, silly human brain.
Turned out I trashed the cool snow mobile I picked, it’s now out of action, so one of the sane guys picked me up in his snow mobile and we were already heading back down the Glacier as the excursion was coming to an end. Luckily I got to hop off and drive another snow mobile down the Glacier for the final descent, obviously a little nervous to get back on one on my own, but if you fall off you should definitely get back on, best to conquer that fear now then letting it brew until the next time I get to drive a snow mobile.
Snow mobiles over, we were treated to a BBQ back at the hut, the meat was cooked to perfection and the veggies and salads were delicious, food in Iceland is incredible, so fresh and healthy it’s a dream.
On the way back to Reykjavik, the organiser from Slush announced on the super jeep minibus that we are stopping for a waterfall break, naturally I thought that was a metaphor for a toilet break, to my surprise it wasn’t, there’s an actual waterfall, another incredible surprise Iceland has thrown at me, driving up to the sight I had absolutely no idea there was a waterfall in the surrounding area, the flat rocky lava planes go for as far as the eye can see, the waterfall cut down into the terrain, it’s a glorious feature, it was my first time seeing a waterfall of this magnitude, it was magical.
In the evening I went for dinner in the center of Reykjavik, serving traditional Icelandic food…fish. This is where I experienced the delight that is Killer Shark, in Icelandic it is called Kæstur hákarl, pronunciation TBD.
It is fermented Shark, the Shark has been fermented for 5-6 months because the flesh is poisonous. The Shark is called Greenland Shark.
The Shark was presented in a Jar, two small cubes of flesh were inside, I opened the jar and took a whiff and it stunk of ammonia, whoa that was rather off putting. The topic of the day seemed to be about “experiencing new things”, so I wasn’t not going to try it now, I tasted the one of the two pieces of flesh, very fishy taste at first then this horrific ammonia after taste hits, quite overpowering. This type of food is really not my cup of tea. I did eat the last piece if you wondered…
Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights):
It seemed like Iceland was throwing everything at me in just one day, there was a buzz throughout with the locals as there was a predicted spectacular showing from the Aurora Borealis in the evening. Reykjavik was to turn their city lights out from 10-11pm for Astronomy. This was so awesome and I hope other cities around the world take notice and do the same, light pollution is such as issue especially in the UK and it is a shame we are blinded from this in order to see what would be a beautiful nights sky above us. I took this image with my mobile phone, excuse the quality:
Before falling asleep I had realised I had seen H2o in all 3 of it’s natural states throughout the day, Steam from the Geysir, Ice from the Glacier and water from the waterfall.
If all this wasn’t enough, for the 3+ days in the back of my mind the monster volcano known as Katla was clearing her throat, with multiple earthquakes detected in the area, I didn’t actually feel any earthquake from within Reykjavik but there was and still is a genuine concern that an eruption is imminent and it is predicted to be 10x more explosive than the famous 2010 eruption from Eyjafjallajökull.
In general what an incredible life experience, which I’m so happy to have survived, hope you have enjoyed this post. Now go visit Iceland.
Those who have the privilege of owning a Virtual Reality (VR) headset I’m sure has shown VR to someone who hasn’t experienced it before, I like to tag these people as VR first timers (jokes), I don’t actually like labelling things but for the sake of this post I will use it. Anyway back to the subject at hand.
I own a HTC Vive and it’s currently set up in my spare bedroom at home, I feel very privileged to own this hardware and to actually have a PC that runs it. I take advantage of this by allowing anyone to have a go on my VR rig.
Most of my family and friends have never heard of VR, they aren’t exactly geeky tech heads like myself, one of my friends thought it was some weird spy camera rig set up, having described that it’s the next big thing called Virtual Reality, my friend still didn’t get it and just brushed it off, I even had to plea with him just to give it a go, I was begging him to try it to see…I had a similar experience with my girlfriend as well.
I have demoed VR to a lot of people at various technology conferences, typically at a Unity booth at a conference we would have some form of VR demo set up, whether it’s an Oculus VR, HTC Vive or GearVR. The advantage at a technology conference is I don’t have to beg people to try it.
What’s the different between the three? Quite drastic in my opinion and this question is relevant to the topic of this post because you need to think about what type of VR experience you would like to show to a VR first timer. I don’t want to delve into this question too much though but in simple terms Oculus is a sitting or standing VR experience connected to a PC, GearVR is a mobile experience, a device that has a slot to place your Samsung device into and the HTC Vive (saving the best ’till last) which is a room-scale VR headset connected to a PC (can also be a standing or sitting experience).
GearVR has probably been the most accessible VR experience available on the market at present, given there’s some hundreds of millions of Samsung devices in the hands of consumers that are VR ready puts Oculus and Samsung in very powerful position, I personally believe in using the highest quality experience for showing VR to newbies, so that leaves Oculus and HTC Vive. In my experience demoing a mobile level quality VR demo to VR first timers hasn’t delivered the same experiences as other VR headsets, I would love to hear if someone has seen the opposite experience so please comment on this post below.
Let’s start with Oculus, Oculus delivers a higher level immersion, from my experience demoing to consumers, reactions to the Oculus have been along the lines of higher quality graphics, better immersion, this is partly due to the technology which in turn allows developers to push the barriers of immersive experiences. Considering Oculus runs off a high-end PC and not a mobile device (same for the HTC Vive). I’m not saying GearVR apps can not create high levels of immersive experiences…Immersion is not defined by graphics quality and or technology but it can help.
Moving on to the HTC Vive, In my opinion and from my experience demoing to VR first timers and talking to professional developers, the HTC Vive delivers the best VR experience on the market. Partly due to the room-scale features it offers, this is a complete game changer in a VR experience, being able to physically move around the virtual room or space you are experiencing is extremely powerful and is a superb feature for us developers to experiment with with new game designs.
What’s really strange is the ability to move around a virtual room seems to confuse consumers at first, almost every VR first timer who tried the HTC Vive didn’t think about walking around the room, it seems to come across as an unnatural thing to do, which is true, think about it; Almost all core gaming experiences are static, since the beginning of video games you have never had the opportunity to physically move around a virtual space to effect the gameplay, the Wii was really the first global success in doing physical movement to effect gameplay (is there a term for that?) but you were limited as you had to face towards the TV.
Content on the HTC Vive has introduced various input designs that allow you to traverse virtual environments in various ways, there has been a few talks on this and is a constant topic at present, many developers experimenting with new ideas and also defining input standards within VR. Teleportation is one common technique which doesn’t really work for all experiences, the ability to teleport already defines the genre of your game, I mean..surely your game has some sci-fi based advancements right? As teleportation is not a natural experience for a human, the power of teleportation can break the immersive experience you are having within the content. In a general positive VR empowers you to experience what a teleportation might feel like, in reality it’s a win win situation for a consumer.
From a VR first timer perspective the teleportation technique completely freaks people out at first, I tend to show VR first timers Valve’s demo called “Aperture Robot Repair” which has a cool teleportation implementation, but it takes a few times to get used it at first, especially amusing is when the first time they use it and mess it up by teleporting up against a wall it strikes shock. Other implementations involve various techniques which I won’t go into in this post.
My brother tried a VR experience which placed the player up on a high beam, this totally freaked him out, having a fear of heights didn’t help but for my amusement seeing him try and balance himself on a flat surface (i.e. the bedroom floor) was rather good.
So, moving on from this, I would highly recommend showing VR first timers the HTC Vive, it really delivers the best experience VR can currently offer, the room-scale capabilities enhance the experience tenfold.
My order of content I demo to VR first timers:
A cinematic experience which introduces VR first timers to room-scale VR with no interaction required, limiting the senses and allows us to adapt to the virtual environment and power of room-scale VR. Everyone I have shown this to has been blown away by this experience, especially when a big whale swims by. Generally people are super convinced at this point.
Adding an extra layer into the room-scale VR experience with the ability to be able to interact with objects in a virtual room, the human senses are going a bit more crazy with this experience, usually receive a lot of nervous laughter and “whoa!!” outbursts. Introduces teleportation input technique, which freaks people out at first. Generally; feedback has been very positive with this experience.
An artistic VR experience, empowering the user to be creative with painting and drawing in VR, user can move around and interact via painting strokes or objects into a virtual space. Usually at this point a majority of users have adapted to a VR room-scale experience and everything is starting to feel more natural. As far as I know there’s no teleportation technique implemented.
After they are done with these three experiences, I offer a choice of content next, this means they can pick something that might interest them or pick something that might enhance a human emotion such as fear as in horror or fear of heights, so here is my list in no particular order:
- Job Simulator
- The Rose and I
- Fantastic Contraption
- Space Pirate Trainer
- The Brookhaven Experiment
- CloudLands: VR Minigolf
- Skeet: VR Target Shooting
- Selfie Tennis
- The Lab
I acknowledge content and peoples interests plays a big part in personal VR experiences and notice I mentioned “personal”, from what I’ve seen everyone’s VR experience is unique and personal, people react to different experiences differently, it can effect them emotionally, such as being excited, nervous, funny, scared, peaceful etc…it would be great to hear what content you like to show to VR first timers and also the reactions from these experiences you’ve seen, please comment below.
So what have I learn’t exactly, lets summarise:
- Demo the best technology on the market i.e. HTC Vive with room-scale VR
- Ask the individual if they have any fears before letting them play
- Always ensure the player doesn’t step on the headset cable
- Start with the most basic / limited experience for example theBlu which is awesome
- Begin introducing more complex VR experiences which involves interaction and movement
- Then go wild if they feel comfortable continuing
Notice I haven’t covered nausea in this post, content on the HTC Vive and the technology shouldn’t cause this but may be experienced with specific people, I haven’t had one person experience nausea with the HTC Vive but I’m sure someone out there has.
This post was valid as of 1st October 2015
Web deployment with Unity has took a hit in recent months due to the deprecation of NPAPI plugins in Chrome, which mean’t the WebPlayer plugin has been disabled. All major browser vendors are moving away from plugins.
Current solution is to look at the WebGL build target which came in a Preview state with Unity’s 5.0 release. We know there’s some challenges with supporting WebGL right now, but let me detail what the future should look like.
WebGL now, is in Preview, it’s a way of Unity saying that some functionality and development needs to happen before they consider it a fully released product. Missing functionality from Unity’s side includes:
- Substance realtime generation of procedural textures
- Precomputed Realtime GI – believe that actually requires a port from Enlighten
- MovieTextures – but actually you can get a nicer video playback using: Simple MovieTextures for Unity WebGL
- WebCam – coming in 5.3
Development needed from the browser vendors include:
- Data compression
- Shared array buffers
- WebGL 2.0
How will these help for the Future?!
Data Compression; Slightly self-explanatory, will allow for data to be kept in a compressed format in memory. Currently you need to handle this yourself, but not for much longer. This will greatly help with build sizes.
WebGL 2.0 – WebGL to become a graphic powerhouse, no really it can. Currently WebGL is using OpenGLES 2.0, remember those good old smartphones?! With WebGL 2.0 Unity WebGL gets the much needed bump up to OpenGLES 3.0, allowing for Unity to lift it’s restrictions on shaders, so we can have image effects (all the bloom you need), deferred rendering, skinning on the GPU. Unity’s 5.2 release included support for WebGL 2.0 as an experimental option, reason; because no major browser vendor has shipped support for it yet as of the date of this post, but you can try with a Firefox nightly build.
Some WebGL tips ‘n’ tricks:
Need to ship projects now with WebGL? Be sure to have taken note of what features in Unity that isn’t supported right now (see above) and also make use of these:
- Crunched Texture Compression
You can use this feature as a texture format for JPEG like compression ratio and quality, however unlike JPEG it will directly decompress into DXT, so you have compressed textures on the GPU, no loss in GPU memory, happy days! This feature helps with memory reduction and keeping the data size down.
A must use for any Unity project really, but for WebGL it will greatly help with a reduction in memory and build size. Let’s reduce everything!
- Unity Profiler
If you’re not making use of Unity’s Profiler then you’re doing it wrong, as with any Unity project profile away, it’s fun and a great way of finding your bottlenecks. You should be optimising for WebGL as you do for any other platform in Unity, there’s a lot of resources online for optimising.
- WebGL Memory Size
Within Unity -> Player Settings -> Publishing Settings you can specify how much memory (in MB) the content should allocate for it’s heap. If it’s too low you will get out of memory errors, but if it’s too high your content might fail to load in some browsers or on some machines, because the browser might not have enough available memory to allocate the requested heap size. Test and find the correct solution for your app. Optimising your app as much as possible will help with memory reduction therefore the need for a high heap size decreases..
- Multiplayer Gaming
Benchmarking can help you test different areas of Unity Engine to see how it performs on the WebGL platform. Unity developed a app so benchmarking can be easily executed: http://beta.unity3d.com/jonas/WebGLBenchmark/
Watch a Unite Europe 2015 talk from Unity’s lead WebGL developer Jonas Echterhoff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RufJDxm6Lq8
Unity WebGL Forums for reporting issues and learning from other developers: http://forum.unity3d.com/forums/webgl.84/
I recently did a talk about WebGL & il2cpp – you can download the slides here: WebGL & il2cpp