Dinosaurs! - Prepare yourself to travel through time

That phrase, right in the title, sums it up pretty nicely. It’s also how the narrator welcomes you to the experience.

When we started back in the day, it was around 2014. We were a bunch of people with a common goal, a new technology in our hands and the knowledge to put it to work. Little did we know about how entangled the past and our own future would come to be.

Laying the first egg

VRducation, as you might know by now (and if you feel you don’t, I strongly suggest you check “VRducation: A new way to understand the world” and “VR takes the classroom there”), started as the result of an observation in one of our multiple public displays. Imagine a kid repeating and actually remembering the name and customs of a random dinosaur. Now imagine a grown-up doing exactly the same thing. Epiphany time: “What if VR could be used to empower vivential learning giving access to topics that can’t or simply aren’t covered in the current programs?”.

That’s when we decided to go one step further and create an educational experience based on the prehistoric topic that was already being covered, but making it simple, direct and meaningful with a good narrative and stunning graphics. At that very moment, Dinosaurs! was born.

Anatomy of an experience

Preparation and conviction are not the key to success. Hard work is. And that’s a lesson Dinosaurs! imposed on us from the very beginning, through every bump and through every setback. It was in no way an easy ride, but it made us stronger both as a team and as professionals. Unreal Engine (UE, in short) lets you witness the beauty of the beast and invites you to dance, something you just have to do and let yourself go.

We found some amazing assets around and made our own components to support the entire experience, paying attention to every single detail and squeezing our brains to come up with the perfect plane...

... or so we thought.

Working in VR is not the same as working in traditional media or Videogames because the focus is no longer in your hands. You create a world, you put a lot of work and effort into it and then you handle the camera over to a random unknown person and trust them to walk around your work, being able to go close up with those parts you might not want anyone to see. This imposes a premise: Strive for perfection. Your best effort won’t do if it’s bad and once you’ve done something, it’s no longer your best effort. It becomes your new standard.

Our standard grew up to points we never thought we would be able to reach. Particles over here, a dinosaur over there, something in the bushes, hiding. Frame by frame, controlling, waiting, much like an Utahraptor. Opportunistic, yes, but effective. That was our everyday routine and, being a creative team, you would expect a routine to get tedious fast. No, that didn’t happen. We tested the experience ourselves first, controlling every single point of view and working on the premise of making things interesting or, if there was a zone we wanted people to ignore, working twice as hard to make it seem unimportant, boring and monotone. You have no reason to look at that while a Puertasaurus is standing tall and majestic in front of you.

Every single dinosaur was placed intentionally, performing a certain action and synced to the narrator’s dialogue. Might seem simple, but it takes a big amount of patience (and love, in equal terms, never forget the importance of loving what you do) to get things right. Eventually, we made ourselves an educational experience and, to top it off, it was ready to be tested.

Into the wild

Never did the thought of this being a success cross our minds, but we’ve tested Dinosaurs! with over 1500 people so far and the feedback was nothing but encouraging. Even the “bad feedback” was somehow positive.

Some tweaks here and there, bugfixes, an entire group of assets discarded in favor of new custom ones and there was that time when I revamped the entire UI in a couple of days, every single one of the comments (or tantrums) was a stepping stone for this moment. The moment when we finally submitted our experience to the Oculus Store. We’re on the works to make it available for Gear VR and, soon, it will be available for both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

This is just a sort of Post Mortem now that the dust has settled. This is no longer just for our own amusement, it’s yours to enjoy now.

That’s what Dinosaurs! is about. Empowering learning over entertainment making things useful, not only trendy, and working with professionals to come up with an academically relevant script for you.

We want to do more than helping you learn. We want you to understand.

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About the Author

Fritz is what happens when you mix up a gamer, a game developer, a retrogaming and videogame history nerd, an Unreal Engine evangelist, a VR UX enthusiast and a multimedia artist into a (apparently nice) mad scientist. He is also a Gamedev and interactive media professor at ORT University Uruguay and Co-Founder and CTO here at SimDesign VR Studio.