Experience the fun of marimba in virtual reality.
VR Marimba is an instrument designed for educational institute that allows students to experience, learn, and practice playing marimba using HTC Vive. The application was built during the 54 hours Vive-jam Collegiate VR Hackathon at Foundry10, and it was awarded "The Most Intuitive/User and Noob Friendly."
Group project with Abdulahi Abdinasir, Aisha Abdinur, Bailey Strom-Pillar, and Cody Gagnon.
3D modeling, VR Prototyping, User Testing, Coding
Marimba is a well-known instrument that most of the children have experience playing it. However, A real marimba is costly and occupies a lot of space that is not available for most of the family or even educational institutes. The original concept of VR Marimba was proposed by Cody Gagnon that the goal the project was to create a digital instrument that is fun, intuitive, and easy to learn.
Since we only had 54 hours from start to finish, we began with listing the key features we were planning to build and estimated the time needed for each function. A stand-up meeting was held every 6 hours to ensure that everyone was on the same page, and the development was on track.
Subject Matter Expert Interview
To know more about Marimba, we visited Ed Hartman, the professional Marimba player who has over 30 years of experience to learn about how marimba is designed, made, and played as well as some of the possible challenges that we might encounter if we want to make a good virtual Marimba.
We learned about materials, different type of mallets, different kind of Marimbas, how people start the lesson, and what do people care while choosing a Marimba. The short interview greatly influenced how we design a VR marimba, we learned about the limitation of the technology and how we should design the user experience and interaction model while playing the marimba in the virtual world.
MODELING & Programming
Based on Ed's advice, I began to model a Marimba by using Blender. The dimension of the marimba and keys were carefully measured during modeling so since we were targeting educational institutes. The model was later being imported into Unity for texturing and adding functions. Apart from the Marimba, I also imported some free assets from Unity Asset Store into the virtual environment to create a cozy and immersive forest scene.
Before we connected Unity with the audio source, we went through a series of informal user testings. The user testing was focused on two parts: Height adjustment and Key width adjustment.
- Height adjustment: We invited users who were different in height to try to play with the Marimba. This helped us to adjust the Marimba to a reasonable height so most of the people can play it.
- Key width adjustment: VR Marimba did not have haptic feedback that users were likely to hit the nearby keys by accident. To resolve this issue, I worked in both visual appearance of keys and the size of the trigger box on each key. I added a color changing script to each of the keys, so it will change color whenever it was hit. This tells the player if they had successfully hit the key and which key was hit. I further stretched the keys a little bit to give more room to each key and to make the trigger box of each key smaller to avoid two keys being hit at the same time.
Open house demo
VR Marimba was later demoed to judges and other participants during the open house session. One of feedback we got was that our application was really easy to use, compare to other teams, our application did not require any walkthrough or tutorial, the only thing people needed to do is to put the headset on and play. Children were especially interested in VR Marimba that they even lined up to try. The feedback we got were mostly positive, and people were satisfied with the sound quality, environmental design, and ease of use. It was awarded the most intuitive/user and noob friendly award together with the Best Sound Engineer award.
VR Marimba was not intended to replace the traditional marimba, and there are still a lot of issues that need to be solved before it can be put into real use. However, we demonstrated an alternative solution with a great potential for learners or educational institutes that either cannot afford or do not have enough space for a real marimba. Even for experienced or professional players, VR Marimba is still an application that allows them to practice playing while traveling to another place where they have no access to the instrument. We envision a future that children who are interested in learning marimba can all be benefited by using our solution.