When the global quarantine threatened the launch of their new Unity-based virtual world, Sine Wave rapidly created Breakroom, a 3D social hub for teams that suddenly found themselves working completely from home. Find out how they did it.
In this interview, Adam Frisby from Sine Wave Entertainment shares how his team leveraged numerous Unity tools to make working from home more fun and more social. Breakroom is a fully customizable office space equipped with avatars, web conferencing, productivity tools, outdoor areas and even a virtual water cooler. Intrigued, we chatted with Adam, the chief product officer at Sine Wave (a Verified Solutions Partner), to learn more.
Like most of you, our Development team has been working completely remotely over the last few months. We were just about to launch a major update of Sinespace, our Unity-based virtual world platform, when the tragedy of the coronavirus struck.
It didn’t seem right or safe to do a major marketing campaign when people had far more serious concerns to worry about – among them, how to work from home while being socially isolated. So instead, we quickly organized a team to create Breakroom, a virtual office and hangout space for remote teams.
Breakroom combines the product we already had with Sinespace – a 3D sandbox game-development platform – with online conferencing features similar to those in products like Zoom or Slack. After a few weeks of hard work and pulling components from third-party tech and from the Unity Asset Store, we rolled Breakroom out to the world.
During the development process, our team used a lot of Unity’s features for building cross-platform, multiuser apps.
Developing a virtual world experience for use in real-world work is not simply a matter of recreating a 3D version of a company’s brick-and-mortar office – in our experience, that’s usually not the best approach at all. The feature set we added to Breakroom was strongly influenced by direct feedback and requests from enterprise clients we’ve worked with over the years.
So we focused on the features most important for remote work that are also compatible with a 3D space – that includes multiuser screen-sharing, collaborative whiteboards, and VOIP. We also decided to include webcam functionality, so users could pipe real-time video into the virtual space. We experimented with a lot of options for that, but we never had much success until we found another Unity Asset Store publisher, Agora, who have great solutions for voice and video with robust screen-sharing.
While there are a number of interesting conferencing and online work systems for VR, most of them only offer access to remote workers who own a compatible head-mounted display (HMD). In our experience, remote teams can do their work on a variety of devices (PC, Mac, mobile). While we’re already cross-platform, it required some extra focus to ensure that users on any device would be able to work together in tandem. We also learned that when you’re working with non-Windows platforms, make sure to budget extra testing time – as that’s often where problems lurk.
Another big challenge is checking dependencies for cross-platform compatibility before integrating. We’ve often integrated something great, then discovered that it only works on a subset of platforms. Being picky in advance can save a lot of time. The good news is that Unity’s own core functionality is robust across all platforms – almost all features work everywhere they are available.
The key to developing and launching Breakroom so quickly was Sinespace’s creator community, which has spent the last few years building and uploading content to the live virtual world, enabling any creator to sell or license their content directly inside Sinespace.
Among these amazing creators is Synty Studios, the acclaimed developer of high-quality, low-poly content available in the Asset Store. Synty was able to rapidly assemble big chunks of their models into a fantastic “city square” area with a wide range of architecture and surprises, including a giant King Kong-type gorilla on a nearby building.
In our view, creating an effective online workspace isn’t only about using the same tools as we do in a physical office within a shared 3D world, but also making it fun and welcoming so teams feel comfortable expressing themselves creatively. There are different content packs being prepared by other creative teams to offer a variety of themes, from realistic to stylized, and these can be supplemented from the in-client marketplace too.
Synty’s low-poly models also made it much easier to run Breakroom on the very lowest-spec hardware, including mobile tablets, VR headsets, low-end PCs, and Macs.
We are still tweaking and updating Breakroom as we prepare to announce our first customers and roll out the beta of our mobile clients. Our team would be grateful to anyone who checks out our free Mac/PC demo or share feedback with us in the comments.