Hammer & Tusk

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Google Blocks Aims For Simplicity

Tilt Brush is my all-time favourite Vive experience. It’s simple, engaging, and most of all, beautiful. It lets a first-time user understand the immersive quality of room-scale VR with a super straightforward interface, has a gorgeous environment that you can change at will, and employs enough sparkling glowing paint modes to keep even the most hyper-active user engaged. At Axiom Zen we use it to demo the possibilities of VR to VIPs who come into the office. Slip on a headset, give them a one minute tutorial, and let them play around for ten minutes. Usually they write their name, or create a 3D version of their company logo.

So when I heard that Google was released another free tool for 3D design, I was beyond excited. I downloaded Blocks with only a few minor technical challenges (seriously, when will this technology run smoothly?) and plopped my headset on. The wide desert expanse is meant to fade into the background, less engrossing than Tilt Brush’s wild landscape choices, and remains static. I was prompted to enter a tutorial, and quickly built my ice cream cone up and placed a cherry on top. When it came time to paint it, the simplicity of the tool actually threw me — the tutorial kept telling me “flip” to the paint colours, and I tried swiping, clicking, dragging, shaking, expecting access to more buttons. I finally twisted my hand, almost by accident, and realized the colours where on the underside of the control panel. And there weren’t very many of them! No colour gradients like Tilt Brush has, just a set of primary colours and away you go.

Being able to twist and grow shapes is fun. Drawing in the air with shapes is equally fun. Colouring options did leave me a little frustrated, even after I got used to the cartoony simplicity Blocks is clearly going for. But as someone who isn’t particularly artistically gifted, I quickly found myself wishing I could play with other people’s creations. I searched for a gallery or a library, to no avail. The five options presented (make shape, drag shape, move shape, erase shape, paint shape, essentially) was it.

After I disconnected and sat down to write this article, I discovered you can in fact do exactly what I wanted; import someone else’s creation and play with it. But I have yet to explore how to do that, and clearly it’s not something the designers are pushing you to, since it isn’t in the tutorial and there’s no quick button to browse through a public gallery of shapes.

Overall, Blocks’ simplicity works in its favour, but a gamification aspect would go a long way towards making this experience fun for everyone, not just designers.

Originally written by Wren Handman for www.hammerandtusk.com.

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