The importance of Easter eggs

Introduction

The process of adding Easter eggs inside projects is about creating informal inside jokes very well hidden, which aren’t usually revealed to clients or users. Most often, those do find about them by themselves after doing unexpected actions on the application, such as going through fake walls, series of key presses, opening the application at a specific location and/or time, etc.

Many companies, even the biggest ones out there, have been implementing Easter eggs in their products. One of the latest examples of this is Google’s Easter egg at the release of the Marvel Studio’s Avengers: End Game. Upon searching for Thanos and clicking on the glove, a script will run and automate the destruction of most of the web page, as shown on the video below.

Why are they so important?

Even before getting released, those have a clear impact on development. Towards the end of development, employees are usually feeling burned out, in need of both sleep and laughter. Easter eggs easily help brightening the mood of the office, since those are often created out of jokes or silly ideas which grew out of proportion.

After release, they usually are a fun way to tease your users and clients, depending on the type of person you have in front of you. Telling them “there’s an Easter egg in the app, have you found it yet?” make them curious and most often will get them to search the application and use it a lot more often. Additionally, asking your client to add an Easter egg themselves is something we would recommend. For instance, on a project we’ve worked in the past had put their initials on their main 3D model on the production build. Later, they could ask their users whether they’ve found it or not and have it as a joke.

Lastly, years after developing the project, rediscovering them is one of the best feeling. Easter eggs usually creates a lot of memories and good times, and often are associated with the core of the project while being a very discrete and pointless feature.

Example of Easter eggs

One of our developers really likes secrets and Easter eggs in general, and secretly stuffs every project with those without telling the rest of the team. While a lot of trust must be involved in this process, depending on the culture of your work environment, those can be well received.

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One example of something they did, was to add one of their character inside a secret room in one of our demos and removed the collider on the wall so you can walk right past through it. That kind of harmless detail can easily make somebody’s day.

Another example is adding additional needless information in the repository commits descriptions. It’s important to ensure that all the commit information is self-explanatory and accurate but adding a little weird sentence here and there can’t do any harm (unless the repository is meant to be transferred to the client).

Sample from one of our repositories commit list.

A very common type of in-company Easter egg is the misuse of code comments. While most of the comments are either formal and useful, some may include screams of agony or just plain weird content. Those are usually picked up during project review or project de-dusting, and often catches developers off- guard. A silly example of this type is this type of comment.

One of our developer hates series of clothing curvy brackets.

Conclusion

In short, based on the type of culture present in your company and the context of the current project, there is no reason why you shouldn’t add Easter eggs here and there. Do keep in mind that those should remain harmless for the sake of staying a joke rather than becoming a source of problem or arguments.

Have a wonderful day!

My Search for Last Stars

In 2011, a few days after I bought my first and only DSLR, I was quickly running out of subjects to shoot. I had shot the garbage filled lake behind my house and the few birds that come to visit it. I had shot the trees and the crows that inhabit so many times that I had lost count. Lying down stewing in the oppressive humidity that only Chennai’s summer could offer I was rummaging through my head, trying to find a new subject to test the new camera’s capabilities. Then it struck me. What grander model can I get to pose for my camera than the night sky itself? And with that thought I took my camera and the tripod that came with it to shoot the night sky.

What comes to your mind when you think of the night sky? The full moon in all its glory? Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry night? A starlit sky? When was the last time you went out and looked at the night sky?

After multiple shots at varying exposures, and with every photo growing frustrated with what I was getting on my camera. I set the camera to the maximum exposure setting it had, 30 seconds and clicked the shutter button. The camera opened its shutter, the screen went dark and the sensor started capturing all the photons of light that came its way for the next thirty seconds. This is the image that I was staring at after the camera closed it shutter and finished processing what it had captured for the last thirty seconds.

It was only then did I look up and see the sky instead of giving it just a cursory glance.

Two questions popped in my mind with what I was seeing. Firstly, “Why is the sky orange?”. Secondly “Where are all the stars?”. The first question got answered when I turned around and saw the streetlights lining the road. Shining bright and orange, the sodium vapour lamps seemed to be everywhere, and were painting the sky a garish shade of orange.

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Dejected at not getting the shots I thought I’d have; I went back in and did some research and found out that the stars’ light were overpowered by the very sodium vapor lamps that were painting the sky orange. On further research I found a site which gave a visual representation of the amount of light radiated into the sky across the globe. And this is what I found.

The map is of South India and any place which isn’t black has some amount of light radiating into the sky, with red being the places with the most light. The areas marked green, had some light pollution but was still a problem to get a good shot from.

A few months later in 2012, I was at my grandma’s place for a family occasion, and as is the norm during these get togethers, me and my cousins were lying down outside the house at night, as there were way too many people to be accommodated inside. Tamil Nadu was going through a severe power crisis during that time and power cuts were an everyday occurrence. While the power cuts were scheduled in the urban centres, they were very frequent and unscheduled in the rural areas. And luckily one of these unscheduled power cuts happened during that night, and the power cut brought an instant change in the sky we were looking at in the cold January night. I was for the first time in my life, taking in the sight of an unpolluted(almost) night sky.

While staring awestruck at the sky, I noticed a small streak of silver running across the sky, which I happened to dismiss as a jet stream at first, and then it struck me. What I was looking at wasn’t a jet stream, but I was in fact looking at our galaxy, The Milky Way. While researching about the night sky in search of the perfect photo I had also stumbled upon the information that the Milky Way is visible from earth to the naked eye if the sky is clear, there is no moon in the sky and you are in a dark enough place. That was my first and till this date remains, sadly, my only live sighting of our galaxy.

Fast forward a year and a half in 2013, during my second year of college, where I was studying Game Development, I had somehow been made one of the two administrators of the college photography club called “Shooterz”, which was the seed for a Photography department to be launched in the college a couple of years later. Through that club I was enrolled into a competition called “International Photocross”, as part of a team of three people, which was a competition held across a few countries by a Russian college. We were given ten topics and two days to get a photo for each of the topic. One receiving the topics, we split the topics amongst ourselves and went to get out photos. One of the topics for that year was “Space Near Us”, and I knew exactly what I wanted to shoot for that topic.

I packed my kit, and went to my grandma’s place, a drive of around 200 kilometres. I arrived there in the evening and waited for night to fall and another unscheduled power cut to occur. Although night fell, the power cut never arrived. A few hours of waiting, and I needed to get back to Chennai for the next day. So, I went to the darkest spot I could find turned my camera at the sky and started clicking one uninspiring photo after another. Lady luck was not kind that night, I couldn’t land a single picture where I could even see a glimmer of the Milky Way on the display of the camera. Giving up hope I pointed the camera in the general direction of my grandma’s house, which was a few kilometres away from where I was shooting and started shooting photos.

Out of sheer luck the angle I was making placed the town of Neyveli in my shot. Neyveli for those who don’t know is the location of a state-owned thermal power generation station. And while it was busy generating electricity, the premises were lit up for the night shift to work, and it happened to be glowing against the night sky. While it was partially responsible for hiding most of the stars and the milky way from sight that night, the shot I had captured, with a few stars rising above the orange glow of a busy town, with streaks of light at the bottom provided by vehicles travelling along a highway, proved enough to be adjudged best in category.

I have barely touched my camera after finishing college, hardly finding time for it, this photo has remained the best photo of a night sky I have taken. My search for a place from which I can click a picture of the stars lighting up the sky with the milky way in the backdrop continues to remain in my bucket list.

Designing Intitutive UX for AR

Introduction

The AR (Augmented Reality) technology is constantly improving with a host of new technologies like big data, machine-learning, IOT, Artificial intelligence, etc. The digital experience has been radically transformed by coalescing the physical and digital worlds, where the user interface has extended beyond the screen with a flexible immersion level.

Jared Spool famously wrote “Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done

poorly that we notice it.”

Applications based on Augmented Reality adopt a series of well-defined user experience design principles that are generally consistent, although there are scenarios where there is a need to make design decisions according to the associated industry, style and objective of the application.

Environment

One of the biggest challenges of the UX design in an AR application is determining the environment in which the application intends to run. Some applications are built to interact with the user’s entire body, such as a retail application that allows the user to virtually try on clothes. Similarly, there are many AR applications which are meant to be used in public spaces.

The key is to keep the environment familiar and intuitive. AR provides users, experiences that traditional applications cannot. A new axis is introduced to our digital experiences — we are integrating the physical world through cameras of the various devices. Digital and physical interaction provides an opportunity to explore a dimension where the boundaries are blurred.

As such, user testing is critical in order to predict how different environmental factors will enhance or inhibit the positive user experience. Environmental factors which are pivotal for a positive user experience are the user’s vantage point, colors, sizes of objects, lighting and shadows, moving objects, living beings, and walls.

Interactions

The interaction of the user with the objects, media, and the UI is in the social sphere by default. When considering how to interact with the environment, it is important to primarily consider what hardware the users will be engaging with. The interactions through mobile are different than HoloLens interactions. The interactions should always be designed to align with the goal of the immersive application’s experience.

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Developing empathy for the users enables the designer to preemptively address the limitations that certain users might encounter during their experience. By virtue of taking the time to envision the user’s needs, the designer can make the interactions holistically accessible and useful for all the users.

Presence of cues

Cues play an important part in developing a strong UX experience, as they offer direction for users. Simultaneously, cues are designed to hide or reveal certain features dependent on gestures made by users. Visual cues present the users with off-screen elements such as buttons, which the user can hover over for additional features. Cues are simple clues that inform the user what elements of the UI are designed to be interacted with, and how to interact with them.

Audio cues are useful as well, allowing users to command the application to do something just by speaking. Similarly, an application could be created to recognize certain sounds which can trigger it display hidden features.

Color and text

Vuforia Chalk app

The science of Color theory works the same way in AR, just like how it influences us in print, mobile, web, and the other elements of our life. Consider the environmental context, the culture of the users, and the psychological effects of certain colors while selecting the theme of the application. Lighting is an integral characteristic which defines the effectiveness of the immersive experience to the user, if the users are enjoying the experience or leaving them unconvinced. Projection of shadows from the objects enhance the visual effects and brings them to life. For text, it is important to ensure it is relatively large and easy to read, but not overpowering. Choosing a font that works well with the color scheme and environment is important.

Blissful Bir

“I wondered why it was that places are so much lovelier when one is alone.” Daphne Du Maurier

 

Going to Himachal Pradesh, India for a trip is like a treat to yourself. You’re sure to make memories that’ll be forever. Sometimes it is necessary to clear out the mundane things to fill it with nature and positive energy. And there’s no better place than Himachal to fulfil this need. And the best way to do that is to go to Himachal on a lone trip.

Bir Billing

Bir-Billing is in Himachal Pradesh and is known as the second highest take-off spot for Paragliding in the world.

Travelling overnight from Delhi, I finally reached Bir on Saturday morning where the bus stopped at the Tibetan Colony. As I stepped out of the bus, my soul immediately began to create a connection with a beautiful place.

We reached our hostel after a 10-minute walk. I started exploring the place once I was done with the check-in formalities, as the place really fascinated me with Its amazing sitting area outside. While I was having breakfast, the sight of colourful parachutes soaring high in the sky caught my attention and I started feeling butterflies in my stomach wondering- there I am going to be too in the next few hours.

After a while, we drove straight to the take-off site. The moment to glide over the snow- capped peaks of the Himalayas arrived. While my pilot was setting up the parachute, I rested there for a while being a bit nervous, scared and sceptical. But above all, I was ready for another level of adventure. My pilot was ready and so was I. This was the time when I wasn’t feeling nervous anymore but the thought of being airborne for the next 30 minutes got me super excited.

Up Up Up in the air!

From a scenic Billing, I jumped off the cliff. With not a very smooth take off, I was in the air in no time. It is another world from the top.

The ride was about 15-30 minutes long, and it was more thrilling than I had expected, as I got to fly up high above the beautiful mountains, soaring through the cool wind, making my way freely like a bird. Bir-Billing was the perfect place for me to experience the joys of paragliding, and it is no surprise that it is among the top ten paragliding spots in the world.

Trek to Billing

 

After the glide, I came back to our hostel, I joined other two travellers who were heading on a trek to Billing

It’s amazing how the weather switches when you are in the mountains, in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, I felt the cold air welcoming me as we got down and prepped to begin the trek.

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It’s just going to be 7 km,’ said our captain beaming a smile and trying his best not to intimidate us with the distance or the terrain. And we walked through the trail that hung to the mountains, with the valley that began getting steep on one side.

We made it to billing in 4 hours just as the sun was calling it a day, setting behind the gorgeous snow-capped mountains. I was able to get a glimpse of the trail sprinkled with snow. Not just that, it was a landscape dotted with powdery snow. The mountains topped with sheets of snow towered over the valley that stretched for miles. The clouds above these peaks tried to kiss adieu for the day with their colours changing by vibrant rays of the setting sun.

The serene valley witnessed the riot of colours in the sky. The backdrop changed like a slideshow from a bright yellow that turned pinkish, then becoming red and slightly purple, before turning grey and blending perfectly with the night sky.

The Sky Village – Camping site (Billing)

We were offered Maggi and Chai as soon as we arrived at our campsite– the best things to cherish after a hike! We sat by the bonfire as the passing night became colder. A delicious and wholesome meal was followed soon. The night sky was embedded with as many stars as you can imagine.

The next day I woke up to some amazing views of the valley and went for a short walk in the quiet woods nearby. We all joined for a scrumptious breakfast that included hot paranthas and Masala Chai. Later in the day, we took a cab back to our hostel.

The trek was truly an escape into the wilderness. It was especially the best experience for a traveller like me, who got a chance to meet amazing people and enjoy the experience without having to be concerned about safety or doubts about escaping to the wild!

Monastery

The other best thing about visiting Bir is its sprawling peaceful and welcoming monasteries. The monasteries are so welcoming that with your camera they barely deny you access to any place or click anything. They even allowed visitors to be part of their prayers and let them sit next to the monks. If you’re in luck, you might be able to share a cup of hot Tibetan tea or some of the snacks they make.

Local Market

Your visit to Bir Billing is not accomplished fully until you visit & shop from the famous Bir road. Its local stalls have traditional clothing and ethnic food is someplace you will surely appreciate.

It was a short trip, but I came back with so much

When you travel solo but find ‘friends’ to drop you to the bus to bid you goodbye: you had an excellent trip!

Appearition Enterprise Jam #1

Introduction

Last month, we had decided to start an enterprise App/Game Jam internally. The concept behind a jam is to run a 48h straight event with the objective to create a prototype by the end of it, allowing as much freedom as possible to a given team while they respond to a given theme.

This jam’s theme was “Rewards“.

Why though?

To begin with, the main goal of this jam was to reunite the developers and designers at Appearition together and have them work in a single team. While we had worked together on various occasions and projects, we never had experienced a single project with all of us working towards a single outcome at once.

Although, each of us knew what others do, a jam (along with the pressure it provides) offered us the best way to bond further and learn more about out various skill sets, especially secondary skills and things we prefer doing in a project. During this jam, some of us found out that one of us had artistic skills, another with a preference for developing UI rather than code, and another with a strong desire to learn game programming. Participating in this type of event helped learning about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as working as a team to achieve the single outcome.

While most projects we do are on an individual scale or a bigger scale, this was a great opportunity to test how we would come up with solutions for different time zones and remote work for a project with a tight deadline and heavy pressure.

Lastly, this was a great opportunity to change from what we usually do, which is more along the lines of R&D, enterprise application development, proof of concept, etc. Quite a few of us had never worked on a game before, or not for a long time. Being able to develop a prototype for a different type of use and audience was a challenge to us, as well as being refreshing.

Doing the jam

We started the jam with 6 of us:

  • 2 Programmers (1 lead and 1 mechanic developer, both actual developers)
  • 1 Game Artist (R&D developer but could do game art)
  • 2 UI Designers (one pure UI Designer, one who prefers UI design over development)
  • 1 Project Manager

We used Slack as our main communication tool and ZOOM and Skype for group calls. We started the jam all in a call, were briefed about the theme, then decided to individually explore the theme and return as a group to discuss our findings. Once on the call, we proposed several ideas, projects, talked about them and expanded them. After making sure each of us had something to work on, we started working. The team was divided in two locations: two people
in one house in Australia, and the rest of the team would meet at the office or at somebody’s place.

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We agreed to work on an Appearition Simulator, which would be a game inspired from Game Dev Tycoon (2012, developed and published by Greenheart Games), where the player starts as our CEO, takes on projects, expands the team and builds the whole company from scratch. Part of this idea also helped explaining what the origin of Appearition was, and how it became what it is today.

The prototype of the game was meant to be a 2D horizontal management game, where the player controls several employees by selecting them one by one and giving them orders individually. Our CEO would receive calls about a client wanting a project, along with requirements and modules.

Client project panel. Gives some background on the project and client, including salary, time and tasks. The client stats affect the flow of the project, change of requirements, etc; and are meant to improve as we educate them.

Once accepted, all those requirements would appear on a blackboard as tasks (like a Kanban workflow, to-do, QA, done, etc) of different field of practice. Each of those tasks could be assigned to employees, who would have skills and preference in said field.

Task board, where employees select tasks. Here, there is a lvl5 R&D task, lvl0 UI Design and lvl0 Q&A. Those values aren’t meant to be absolutely accurate.

Upon project completion, each team member would receive skill proficiency, happiness if they worked on skills they liked, and food. The company would also get the money from the commission, and the client would gain trust in our company. If the project was not finished in time, the company would not earn a cent and every employee would lose happiness.

Our CEO currently working on a task. No time for sitting animations!

The outcome

Unfortunately, we did not have sufficient time to push the project to a prototype level within the 48 given hours, mainly due to the way we worked as a group and had seek an extension in order to complete it.

However, the primary objectives were more along the lines of team-bonding and having a good time with colleagues by doing something different, and we did great on that. Additionally, most of us learned a lot from working on a non-enterprise project, since this isn’t what we’re used to.

Through most of the jam, we were using Slack to post work in progress of what we were each doing in order to keep the team informed. Once any of us had any struggle or was done with their task, we would get in a call together and keep ourselves updated. On the last day, we had a nearly constant group call ongoing to ensure that we were going to deliver properly and go through the problems we had.

Overall, we were happy with this opportunity given to us. On presenting this project to the entire company, we agreed on expanding this project as an introduction to Appearition, as well as a way to learn more about our colleagues.