(Above photo: Reilly Cisco, Joseph Byland, Sam Petersen, and Jacob Waggoner working on a group project)
We recently had the chance to speak with Jacob Waggoner, a senior at the University of Idaho’s Virtual Technology & Design (VTD) program. Jacob was nominated by the VTD department to be featured as one of our “student spotlights” and after speaking with him we can definitely see why!
As a child Jacob was very interested in computers and technology, and when he and his family moved to Idaho in 2008 the technology within his new school system wasn’t quite as deep as what he had experienced in California. However, that didn’t stop him from learning more about computers, games and technology. He spent his junior high and high school years starting IT clubs and working with as much technology as he could get his hands on. When he began thinking about college he knew he wanted to continue pursuing his passion for gaming and technology. He assumed that he would likely go to an out of state university, but after taking an Introduction to Animation class (basically an intro to Maya class) in high school he heard about the VTD program at U of I. From there the rest is history. The VTD program offered him exactly what he was looking for without the out of state price tag and he’s now a senior in the program looking forward to graduation this spring. When he’s not working on class projects he spends a great deal of time working on building his Artstation portfolio and working on prototypes in Unreal. Jacob is hoping to work in an environment art position either at a game studio or VR studio once he is done with school. We had a great time speaking with Jacob and here’s what he had to say about the industry:
What made you choose VTD as a major?
Since I was little, interactive media has always been a huge part of my life. From my first time holding a controller and jumping on mushroom men, I knew that I wanted to learn how to tell stories in an interactive way. When graduation was coming close, I heard that a school near me had a hybrid program that taught storytelling, technical skills, and design. The Oculus Dev kits came out around this time as well, so I was very intrigued with the idea of working with those.
What is the coolest project you have worked on this year?
Throughout April and May I had the opportunity to work with a group of students on a prototype for an escape room attraction of our own design. We decided to use the HTC Vive to show it off, and we broke the team down into a full production studio. Over 5 weeks we went from a couple of concept sketches to a fully interactive VR horror game. I was in charge of materials and story. The environment was very high stress, but we were really proud of our final results.
Why are you passionate about VR?
Last year I purchased an HTC Vive for our team to develop our escape room attraction on. My only real previous experience was with mobile versions of VR, so it was really an eye opening experience. For one of the first times since I was little, I completely lost myself in a digital experience and forgot time completely. VR really has the ability to take a user to a completely new space and allows for human interaction that is much truer to in person interaction than other online spaces have been able to achieve. I really think that the sense of presence will make it key in both entertainment and business once the software becomes easily accessible.
What do you think are the greatest opportunities within the VR/AR space?
The sense of place is much more intense in VR than on traditional display technologies, so I feel that storytelling and communication can truly reach an entirely new level in VR spaces. I have focused on building environments because I believe that creating believable spaces for human interaction is key to creating a fully immersive VR experience for the user. AR has great potential in its ability to integrate outside elements into a prebuilt and believable world, so I hope to bring elements of that into spaces that the user doesn't have access to normally.
Where do you hope we’ll be in 10 years with VR/AR?
Right now, I see a lack of a cohesive operating environment and the lack of accessibility as the biggest shortcomings for VR. I hope that the next 10 years will bring powerful standalone headsets that could allow for a much easier point of entry into the market and for a linked hub for consuming the content and interacting with others. Many of the UI designs and interaction methods are heavily tied into smartphone style interfaces that are very difficult to operate using a controller or current hand tracking. Making the whole experience easier could get the average consumer over the VR doorstep.
Any final thoughts?
I would just like to thank you for taking the time to speak with me! I truly think that VR and AR technologies are going to be the future of both entertainment and business applications moving forward, and I am very happy to see other people in Idaho taking part in this new frontier.
If you’d like to connect with Jacob please reach out to him via his Artstation portfolio HERE