Finding our Rhythm
Week 1 Updates
Hello Everyone. We are Lyraflo – a pitch project team at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. During the Fall 2021 semester, we will be creating a series of prototypes exploring musical concepts in Virtual Reality. We are a discovery project, meaning that we will lean into and employ experimentation throughout the semester to gain a better understanding of designing entertaining yet educational experiences that explore the intersection of music theory and VR.
Our team consists of Wizard Hsu, Noah Kankanala, Wish Kuo, Yuji Sato, and Jack Wesson. Noah and Yuji are our producers and sound designers, Wizard and Wish are our programmers, and Jack is our artist and UX designer. Wizard plays the harmonica, Noah the guitar, Wish the violin, Yuji the piano, and Jack the french horn. Our faculty advisors are John Dessler and Ricardo Washington
Tech and Room Check
The project officially commenced on Monday, Aug 30th, when we received the keys to Room 3216 – the Lyraflo Project room, located on the 3rd floor of the ETC. It feels great to be in-person. There are already moments of serendipity where we unconsciously look over a shoulder and ask a teammate a question. The response is instantaneous ; a phenomenon that would not have been possible in the days of working remote, where Qs and As were often asynchronously conveyed through chat channels such as Slack. Feedback and critique has never been easier, as we wheel over to one another’s desk and glance at what they are working on. There is a strong sense of camaraderie and excitement as the week progresses.
We spent the first few days settling into the room and submitting a hardware request. We will be working with the HTC Vive this semester, so we put in a request for 3 headsets. Additionally, we asked for a couple of Midi Keyboards, a sound chip card for our computer, an audio interface, and a nice speaker system.
We had our first advisor meeting with John and Ricardo on Aug 30th. It was mostly a check-in chat, with us sharing our main goal for the week – to clarify our high-level design and begin brainstorming our first prototype. During the meeting, John and Ricardo expressed the importance of solidifying our target audience and making sure that we tie everything back to the users. They urged us to consider drafting up a persona or two to bring more clarity and detail to what our target audience might be like. Additionally, they encouraged us to spend time exploring the VR space. This was valuable guidance that prompted us to begin the semester by asking a series of critical questions that began to bring clarity to our project concept. What is Lyraflo and what is it not?
Applying the transformational framework
Throughout the week, we ran our project through The Transformational Framework (a book written by game designer, Sabrina Culyba). The Transformational Framework is a helpful pre-production model used for designing transformational experiences and games. We used this framework as a model for critically asking, addressing, and answering questions that could facilitate and lead to player transformations. When guests play our experience, we hope that they emerge feeling impacted and changed in some shape, way, or form.
Questions of Significance
- What is the problem we are trying to solve?
- What is our purpose?
- Why should Lyraflo exist?
- Who is our target audience and what do they want?
- What are they missing?
- What is their motivation?
- Why isn’t our target audience already transformed?
- What are the barriers that prevent target audience from transforming?
- What are our player transformations?
- What types of transformations are we aiming for?
- Who can we reach out to for support?
- What can we ask our SMEs?
- What is Lyraflo going to develop/teach/convey?
- What will guests do in our experiences?
- What prior work exists in the same atmosphere?
- What are the related works?
- How will we measure the efficacy of our prototypes?
- How will we measure our transformations?
Throughout the week, we grappled with these questions internally. It was a tricky process, because we quickly realized that there were many different directions we could take our project in. This reiterated the importance of leveraging and applying a model such as the transformational framework; a model that forces a team to make difficult decisions in order to achieve a consistent yet compelling design structure that tackles an unmet need. First we came up with a list of potential high-level purposes.
Lyraflo will aim to:
- Leave players more musically enriched.
- De-mystify music theory.
- Capture the beauty of music theory.
- Create a playground of musical concepts.
- Explore and cultivate an appreciation for music theory.
- Bridge the gap between music and theory.
*It is important to note that when we say music theory or musical concepts, we are referring to music principles such as rhythm, harmony, melody, chord structures, key, etc.
Next, we clarified our target audience. In the past, we had been focusing on beginner musicians. However, after several discussions, we decided to shift our focus to university students, who have an interest in composition, and are looking for a low-stakes entry-point to learn more about music theory in a fun and experiential space, all from the comfort of their home. We decided to focus on this target demographic because we believe that the unmet need is appropriate to tackle. As a team, we believe that traditional mechanisms and mediums for learning theory, i.e. textbooks, courses, and applications, [all with varying degrees of engagement] have their place and their importance. But there exists a demographic of more casual engagers with music, who deserve to have a lower stakes entry-point to learn about musical concepts and how they sound in application. As a result, we decided to shift our focus to university students because we believe our prototypes could suffice as a nudge or push into the direction of more advanced study or engagement with music theory.
Charles is a Freshman in college. He is interested in music, gaming, and learning. He listens to a lot of funk and blues, and has always been curious about why his favorite music sounds the way it does. He is looking for a product like Lyraflo because it would allow him to learn more about music theory in a low-stakes, fun, and engaging environment, all from the comfort of his home.
Then, we discussed barriers that might be preventing members of our target audience, such as Charles, from being transformed.
As previously mentioned, traditional mediums for learning about music theory include textbooks, classes, and applications [such as EarMaster]. Textbooks hold an abundance of information; information that is often very complex to decipher and process. Classes can be great because of the instructor presence, but are largely academic commitments that are not self-driven. Oftentimes, these methods divorce the music from the theory, so often that students are reading about theoretical concepts, but having little understanding of how they sound in application. In the case of apps such as EarMaster, the sound is attached, but the mechanism of interacting with the interface feels like an arduous task where one has committed themselves to a fixed routine. This sense of complexity can defer students from learning music theory, particularly students of our target demographic – university students with little theoretical knowledge.
Additionally, our team highlighted how there are certain misconceptions and stigmas surrounding music theory. Some see theory as a set of rules. We believe that is a set of tools. Theory is not a limiter, but rather an enhancer that can open up new ways of engaging and approaching music, whether it be as an appreciator or a creator.
Next, we brainstormed a series of player transformations that guests could experience within our prototypes.
Regarding expert resources, we plan on connecting with validators such as music teachers. We believe that these experts can bring critique and feedback to our curriculum – the theoretical topics we plan to cover such as chord structures, harmony, or rhythm. The insight of these experts will be valuable because it will help guide the methods and techniques we will use to convey our learning principles.
We had an additional chat about games or experiences that are entertaining all the while producing very clear player transformations. We discussed the potency of games such as Civilization and Age of Empires, where guests learn about history, but do so almost unconsciously. At the moment to moment level in Age of Empires, players are building a barracks, generating a new military unity, or mining for gold. But within these moments, they are learning about ancient cultures, architectures, historical figures, etc. At an economic level, they learn about the importance of resource management. Guests are learning, but doing so through gameplay. When they emerge from the experience, a knowledge transformation occurs – they now have a better understanding of a particular moment in history, or how to budget and allocate resources.
We are inspired by these types of experiences that imbed learning goals within an entertainment context. Within the realm of games, there exist powerful music theory experiences such as TuneTrain, a mobile game developed by an ETC project team named Bravura. This experience had a clear demographic – children above the age of eight looking for a fun and relaxing way to learn about music theory. The team imbedded a learning curriculum of fundamental elements of music composition within their experience, and the end result is a playground where children are able to interact with music through gameplay and interaction. Through the mechanism of drawing and tracing lines, guests subliminally learn about pitch intervals, and how the respected distances, positions, and heights of these notes sound in relationship to one another. Guests emerge from the game with several possible transformations pertaining to knowledge, disposition, or identity.
The last element that we will discuss in this blog post pertaining to the Transformational Framework, is our assessment plan. We plan on measuring the efficacy of our prototypes by qualitatively surveying our guests before and after the experience. Some topics of consideration include:
- Understanding of music theory. What is it?
- Relationship towards music theory. How do you feel towards it?
- Musical identity. How would you evaluate your identity in relation to music?
- Belief towards music theory. What do you believe about music theory?
Exploring the VR Space
- Creating sonically-driven interactions. Spatial Audio.
- Setting a strong atmosphere through dynamic lighting and color.
- Using visualization to convey sound.
- Bringing a world to life through interactions.
- Using haptic feedback to enhance immersion.
- Creating an open and spacious environmental.
- Interacting with music through interactions feels really good.
- Particle FX enhance experience.
- Keeping interactions intuitive.
Week 1 Updates
- We moved into our project room, submitted our hardware request, and had our first advisor meeting.
- We used the Transformational Framework to clarify and align our design direction.
- We explored the VR space to help bring influence for our first prototype.
Next week, we will begin brainstorming and developing our first prototype.