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Interview with Steven Christian

Steven Christian is the author of Enhancing Virtual Reality Experiences with Unity 2022; we got the chance to sit down and find out more about his experience of writing with Packt.

Q: What is the name of your book?

Steven: Enhancing Virtual Reality Experiences with Unity 2022: Use Unity’s latest features to level up your skills for VR games, apps, and other projects

Q: What are your specialist tech areas?

Steven: Animation, Visual Storytelling, Full Stack, AR & VR Development

Q: How did you become an author for Packt? Tell us about your journey. What was your motivation for writing this book?

Steven: The opportunity surprisingly presented itself. I had just started medical school and had recently completed an interview with The Wall Street Journal about the use of emerging technology in social activism.

This technology also served as a means to drive artistic creativity and expression. During that time, I was developing an augmented reality project named “Eyelnd Feevr.” The project focused on creating scalable solutions for augmented reality mobile development. It integrated large data transfers from servers and merged with print and physical media to enhance traditional entertainment experiences.

With my active presence on social media, The Packt publishers noticed my work. They approached me, inquiring if I’d be interested in writing a book about my work and its potential to enhance virtual reality experiences using Unity.

Q: What kind of research did you do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning the book?

Steven: That’s a fascinating question. Immediately after committing to the book, I acquired a Meta Quest 2 and embarked on an extensive exploration of YouTube videos and books on VR development that I had previously purchased.

My approach to the book was less about traditional research and more about experimentation within the realm of virtual reality. Typically, my projects are driven by specific client prompts, but for this endeavor, the focus was on delivering the most insightful and educational experience in a book format.

By that time, I had the privilege of being a Unity-certified instructor and held a certification as a Unity Certified Professional Artist. This equipped me with a plethora of valuable skills, tips, and tricks, especially in using the Unity game engine for artistic expression and creation. I aimed to integrate established workflows for effective development.

My recent projects in augmented reality, mainly geared towards mobile development, and the fact that most VR headsets operate on mobile platforms like Android gave me confidence. I believe my unique background allowed me to offer a fresh and unconventional approach to teaching VR development.

Undoubtedly, this has been one of the most prolonged projects I’ve undertaken. The research and experimentation phase spanned the entire duration of the project. This extensive journey was immensely beneficial, enhancing my skills as both a virtual reality developer and a Unity user.

Q: Did you face any challenges during the writing process? How did you overcome them?

Steven: Throughout the writing process, I encountered numerous challenges, particularly in my personal life. As a new medical student, time was a luxury I didn’t have, unlike before I started medical school. Furthermore, I suffered the loss of several pivotal figures in my life, including my grandmother, best friend, and God brother, among others. These heart-wrenching events often forced me to step back from writing, allowing me to be with my family, focus on my studies, and prioritize self-care.

However, I was determined to provide readers with not only an informative experience but also one that inspires. My ability to overcome these hurdles was largely due to open communication with my publishers and the unwavering support of significant individuals in my life. They guided me toward my end goal. The journey was arduous, but invaluable, fostering growth both personally and professionally.

Additionally, this was my first attempt at writing an educational book. I typically write graphic novels and comic books, so this endeavor presented its own set of challenges. Relying heavily on precise language, grammar, and consistent terminology was unfamiliar territory. Often, I found myself dedicating considerable time to ensuring consistency in terms and names used throughout the book. Although this was occasionally frustrating, my primary goal was clarity. I wanted to ensure readers could easily grasp and follow the concepts presented.

Interestingly, while I have extensive experience teaching live sessions, workshops, and classes, translating that knowledge into comprehensible text proved challenging. I aimed to make the written content as engaging and clear as my live sessions.

Q: What’s your take on the technologies discussed in the book? Where do you see these technologies heading in the future?

Steven: The primary focus of my book, as indicated by the title, is on virtual reality and animation. A crucial aspect that often gets sidelined in the development of extended reality technologies, like augmented and virtual reality, is the significance of experiencing animation in real-time.

Whether it’s content, user interfaces, or interactivity, much of it hinges on real-time rendering, which essentially is animation rendered at high frame rates, often between 90 to 120 frames per second. Performance issues, such as motion sickness, can be traced back to the efficiency of rendering animations at these high speeds, ensuring users don’t experience any adverse effects.

With the recent announcements of products like Apple’s Vision Pro and Meta’s Quest 3, we’re witnessing the evolution of virtual reality headsets and mixed reality through camera pass-through. These advancements herald an era of immersive experiences, from games to educational modules and interactive videos.

The potential is vast, and as the boundaries continue to expand, we’re nearing a point where such technologies will seamlessly integrate into our daily routines, akin to smartphones, YouTube videos, DVDs, and books. Furthermore, as tools become more accessible and affordable, especially with platforms like Unity, we’ll see a surge in people wanting to craft their own applications for these technologies. They’ll not only wish to showcase their creations but also forge meaningful connections, bridging the gap between their visions and the desires of the global audience.

Q: Why should readers choose this book over others already on the market? How would you differentiate your book from its competition?

Steven: As I’ve mentioned earlier, my primary intention with this book, setting it apart from others in the market, was to provide readers with a comprehensive view of creating virtual reality experiences from inception to completion.

This encompasses not just the technicalities, like mastering C# code or navigating the intricacies of the Unity game engine, but also delving into the foundational elements that constitute a genuine virtual reality experience. I emphasize understanding the philosophy behind VR, identifying its core components, and the entire developmental workflow — from conceptualizing an idea on paper to animating an engaging, interactive scene.

Being an artist at heart, I use development as a tool for my artistic expression. I aimed to present this knowledge from a vantage point that’s accessible to someone driven by an idea, looking to acquire the necessary skills to bring it to life, rather than the other way around.

I firmly believe that a significant drawback in the XR and VR industry is the propensity to create solutions in search of problems. Through this book, I challenge this narrative by emphasizing the primacy of the idea that naturally aligns with virtual reality, rather than concocting a VR experience and then retroactively infusing it with purpose.

While the end product in both cases might be a VR experience, the underlying motivation and development journey differ drastically. This book chronicles the evolution of an idea, elucidating both its genesis and the foundational principles that transform it into a tangible, immersive experience.

I can’t speak for all the resources available out there, I’m fairly confident that there’s no other VR guide penned by a former Division 1 College Football Player turned medical student with a decade-long background in 2D and 3D animation, visual storytelling, and comic book creation. This unique blend of experiences offers readers an unparalleled journey into the world of VR development with Unity.

Q: What are the key takeaways you want readers to come away with from the book?

Steven: A central message I hope readers derive from this book is that virtual reality serves as a medium for realizing your ideas; it’s not the ultimate destination. In essence, VR is merely one of many avenues to explore and bring your ideas to life.

By harnessing the capabilities of Unity in tandem with a genuine understanding of what makes virtual reality resonant, you unlock the potential to forge groundbreaking innovations in this domain. It’s vital to adhere to the foundational reasons why VR captivates and engages, while also mastering the nuances of the Unity game engine.

This combination allows you to integrate Unity’s latest tools and features, paving the way for unparalleled experiences that haven’t been ventured before. If there’s a singular takeaway from this book, let it be the understanding that Unity offers a robust platform for swiftly crafting immersive virtual reality experiences.

Moreover, its versatile animation capabilities are not just confined to VR but can be utilized in a myriad of other projects, enriching your creative arsenal.

Q. What advice would you give to readers jumping into this technology? Do you have any top tips?

Steven: For those diving into this book, I have a few suggestions to make your journey into virtual reality development smoother:

1. Master Unity’s Interface: Familiarize yourself with the intricacies of the Unity interface and its functionalities. Think of Unity today as what Microsoft Office represented for professionals a decade or so ago, especially concerning virtual reality.

2. Invest in a VR Headset: Acquiring a headset, be it a Pico Four or a Meta Quest, is essential. This will provide a hands-on experience, crucial for understanding the nuances of VR.

3. Opt for a PC Over Mac: Based on my experience, I recommend developing on a PC. One of the vital aspects of VR development, as highlighted in the book, is the ability to prototype and test rapidly. With a PC, you can test your creations in the editor immediately after making changes, reducing the wait time for builds. This immediate feedback loop not only accelerates your learning curve but also saves precious time, allowing you to focus more on the creative essence of your projects.

4. Follow VR Developers on YouTube: Seek out developers on YouTube who are making strides in VR. Not only will this keep you updated on the latest trends, but you’ll also gain insights into different approaches and techniques.

5. Leverage Unity’s Versatility: Since Unity is fundamentally a game development platform, you have access to a myriad of tools beyond just VR. Embrace this versatility.

6. Adopt an Experimental Mindset: Approach VR development with curiosity and a willingness to explore. Don’t fear making mistakes. Instead, view them as opportunities to learn and improve. The path of development is filled with challenges, but each hurdle overcome adds to your growth and expertise.

Remember, the world of virtual reality is vast and ever-evolving. Keeping an open mind and continuously experimenting will ensure you stay ahead and make the most of your VR development journey.

Q. Do you have a blog that readers can follow?

Steven: I have a blog and a YouTube channel, which I refer to as my video blog, named “Stuck on an Eyeland” ( https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFtcnhBJ3r9KPZYhcG2sOqg). I also manage “Stuck E in Augmented Reality” at https://stuckeinaugmentedreality.com. Since embarking on my medical school journey, I’ve struggled to consistently update my blog. However, as I adjust to the academic workload and pace of school and studies, I’m gearing up to revitalize my blog and share more with everyone, particularly as we approach 2024.

Q: Can you share any blogs, websites, and forums to help readers gain a holistic view of the tech they are learning? What are the key takeaways you want readers to come away with from the book?

Steven: In my development journey, there are several resources that I genuinely value and frequently use. These include Udemy, Skillshare, and the Unity Learn website. Additionally, I often refer to YouTube channels like Valem, Code Monkey, Brackeys, and many others.

Q. How would you describe your author’s journey with Packt? Would you recommend Packt to aspiring authors?

Steven: My journey as an author with Packed was truly transformative. They played a pivotal role in guiding me through the intricacies of the book publishing process from inception to completion.

Despite the personal challenges and obstacles I faced, the team at Packed was incredibly supportive. They not only ensured I met deadlines promptly but also gave me the encouragement and space to address pressing issues in my personal life, be it related to school or personal relationships.

When I felt the need to make modifications to the book, whether it was a change in direction or expanding the content, they were receptive and accommodating. Their constant guidance and constructive feedback were invaluable, and I’m deeply grateful for their unwavering support that culminated in the successful publication of the book.

Q. Do you belong to any tech community groups?

Steven: While I’m not actively involved in many tech-focused community groups due to my commitments in medical school, I am a part of several noteworthy circles. I’m a member of the Unity Certified Instructors group, and we convene regularly.

Additionally, as a recipient of the Social Impact Grant, I’m involved with the Unity Social Impact group. I also associate with “Black Realities”, a group dedicated to immersive storytelling that highlights the narratives and experiences of those identifying with the African diaspora. Beyond these, I’m part of various Discord communities, including XR Talk.

Q. What are your favorite tech journals? How do you keep yourself up to date on tech?

Steven: I don’t frequently delve into tech journals, mainly because my reading is predominantly centered on medical education. I immerse myself in anatomy and physiology textbooks to prepare for board exams and other medical school assessments. However, I do like to keep abreast of certain tech-related developments, especially on YouTube. Channels like GamesfromScratch and CodeMonkey are among my go-to sources for updates in the tech realm.

Q. How did you organize, plan, and prioritize your work and write the book?

Steven: Much of my time, when not actively developing, is dedicated to organization and planning for projects. As an animator, I’m well aware that the bulk of my time will be consumed by animation due to its time-intensive nature. Thus, I strive for meticulous planning and organization to maximize efficiency.

This approach was consistent in writing this book, although the plan required frequent adaptations. I rely heavily on tools like OneNote for creating roadmaps and checklists. For the book, I drafted mock-ups for projects intended for each chapter. Then, I conducted live recorded sessions for each lesson and learning objective. This allowed me to view the content from a reader or learner’s perspective.

Post-recording, I refined the lesson plans to ensure a seamless flow in the book format. When addressing storyboarding and animation in the book, planning was twofold: outlining the projects and strategizing their presentation. Occasionally, the order of presentation in the book differed from my initial plan to optimize the learning experience.

Having recorded everything provided a valuable reference, especially months after the initial work. These recordings preserved my initial articulations, which often get lost in the transition to written text. By revisiting the videos, I could infuse the written content with the genuine emotions and specific phrasings from the recordings, ensuring the book resonated authentically with readers.

Q. What is that one writing tip that you found most crucial and would like to share with aspiring authors?

Steven: One of the most valuable strategies that aided me was crafting a detailed outline and utilizing it to record a live demonstration as if I were conducting a teaching session or workshop. This approach enabled me to capture my natural teaching flow, which I could then use as a foundation for the book’s content. Crucially, replicating specific elements, figures, and diagrams for a book can be challenging. However, by recording everything, I could revisit specific moments from the lessons, ensuring clear and precise visual references for readers.

Q. Would you like to share your social handles? If so, please share.

Steven: Instagram | Twitter | TikTok | YouTube | Linkdin | Twitch

You can find Steven’s book on Amazon by following this link: Please click here

Enhancing Virtual Reality Experiences with Unity 2022 on Amazon.com