Spotlight | Senior Developer Jeff Wang on his inspirations, imagination, and immersive experiences

Community April 21, 2022

What is your role in the Experience Team?

I work as a Developer, using game engines like Unreal and Unity to code up the infrastructure and functionality of a project. This would include everything in the backend, like data assets, saved states, user interaction, integrating APIs, and multi-user networking. It varies a lot from project to project, but sometimes I’m building gameplay elements like using hand gestures to control elements in a scene, other times I’m building tools to help speed up workflow and testing. That being said, I have to be a generalist in what I do and learn about every aspect of a project because there are times where I’ll have to support an FX artist, animator, rigger, or modeler with integrating their assets into an engine and making sure it’s ready for real-time.

What inspired you to go into the world of immersive experiences?

Growing up in the 90s, my mom worked at a computer hardware manufacturer and would bring home computer parts from her office, which we eventually built into a PC for me to play on. Some of my earliest memories of using our home computer was playing with bitmap drawing programs like MS Paint and Kid Pix. I was a shy, imaginative kid who read a lot of books and didn’t have many friends, and I think that, once I discovered these programs, it had felt like I had finally found an outlet to express myself, and, for once, I felt uninhibited in what I could create with my own imagination. I am grateful that I am able to carry this playfulness into what I do for work as a developer of immersive experiences, where there is so much to explore and the boundaries keep getting pushed further and further out.

Talk us through your favorite projects you’ve been a part of and why?

Nike Joyride, an installation we did for Nike’s flagship store in NYC, was a highlight for me because of the sheer complexity and scope that the project entailed. It required a huge team of people of varying skills working together to put together a giant, reactive LED floor with three multiplayer games. Lots of long days and nights, but totally worth it in the end because it was dope AF.

Violet was also really to be a part of, and introduced me to the world of virtual avatars and live streaming. It was super fun developing content for her stream, like polls and unlockable achievements for her viewers to engage with. I will never forget the final stream, the Halloween special, where we turned Violet’s world into a choose-your-own-adventure, horror game. Her viewers absolutely loved it, and this kind of stuff makes me excited about the future of non-linear entertainment.

How do you approach a project?

I start a project by familiarizing myself as much about the brief and the creative as I can. This means making sure I know what the target platform and hardware is, getting a sense of who the end user will be and defining elements of accessibility and potential challenges a user might face, determining what the visual style / fidelity will be and making sure we’re being realistic with what is achievable, and figuring out whether there are functionality or tools that will need to be custom-built or sourced from external plugins or past projects that we’ve done. Then, using a whiteboard or piece of paper, I like to outline the building blocks of the project (this would include different classes and parameters that would need to be shared across objects), and create a flowchart of the overall experience (the different states / transitions between states / and what user actions will trigger what results). It’s not until all of this is done, and I have a clear understanding of the project, that I start working within an engine to develop the project.

What has been inspiring you?

Snap recently sent me a pair of the new Spectacles, and I’ve been inspired by all the incredible effects that independent artists and creators have been developing for this cool, new piece of technology. I believe that the blending of digital and physical worlds through XR technologies is going to have a transformative impact on our lives and will unlock a whole new world of possibilities for creators.

What trends or latest innovations are exciting to you?

Lately I’ve been exploring the world of virtual characters and motion capture, and I think that computer vision and AI are going to make it really easy for anyone to transform themselves into a digital being, like Lil Miquela and CodeMiko, and use this avatar to represent and express themselves across different platforms. With the advent of Web3 and metaverse, interoperability will also play a huge part in this, allowing for people to have true ownership over their digital identity (and data), and carry this over from work meetings into gaming arenas and virtual concerts.

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