We did it! Enklu at E3!
Updated: Jun 26, 2019
We came, we saw, we produced the first ever large scale multiplayer AR experience at E3, and we conquered. Three days, one hundred Microsoft HoloLenses, five thousand plus curious attendees, and one amazing team to make it all happen. When we decided to bring The Unreal Garden to E3, we knew that it would be a massive undertaking. It was a test for the company and for all of us; all of the past lessons learned, all of the skills gained, and all of the synergy cultivated as a team were applied and wielded professionally to make this a fun, smooth, and eye-opening event for all involved! Now that we've had some time to breathe, reflect, and gather our thoughts, we are going to dive into how we made this amazing experience happen.
In the week leading up to E3, we started finalizing all of our plans of the past couple months and started to hone in on a clear picture of what the entire operation looked like. We reached out to our various networks of people, and within a couple days we had a crew to help us set everything up, and to help run the booth and experience. The newly dubbed "Enkrew" started work on June 4th with our Chief of Staff, Federico, to begin setting up the 100 lenses we bought for E3. They proceeded to efficiently and methodically crush the list of tasks in front of them - software updates, inventory, troubleshooting, setting up infrastructure, installing the Enkluplayer, and all of the other myriad things needed to run a large scale, high throughput experience like this one in a short span of time.
This was easily the most devices we have ever set up in such a short span of time. It speaks volumes about our ability to work under pressure, and sets an amazing precedent for future events and pop ups. Suffice to say, they set the tone for the level of teamwork and dedication shown throughout the entire show.
Soon after Federico and the Enkrew began setting up the lenses and infrastructure for our booth, our newly hired VP of Product, Heather Gallagher, arrived on the scene. The timing of both her hiring and her arrival at E3 could not have been more perfect. Coming from an extremely successful 18 year run as Director of Technology at Burning Man, she was able to bring the perfect expertise needed to plug in and make this a successful event. After being informed that she had been elected as the Decor Lead for this event (thanks for the flexibility Heather!!!), she and our decor assistant Cami morphed into a whirlwind of set decoration prowess. After a quick adventure to the fabric district in DTLA and some spirited haggling, vibrant foliage and beautiful, sparkling fabric soon filled and surrounded our booth. Our space was welcoming and comfortable for all who passed through. It also really set us apart from the rest of the booths in the West Hall - the start of what made us a unique and refreshing experience at E3.
Heather was also able to provide key insights into the logistics aspect of running an experience at this scale and throughput. We came in with a lot of experience in this regard, but not much trumps getting 70,000 people in and out of the desert safely and efficiently every year. She was a key player in how we set up and organized the flow of user experience from start to finish, and was the final word on all of the visual aspects of both the presentation of our physical set and our AR. With her expertise, we were able to reach an amazingly high level of immersion while maintaining high throughput and a controlled, safe experience for all attendees.
While all of this was happening, me and James, newly promoted as Lead Designer, were hard at work on the E3 version of The Unreal Garden. Normally, we upload a scan of the space that we are working in before we start positioning all of the assets. In this case, we had to begin work before the booth was even built. This presented some interesting challenges. James solved many of these by plotting a 3D layout diagram and placing it in a scene in our editor tool. Using this diagram, we were able to get a rough position of all of the assets that we would need before we even flew down to LA!
After arriving at the convention center, we were able to scan our booth and upload the spatial scan to that same scene. These situations are where the tool we have developed really shines. Being able to iterate in real time was instrumental in getting the experience ready for users in such a short amount of time. We anchored the experience to the space and placed everything perfectly, framed the content with both the space and Heather's decoration, and tested all of the experience mechanics to make sure that the scene ran at framerate and was intuitive for end users. Being able to do all of this with a few people in a couple days was crucial to the success of the event, and speaks to how far we have come as both a team and a platform.
We were also getting a couple new features ready to deploy at E3. One new feature was the Wing Wall. Using a Microsoft Kinect, a TV with the Enkluplayer running on it, and our Mamba controller, we were able to set up a picture station where attendees could stand in front of a TV and get a pair of magical wings, then send themselves the resulting photo! Our other new feature (this one was super fun), was created in conjunction with UltraHaptics. Four pedestals surrounded a mystical pool and large boulder. Each of these pedestals was mounted with one of their haptics sensors - when someone placed their hand over the sensor, they would feel vibrations rising through the air to meet their outstretched hand! Working in conjunction with the Onedome operations team, they were able to sync these sensors to the projector shining on the boulder and trigger different projections based on how many of the sensors were active. We combined this with interactive AR orbs placed above each pedestal that triggered a huge, shining butterfly to appear above the entire installation when activated. We are constantly trying to push the boundaries of what is possible in mixed reality - this feature is a prime example of what can be achieved when several amazing teams put their heads together.
Day 1 of show - everything is set in place; Onedome CX staff, Enkrew staff, and E3 staff were all trained and ready to begin welcoming and onboarding attendees into the experience. Doors opened at 11am. By noon, we had a line around the entire booth. The steady, upbeat thump of the music kept the pace as the onboarding staff cycled people in and out of the experience. The atmosphere was electric - all of the pieces we had worked so hard to set into place were working together beautifully to create a complete, satisfying experience for everyone that passed through. The line eventually grew to an almost 2 hour wait - and people were still excited and smiling coming into and out of the experience!
We brought something unique and unprecedented to E3. Large scale multiplayer immersive AR is something that very few people have yet to experience at this level, and the reactions from the attendees reflected this. Many people expressed that our experience was a welcome respite from the sea of first person shooters seen at every games conference. The calming, curious, and adventurous spirit that our booth and experience embodied was infectious - attendees left the booth with eager questions about how this was made, where they could do it again, and how they could get involved! When asked what we did well, our CEO Ray said quite succinctly, "Experience. Vibe. Art. Defining new genres. Defining new media types. Operating as a team. Empowering people to explore their strengths. And, of course, dancing." Couldn't have said it better myself. Defining new genres in a new media type. I believe that is what makes what we do so exciting - there is a sense that we are striding up to the doorstep of something truly amazing.
By the end of the last show day, all of the distinct teams that we started with had come together and formed something greater than the sum of all of our parts. We had 5000+ attendees visit our booth, and there was never a moment that any of us doubted that we could pull it off. From the moment that Federico first got to the convention center and started unpacking HoloLenses, to the moment that the last box was loaded into our transport truck, we tackled problems and presented creative solutions to whatever issues arose in a professional manner.
This didn't happen by accident. Every single event, pop-up, and demo we had previously done informed our success at E3. Every mistake we had made and learned from, and every obstacle we had conquered as a company and as a team gave us the strong foundation that allowed us to pull this off like we had been doing large scale events for years. The culture that we have cultivated empowered each person involved to find their strengths and plug those strengths in where it mattered most. Our platform performed better than we could have even imagined, and this was only because we had put the necessary work and development into it at every step of the way leading up to this moment. All of the QA, all of the testing, and all of the amazing creative engineering work done by our technical team in the past months to make the platform as intuitive and user friendly as possible; we did our due diligence and then some, and it payed off in the best way possible at E3.
So thank you. To our amazing staff, to the ESA for inviting us to create something amazing for E3, and to all of the curious, adventurous attendees that put on a HoloLens and explored the world that we have created. Keep an eye out for more Enklu experiences at events like E3 - we are only going to get bigger and better from here.
Check out these links for some news articles about our E3 adventure!