It’s been a busy few months at NatureSims. Since our last post, we have updated our flight mechanics, improved our avatar calibration for different player body sizes, redesigned our demo environment, and migrated our project to a new rendering pipeline in Unity to give us a performance boost.

We were also recently awarded a grant from the Maine Technology Institute towards the completion of our Monarch VR demo. These funds will be used for a variety of purposes, including market research, website updates, beta testing, as well as a limited social media campaign. We are incredibly grateful to the MTI team for their support!

This grant will also help us design and build an improved simulated habitat for our butterfly players, with more custom environmental assets, like the several species of flowers we are having designed that will become our butterfly’s nectar sources.

Taking reference images with our UV Camera rig at the Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm

We have also been able to purchase a custom ultraviolet camera rig, similar to the one used in David Attenborough’s new Life in Color series on Netflix. This allows us to take reference images of the real world and process them to create simulated butterfly vision. These are composite images that are made by combining two original images: one that captures the visible light that we can see (in red, blue, and green), and another that captures the ultraviolet light that monarchs can see but we cannot. Once we have the images, we can process them to map the ultraviolet light contribution into one or more of the visible light channels so that we humans can perceive it.

We’ll have more to say about this in a future post, but here’s an example of our simulated butterfly vision process applied to a couple Black Eyed Susan flowers. The top image shows the flowers as seen by a human; the bottom image shows the same flowers in our simulated butterfly vision.

Top image shows Black Eyed Susan flowers in visible light, bottom image in simulated monarch butterfly vision

We have spent the past few weeks collecting real world reference images like this for many of the environmental assets we will be using in the game. In addition to flowers, that includes a wide variety of trees and other plants, people and other animals, houses, cars, and the many other props and surfaces that will appear in the demo. This process allows us to use reference images to generate materials for the digital versions of these assets that match the real world as closely as possible. For anyone interested in learning more about this process, I highly recommend Dr. Klaus Schmitt’s wonderful blog, Photography of the Invisible World.

As a result of all of this new work, we have updated our project timeline. Our first public build should be appearing online (on Sidequest and/or Steam) for beta testing our flight mechanics later this fall, to be followed by additional releases that will feature new content for testing. Following these, we expect to have the full demo out this winter, likely dropping in January, 2022.
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