September issue now live!

The tech issue

On this latest release, you can read the following articles;

On the interview front, this is an awesome issue which spans Leeds and Canada!

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XR Games: The future of VR in gaming

At a glance

Name of business: XR Games

Industry: VR Game Development Studio

Key learning points;

Bottom-up development

Developing an existing game on a new platform isn’t about adapting existing mechanics – it’s about having the expertise to review the original game, and being able to understand which core elements are suited to the new platform – you build from there.


Allowing time for innovation

“A game is all about input and output – you need an interface you can rely on”

The classic twin-stick navigation system which is now commonplace on consoles was around for 10 years before becoming the mainstream norm. VR is still a new medium, and so it’s interface design requires the same time for innovators to develop and refine the way it controls before developers have a standard interface to rely on.


Killer app required

“There’s a whole bunch of things required before VR gaming can become mainstream, but we’ll know it when it happens because there’ll be a VR game that everyone’s heard of.”

Not going to lie people, I’m excited to share this one. Before we get into it, I recommend reading Virtuality 2.0 as it links directly to this interview. If you don’t have the time, you can check out the brief recap below.

Recap from Virtuality 2.0


With so many huge businesses investing heavily in developing VR and AR (as I talked about in my original Visual Trends: Virtuality article), I’m so interested to learn more about what the future of VR looks like from businesses working within the industry.

Despite skepticism that a busy company would be willing to answer questions about the wider VR industry from the owner of a small blog; I asked XR Games if they’d be willing to answer questions about and beyond their recently released game.

To my pleasant surprise, XR Games said that wider questions on the industry would make for a better article and were fully on-board to answer whatever questions I had!

The Interview Header

To prepare my questions, I WhatsApp’d friends and asked what they would be most interested to read about in an interview with a VR games developer.

I took every one of the questions they suggested, grouped them together, and emailed them across to XR Games.

Read their answers below.

Chqpter 1

As I understand it, you were asked by 3D Clouds to create a mobile VR game that mirrored their console and PC game ‘All-Star Fruit Racing’.

How did you approach the process of streamlining a full console/pc game and what was your process for optimising it for VR controls?
We approached it the other way around. It’s not a matter of streamlining a console game; it’s a process of determining what gameplay elements support a mobile VR game, and building up from those.

We started with the control system, as the majority of games rely upon their control systems for fun – certainly driving games. The rest of the design emerged from the needs of the control, which was designed specifically for cardboard VR. 

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How did you decide which components of the console game were most important to maintain in the mobile version of the game which you developed?
The strong needs from Fruit Racing (beyond the vehicle and fruits) were those which supported the light, arcade-y ‘kart racing’ feel – pickups, jumps, speed boosts and so forth, as opposed to a more serious driving style.

Pickups were clearly important, but the format of our game (30 second perfect-able courses, predicated upon the use of the cardboard headset) meant that a kart racing power-up system was redundant, so we used a simple scoring system instead so as not to unnecessarily multiply features. 

Pretty much everything else that reflects Fruit Racing is in the visuals, and we had a lot of fun deciding on which fruits the tracks would be themed by, what colour schemes would be appropriate, and what scenery would complement those fruits.

I feel like racing games are one of the most enduringly successful genre of games on mobile.

With so many great racing titles out on mobile, did any provide a source of inspiration during the development of XR games?
I’ve always been suspicious of racing games on mobile, as the tactility of control is less satisfying on touchscreen or using tilt.  

However, the racing game is one of the great standards of video game, as it combines accessibility of control with real-world applicability (driving is a universal concept), and a clear goal state. It’s natural that some version of this form of play will quickly arise on any new platform.

All inspiration for Fruit Racing VR was taken from classic early 3D racing games, specifically Sega games (Virtual Racing, Daytona, Sega Rally) and Namco’s Ridge Racer series.  

These games define corners so well, and encourage perfection through exacting control.

The game definitely pulls no punches with its difficulty level – do you have any developer tips to improve people’s driving skills in the game?
Small games require a level of challenge. In addition, the major satisfaction of cornering games is in finally perfecting the line, meaning that score targets must be quite harsh to require that level of perfection.

This is especially true of Legend mode, which is difficult enough to challenge the people who made the game. But hitting the perfect lines feels so good! 

To play Fruit Racing VR well, the driver must turn early into every turn. Only by perfecting one corner can the next be approached properly, and so practice is required to learn and chain together all the corners. The pickups show which lines are expected (and which are most satisfying to perfect). 

Oh, and use a headset, because the game controls better in VR.

What aspect of the finished ‘All-Star Fruit Racing VR’ game is the team at XR Games most proud of?
The overall polish and sense of purpose the game achieved feels great. It’s a small game, but it’s been played a lot, and so for players who can play it as intended, it punches way above its weight.

It was also nice to deliver a unique control mechanism designed specifically for cardboard VR, rather than compromise. 

Chapter 2

 Is it more of a challenge to develop games tailored to VR than it is to develop more ‘traditional’ games?
The VR form is very new, and so there’s not been the depth of interface development that we’ve seen over 50+ years of screen game design. A game is all about input and output, and developing content-rich games is easier if some standard elements of interface can be relied upon.  

For example, twin stick first person control developed from before Doom through Descent, Turok on the N64, and finally Halo on Xbox, before accreting into a standard form learned by millions of players. That’s a decade of evolution before the form even became stable. VR interface design is in its infancy in comparison.

Developing good games is a challenge in any format, of course. Devs work hard.

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As developers of VR games, to you, what is the most exciting aspect of VR as a medium for creative design?
Interface.

The goal of contemporary game design is to make the pleasures of play accessible to the largest number of people. The primary barriers to play are difficulties in learning game rules, and difficulties in operating game interface.  

The Nintendo Wii took steps forward in this area by supplying control mechanisms that mimicked real life, allowing more people to play (Wii Sports also used culturally familiar game rules, which helped increase accessibility).

VR should help a great deal in that interfaces mimic reality, allowing for transparent operation practices. But it’s early days yet, and there are plenty of barriers to VR use for a mass-market audience.

Chapter 3 header

We’ve seen huge pushes for widespread adoption of VR enabled devices by tech giants like Samsung and Google in the last 5 years.

Social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook have also played their role by allowing the easy sharing of 360 content whilst Snapchat is almost solely responsible for a huge surge in popularity for AR technology.

More recently, Sony has attempted to push VR gaming back into the mainstream with the release of Playstation VR, which they announced as having passed 3 million units sold just last week.

With all that movement on VR and AR tech, it still seems as though VR is still a niche in the UK tech market. For example, I know many people with a PS4 but none of them own a Sony PSVR headset.

Given the above, what are your thoughts on the current state of VR, and other forms of virtual media in the UK market and what do you think the future of the VR industry looks like in gaming?
Digi-Capital provide some of the best insights into the current state of VR and thoughts on the future – such as this article.

I hope there’ll be a steady expansion of hardware sales, leading to enough development to crack certain core problems, as a prelude to an explosion of sales.  

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How do you see VR innovating/growing over the next few years?
Incremental improvements in hardware, specifically accessibility and comfort. Incremental improvements in game content and interface, as designers work out how to make VR interface that’s easy to use.

We need generations of software to allow designers to feed off each other and draw inspiration from previously successful design solutions. And for users to get used to VR as a standard interface option.

What do you think needs to happen to make VR gaming more mainstream?
The single most important thing is a killer app. This needn’t be a game – smart phones exploded the market for games by supplying everyone with game-ready devices that were nevertheless bought for other reasons.

Then you need an Angry Birds or Candy Crush – culturally visible, high-accessibility games spread by word of mouth – to promote games as an entertainment form to the phone owners. There’s a whole bunch of things required before VR gaming can become mainstream, but we’ll know when it happens because there’ll be a VR game that everyone’s heard of. 

Leeds is a increasingly digitally-focused city, with amazing innovative entrepreneurs and businesses throughout.

Does that sense of a growing Leeds community working on cutting edge technology translate to the gaming industry? Are there a number of businesses operating in the same field as you or do you feel that XR Games is at the exciting forefront of the industry within Leeds?
A feature film called “The City Talking: Tech In Leeds” best summaries all the great tech companies in Leeds – it even features XR Games’ Founder and CEO Bobby Thandi, while he was VP Digital at Dubit.

Also, we’re lucky in Leeds, and the surrounding area, that great gaming studios such as RockStar Leeds, Team17, Sumo Digital, and Dubit exist. Not to mention the other 40+ gaming studios in the North.

Meaning there’s a number of options for folks who want to get into the industry, or progress their careers. And that’s the most important factor for more great games to come from the North.  

Finally, what exciting things can we look out for in the future coming from XR Games?
Easy to use, fun games for everyone – in VR.


Interested in keeping up with XR Games?

Follow them on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Fin.

Castle: Revolutionising real-estate in Canada

At a glance

Name of business: Castle

Industry: Digital Marketing

Key learning points;

A modern approach to finding co-founders

Many attribute their motivation in business to having successfully found, built or integrated themselves within a community of likeminded individuals — but for many this is can be challenge, and for others an impossibility.

ENTER THE INTERNET *trumpet sounds*. 

Community based platforms like Reddit can be exactly the tool you need to find the perfect business partners. This was the case for Castle, which was started from a single post on a University subreddit group.


Start with structure

The success of any venture is completely dependent on how much time the founders are willing to invest in it. The founders of Castle agreed from day one that they would meet for four hours every week, and stuck to it. This ensured consistency within the team, with each member staying motivated to keep working efficiently— no easy feat in the early days.


Creative marketing: demonstrating value rather than stating it.

Effective marketing in an overcrowded industry is cutting above the noise in order to get your voice heard by the people who would benefit most by hearing you. That’s exactly what Castle did when they decided to introduce themselves to prospective clients by sending them each a unique, completely bespoke website to show them what they could do. By doing this, instead of sending a bland campaign email, they impressed many and secured leads which became customers and revenue.


Diversify your communication


Your ability to successfully sell a product to your customer is dependent on your ability to build trust with them. While emails have their place, you will find yourself much better equipped to build that trust if you’re willing to meet someone face to face and befriend them.

I love Reddit.

With such a huge collection of highly-engaged communities, it’s so easy to connect with amazing people by just joining in on conversations which interest you. That’s exactly how I got to meet Leo, one of the co-founders of Castle.

Leo and I got talking after I posted a call for founders willing to be interviewed on r/startup after the launch of Inkbike.

A few people responded to the post but among them, Leo immediately stood out to me. It wasn’t just that he was personable, but that his focus, dedication and passion were so immediately apparent as soon as he got talking about his business.

Even though I was nervous about interviewing someone over messages for the first time (every other time has been a recorded face-to-face discussion), I was confident that Leo’s experience would make for a fantastic interview and that there was an incredible opportunity to learn from his unique experiences.

I was absolutely not disappointed, and I’m incredibly excited to share Leo’s experience with you as a fascinating insight into creative marketing and carving a space for yourself in a niche digital market.


Introduction header

I’m Leo, a student at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and I co-founded Castle – an atypical digital marketing agency for real estate agents.

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We differ from our competition in that we provide Realtors with a fully customised website using a monthly subscription offer instead of a major one-time fee like traditional web design agencies.

We did this to solve the big issue with the one-fee model, where you might hate aspects of your website only a few months in after you spent $5,000 on a normal agency. Technology and design standards change every few months, and you’re therefore left with a website that looks obsolete.

By opting for a subscription model instead, your website benefits from continuous development and support by the same dedicated team that built it for you from scratch.

What I’m most proud of in Castle however, is the way we provide another service that is so far unique.

We know our work is leading to something much bigger than what we intended

On our website / web app, we list realtors and provide each with a comprehensive profile that pulls all types of personal information (bio, awards, testimonials, language, ethnicity, niche neighbourhood etc.) from external softwares into a single profile. These profiles rank #1 for each agent name on Google.

Homebuyers and home-sellers can then visit this page and filter through the list using different criteria to find the agent that suits them best.

We started Castle 6 months ago, when I partnered with 2 other university students I met through Reddit. We know our work is leading to something much bigger than what we intended. We strongly believe we’ll become a unicorn company sometimes soon, but we also settled with the idea that we needed to build stable revenue before doing anything crazy.


I love that – the platform you’ve built to profile the realtors is something I’ve never seen done before and it feels like it actually humanises the process of finding property online, which is absolutely something I’ve never seen attempted before. I’m glad to hear you like it! It means there’s a market fit for our idea.

You phrased it perfectly with “humanise the process of finding property” because there are 15,000 realtors in Vancouver alone (where we are), which makes no sense given that they all do the same job. I mean, why choose one over another?

One way to go about it as a seller is finding an agent who’s transparent, fits your personality and specializes in your niche (e.g. Millenials in West Vancouver). That’s already a challenge in itself as for many, realtors have such a bad reputation.

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Brilliant – I couldn’t agree more.

Another part of the Castle story that I really love is that you met your business partners through Reddit – what’s the story behind that happening?
That was actually the result of my partner publishing the below on the subreddit for our University.

20 people commented on that post, 6 followed up and 3 actually met. That’s us. Since then, one other person has joined our team.

WebCreative Reddit Post

With regards to our relationship, it’s very special. We have very different backgrounds, stories and interests, but I guess what unites us is our passion for experimenting with, and building a start-up.

We got to work on the very first day we met up, without having discussed any ideas beforehand. Since we’re all quite serious, we quickly settled on holding a weekly meeting – Sunday 10 am to 2pm – which was mandatory to attend.

This was a success and everyone attended each meeting every single weekend for the first 4 months.

In that time, we settled with the idea of designing, coding and maintaining fully custom websites for Real Estate agents in our city of Vancouver, Canada. We saw this idea as being a niche market since it uniquely combined:

  1. being a realtor;
  2. being in Vancouver;
  3. seeing value in design and having a custom website to stand out (most realtors use templates, and in fact 3,7754 agents share the exact same website template in Vancouver alone).

So the concept was defined. The next step was finding out whether there was demand for it. That’s the tricky part.

Chapter 2 header

In the course of this adventure, I learnt that a great marketer is the foundation of any start-up. We were new to business and there existed huge competition (the real estate marketing market is saturated – last time I checked Google Keywords, the ‘Top of Page Bid’ was $22 for “real estate website”).

In the beginning we didn’t really pay much attention to whether we were actually able to deliver the product – we thought we could without major issue.

So our first step was marketing the product we didn’t have. And if you have no proof of work (like us), you either pretend like you do or you simply bring price down (the rule of offer vs demand).

Therefore, we started selling websites at $400 when the same website (if not worse in design) was selling for $5,000 by companies like MyRealPage or Brixwork.

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It felt terrible to know we had to start this low and pay ourselves a $13/hour divided between 3 co-founders (that was painful to calculate) but we thought this tactic would create buzz, and it certainly did.

Another marketing tactic we used was to write a program that, at night, crawled through public lists of real estate agents in Vancouver and passed out the information it found back into an Excel sheet in an orderly manner.

Most people ignore the power of automation

A week after we ran it, we had compiled 500 emails addresses. We were already very happy about our trick (we honestly felt like hackers), but we’re most pleased with what we did next.

We designed a website template of which the content changed function based on whom we sent it to. For example, if we sent that website link to John Joe, the website header would display something like “Browse John Joe’s properties”.

We applied that same formula to all the other contacts we’d amassed using our web-crawling program and then displayed them on our website.

Artboard Copy 27

In other words, on a regular Monday morning ‘Joe the Realtor’ received an email from us out-of-the-blue, entitled “I did something for you”. When he opened it he found a bespoke website built to his name that was ready to be used.

Most people ignore the power of automation. So the majority of the people who received our email believed we put tireless hours into building a website that we were giving to them for free.

That honestly worked out to be one of, if not the best thing we could have done. We sent out the first 30 emails and within 48 hours 17 people had clicked and we had received 9 answers. The standard click rate for the creative industry is 0.7%.

They were mostly people politely thanking us for the effort and letting us know they felt bad about refusing it, but it also gave us 3 serious leads. Out of those 3 serious leads, we started working on 2 websites.

It was hard, but where we are now has meant that it was worth it.

That gave us our start.

Unsurprisingly, some of our first few clients did try to take advantage of us by asking for changes so regularly and over such a long period of time that we began losing money.

However, it gave us the opportunity to perform some root-cause-analysis of issues in our early business model so that we could make corrective actions early on in our business’ life. We learnt to filter clients and work only with the best.

In the following 4 months, we changed our pricing model three times and renewed our approach to marketing by incorporating social media as a service. It was hard, but where we are now has meant that it was worth it.

Chapter 3 header

And how did you go about organising the work between yourselves?
We agreed early on about the way we would divide up work. One person took care of the technical part (programs and website development). They coded the websites from scratch and did an awesome job for what we were getting paid.

I’m talking a fully custom website with all kinds of features. For example, few UI / UX details that matter a lot to the eye but which most agencies don’t provide at all (animations, shadows, transitions…)

Soon after, we realised we needed better design, so I taught myself how to do web design. I also manage marketing at Castle — which includes client prospection, business development and social media.

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The third co-founder helped around on both the technical and marketing front. Since then, they’ve played a pillar role after learning to code entire websites.

Our last recruit is a friend of a friend. They’ve been our head of photography taking beautiful portraits of agents over at @realtorsofvancouver and helping with some websites.

Heading 4

Give up on some clients: we are still getting absurdly low traction for the value we provide. Most agents don’t see any benefits to our services. Those same agents generally happen to be above a certain age and tend to have relied solely on connections to sell/buy houses.

We quickly learned to give up on these people, and instead to address the agents who leveraged social media and valued design: young real estate agents.

Make friends: another lesson we’ve recently learned is to meet with potential clients without selling them anything. Fixing a single face-to-face meeting with an agent every week was our most recent and yet most powerful tactic.

We’ve learnt that people value customer service over the product itself

We take the opportunity to know them better. Once you’ve invested that time, explaining to them our services and converting them to paying clients is easy.

Discuss money with your team – I never thought money would be a major factor in our everyday work on the start-up. I’ve always imagined doing it for fun during my free time as a student. All these thoughts rushed to our heads when we landed our first client.

There was a celebration, and then few days of: “wow… we can actually make money building a cool product for society. This could be big if we stick to it“.

A post from WebCreative's Instagram page

An example post from Castle’s Instagram page

Ultimately, we settled with the idea of reinvesting all profits without cashing in a single dollar for the first $4,000. Discussing these topics early on will help avoid unexpected obstacles (e.g. a co-founder leaving and taking his equity or intellectual property).

What have you learnt since you started working on Castle that you wish you knew at the beginning?
I wish we had approached marketing differently and made connections in the professional / adult world earlier on. We should have approached real estate agents as students and asked them genuine questions. Instead, the first contact we established with them was as a business looking to sell our services.

Once you’ve built trust, the price at which you sell your services is only a detail

As a result, we’ve had to rely solely on email campaigns and social media outreach to put our name out in Vancouver.

All this to say that we’ve learnt that people value customer service over the product itself. They value the experience, the connection and how comfortable they feel with you as their new digital marketer. Once you’ve built trust, the price at which you sell your services is only a detail. They will trust you in fixing the right price.

Secondly, I wish I had tried harder. Sometimes I feel proud of what we’ve accomplished but I cannot stop imagining how things would be if we had done things differently. It’s a very human thing to do. I should have put more effort at times on Castle.

For example, I looked back and wonder if I had called that client (instead of emailing her like we did), would we have reached a deal? Or if I wasn’t too shy, and have pitched our services at that major real estate event, would I have doubled the sales from our business in a single evening?

When you miss opportunities like these, you can only blame yourself for not trying harder. It’s a matter of priorities. I guess that if I was starving, I wouldn’t think twice about trying harder.

What were the most important tools for you when you were getting your business off the ground? (i.e. what tools/hardware/software did you find relying on most during the earliest days?)
Fiverr
was brilliant as it allowed us to outsource basic tasks cheaply. That saved us a ton of time and we found people with more experience able to solve some basic mistakes we had made.

MailChimp was greatfor blasting out personalised emails. It tells you things like ‘how many people opened your email’, ‘how many times they opened it or forwarded it’, ‘which link they clicked on’ and more.

So I used it to find the best email pitch possible. I like to compare it to a game of gladiators. You send out 2 different sales pitches and you keep the one that worked best. You take the winning pitch, draft a second one changing few variables (more polite, more links, without price…) and send both out again. Repeat 20 times and you get the perfect email pitch!

Spotify; because if you’re going into entrepreneurship, you’re gonna need that 1am music. Plus, Spotify’s algorithm suggests some really good stuff – you can listen to our startup’s playlist here.

Also, I know it’s a mainstream answer but most people underestimate Instagram‘s power. If you’re good at crafting visuals and targeting your audience, you have the secret sauce to marketing. I’ve enjoyed Instagram so much as it resonates really closely with our startup’s vibe and so I started experimenting with ads.

I used the same gladiator tactic that I described with MailChimp, and after having done the work I can now guarantee a serious lead for every $5 I put into my ad. Our basic product sells for $99 so that’s a huge return on investment (check out Castle’s Instagram).

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The best tool though? My co-founder Daanyaal. Shout-out to him for putting up with my personality. You need a partner you can count on for working at 2am and partying the next day.


Incredible right?

If you’re as big a fan of Castle as I am after reading that then keep up with what they’re up to on their blog and Instagram page.

Fin.

Can you be professional videographer with only a phone?

The Pixel 2XL. If you’ve read anything about it then it’ll be no surprise that the feature I’m focusing on is, of course, the camera. The camera on this phone is incredible, an opinion shared throughout the internet in reviews by the likes of TechRadar, Trusted Reviews and Forbes.

Hopefully you’ll be pleased to know that this review of the Pixel 2XL aims to do something different to the others. That’s because all the reviews I’ve read or watched tend to follow a format pretty similar when they discuss cameras on any phone.

It goes something like this;

  • They start by just talking about how good the camera is;
  • As a follow up, they’ll generally throw a bunch of specs at you (which, if you’re anything like me, tend to fly straight over your head);
  • And finally my favourite, they’ll take random images of city streets and friends to give as examples (often shown with duplicate images taken with other phone cameras because…y’know who doesn’t want to see the same image three times over with small changes to sharpness or saturation?).

This doesn’t make any sense to me; if you’re ready to spend that much time reading about a smartphone camera, I feel like it’s because there’s a reason you need it.

You probably intend to do something with it; whether it be because you want to get serious on Instagram, start creating content for YouTube or because you want something that’s good enough to avoid having to investing in a more expensive, dedicated camera.

That’s certainly why I persevered through so many long articles and eventually opted to get the Pixel 2XL. Now I have it, I wanted to write a review that practically demonstrates how the camera might be used and how this device, as a tool, might enable someone to either start a new hobby or even a professional venture…and honestly, I also just want an excuse to shoot some cool sh*t.

The structure header

 

Practicing what I aim to preach, here’s what I went out and did with this camera;

  • I shot two short films vlog-style using the Pixel 2XL, and edited them to create videos you might expect to find on YouTube;
  • I did a couple of photo shoots with myself and willing friends to see how the phone performed when creating professional-looking images for marketing needs;
  • I used it to produce accompanying images for almost every article in this months issue so be sure to give them a read and see what you think.

I’m hoping that by the time this review is finished, I might have provided a close enough example to a need you might have that it helps you make an informed decision as to whether this device suits your needs.

Happy? All strapped-in? Great – let’s get cracking then!

Film header

To reiterate, each of the below videos was shot entirely using the Pixel 2XL and I’d never tried doing anything like this before.

The only accessories used to shoot with were two Joby Gorrilapod stands ; a magnetic one and a standard one.

If you’re planning to get started shooting video or pictures with your phone, I wholly recommend the GorrillaPod stands. They can balance on pretty much anything as well as wrap around anything like poles, posts and lampposts which makes setting up your shots  SO. MUCH. EASIER.

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In the second video, I shot the majority of footage in city centres so the magnetic stand was particularly useful when I could attach my phone to railings or lampposts more securely.

They’re also just awesome gadgets in general, and are super fun to play around with…so there’s that too!

The only other thing I wish I had was a bluetooth remote control which could turn start/stop recording – something like this. Not having one wasn’t a major deal, but it just would have meant that I could have been able to leave the camera set up at a good angle and capture certain natural moments without having to reach over and mess around with the phone.

Walk Header

The perfect weekend header


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Shooting experience


Shooting on the Pixel 2XL was an absolute pleasure because it captures brilliant detail first time. I can’t think of a single moment when I had to go back and reshoot something or avoid using a clip because any of the footage was out of focus.

This was especially impressive in the 2nd video when I filmed my friends reaching the top of Primrose Hill, and the buildings of the London skyline are clearly visible. I wasn’t expecting that to come out AT ALL.

Having confidence in the cameras ability to work so well meant I could focus completely on the pleasure of filming without worrying that I needed to refocus or avoid certain lighting conditions.

Another feature of the camera I really liked was that you can pause while recording.

This meant that I could shoot multiple separate ‘scenes’ in succession, but have them saved as a single clip. It might not sound like much, but when it came to editing all the footage, I found this really useful for staying organised.

Memory


Another big sell of the Pixel 2XL is that it’s able to shoot in 4K.

The obvious benefit of this being that the camera packs a huge amount of detail into the footage you produce which immediately makes your finished video appear more professional (nothing screams amateur video faster than grainy, unclear footage after all).


Unfortunately this quality isn’t best represented in the linked videos because YouTube compresses videos which are uploaded at the loss of some video quality. There is a way around this based on how you render the video in the editing process, but I was at a push to get this months Inkbike issue out as soon as possible so didn’t manage to figure it out in time.

If there’s any interest, I’ll create a follow up article in the future which addresses it. In the meantime, please trust that there exists higher resolution versions of the linked videos on my computer…


A potential issue I wasn’t expecting to encounter however, was the impact that capturing UHD video has on your available storage. I don’t know if this was just me being ignorant, but I had no idea how large 4K video files were until I started working on this article.

For reference, a 1-minute clip shot in 4K takes up roughly 350MB of storage space. For the ‘Perfect Weekend’ video, I shot maybe around 20 minutes of unedited in footage to produce the final 5-minute video, which equates to 15GB of space taken up on my phone.

My point is that the Pixel 2XL comes in two storage models, 64GB and 128GB, with no option for expandable storage. If you plan on shooting plenty in 4K, it might be worth investing in the additional storage.

It’s not a dealbreaker though, I have the 64GB model and it just means that I can’t be sentimental about my footage after I’ve finished editing and just delete it.

Stabilisation


Another feature of the Pixel 2XL which I’ve loved is the way it’s able to stabilise shaky footage using software built-in to the camera app.

This is a huge help when you’re shooting footage while on the move. For example, in some shots I would be facing the subject and stepping backwards. Unless you’re a surgeon with gimbals for knees, keeping the camera steady while you do so is really tricky.

Demonstrating what the stabilisation software does, and how effective it is might be something best seen rather than discussed. See the below;

Having the Pixel 2XL meet me halfway with stabilisation software ensured that I got usable footage for my final video from tricky conditions, and I repeatedly found myself grateful for it while editing.

Photography

Getting back to familiar review territory – photography.

As I’ve already said up top, the camera on this phone is amazing and you can read any number of reviews throughout the internet which will tell you the exact same thing.

Since we’ve had clarified for us that this phone takes great shots of random city streets, flowers at close-up (another favourite in reviews) and random people; we can focus our attention on better things.

Our question then, sweet reader, is whether the camera on this phone is good enough for professional purposes.

That can be anything from high-resolution portraits for your LinkedIn profile picture, images to accompany a web-marketing campaign or even just imagery for a kick-ass poster.

To help demonstrate whether this was the case, I decided to create some marketing imagery for dissemination across the Inkbike social media channels.

Check them out!

 

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Conclusions Header

At the end of it all, I hope that some of the examples I put together might be close enough to how you might intend to use the camera to help you make an informed decision as to whether or not the Pixel 2XL is suited to your needs.

If not, then I hope the above demonstrates that I’ve built up enough experience using the 2XL that you consider my final opinion reliably informed.

Simply put, I believe that in this device, you get an all-in-one tool which allows you to go beyond good-quality amateur photography. I’d never made YouTube videos before I started this review, but I was really pleased with how they came out. I think that this camera put in their hands of experienced or novice creators alike could lead to some really incredible content being created.

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Another question I think important to clarify is, why did I think this review was important to make?

Because most everyone reading this will have a smartphone, and the majority will have it on a monthly contract that they barely think about. It’s just one of those bills you’ve been used to paying since your late teens.

Brand new this phone will set you back a lofty £629, the price of a good standalone DSLR camera. BUT(!), on contract you can get this phone for as low as £30pm (deal exists at the time of writing but I won’t bother linking because deals change so often – check Uswitch).

That price is likely to go down very shortly too, since the Pixel 3 will be announced in the next few weeks.

If you were already looking to get a new phone, and are looking for an opportunity to start creating visual content for professional or commercial purposes, you don’t need to spend hundreds on a new camera to keep up with your ideas.

I really believe that you can use the 2XL along with the low-cost accessories I’ve mentioned throughout the review, you’ll be shocked at the amazing content that you can film or shoot.

At the very least, it’s an entry point for you to work with until you feel that your work requires investment in more advanced hardware.

For me though, I have every confidence in what it’s capable of and I can’t wait to continue using it to carry my creative ambitions.

Inkbike out!


Thoughts? Feelings? Impressions? Any other devices you feel are more worthy of your time? Or even better – anyone who has a Pixel and used it to create some awesome content, I’d love to see and talk about it with you!

Email: kaeyo@inkbike.com
Twitter: @Inkbike
Facebook: @lnkbike
LinkedIn: Inkbike

Fin.

 

 

Virtuality 2.0 – Exploring VR

Leeds has long had a reputation for fostering creatives, particularly in music, but many aren’t aware of it’s growing reputation as hub for emerging communities of incredible innovators in FinTech, MedTech and game development.

With so much exciting activity going on in the region, I’ve been looking to secure interviews with up-and-coming entrepreneurs in these fields for some time.

Not that I doubt my tenaciousness when it comes to securing new interviews, but until now I’ve been unsuccessful despite my best efforts. Enter my good friend Tom, the absolute legend.

Tom not only knows a developer working for one of these companies, the brilliant XR Games, but was kind enough to show them my original ‘Visual Trends: Virtuality‘ article when he heard they were looking to get exposure on their work.

Either Tom’s friend owed him a favour, or even LESS likely, they simply thought my article made for a good read because shortly after, they got in touch and asked me if I’d be happy to write something about their latest game, ‘All-Star Fruit Racing VR’. If I was up for it, they’d send me out a headset so I could try it out properly.

As you can imagine, I was IMMEDIATELY on board.

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Already a gamer, I’ve been curious to try out VR in some way for ages, but have lacked the incentive to head out and buy the necessary equipment.

So before we get into how much I enjoyed Fruit Racing, I honestly want to take a minute to document my experience of being introduced to mobile VR.

Fruit Racing VR Cardboard side-on-2

It’s honestly one of those rare kinds of gadgets that sticks a big cheesy grin on your face when you try it for the first time. Where as soon as you’ve finished having your go, all you want to do is share it with the person next to you so you can watch them get as excited as you.

I haven’t felt that way about a piece of tech since I started painting with the iPad Pro.

When the card headset arrived in the post, straightaway I downloaded the Cardboard app and tried out some VR demos by slotting my Pixel 2XL in.

The demo included with Cardboard which stole the show for me is an amazing adventure-lite simulator simply called ‘Artic Journey’. On this demo, the controls of Google Cardboard are explained to you through a series of small tasks set in gorgeous polygon-art renderings of an arctic wilderness.

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A screenshot from the ‘Arctic Journey’ demo

I was absolutely blown away.

Other highlights include the ‘Tour Guide’ feature which allows you to explore global cultural delights such as the palace of Versailles, and the ‘Earth’ feature which lets you fly around like Superman through 3D Google Maps locations like Chicago City and the Bryce Canyons mountain ranges.

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Every person I’ve shared it with reacted in exactly the same way as me, so with that said, I wholeheartedly recommend spending £15 to get the cardboard headset and try it for yourself.

If I was to take one thing away from my experience, it’s how much that the VR platform so inherently has the ‘wow-factor’ when you get hands-on with it. As a platform, it’s dying for innovators to take advantage of it in new ways, whether through app-development, video marketing (which would blow people away) or anything else.

After browsing through Google Play’s library of things to do, I’m left wanting. Some games and apps exist but there’s simply not enough to do justice to the level of excitement you get after trying the headset for the first time.

All I want is to be able to sink hours more into VR and see every possible application of it’s use, and so has everyone else I’ve shown it to. I can see now that the future is bright for VR, and even brighter for people who adopt it as a platform for new innovations early.

All Star FRVR header

After a pretty thrilling start to the world of VR, I was excited to discover for myself what XR Games had created. And like any good arcade-racer, it hooked me in after I finished my first race.

It’s tracks look deceptively simple to navigate, but expertly crossing its difficult turns and getting a high score requires a masterful control of your vehicle.

At the end of each race, you are given a score based on the time you’ve taken to complete your run and the number of coins you’ve grabbed along the way.

Me using Google Cardboard no.1

When using the VR controls to play, you steer the vehicle by turning your head. While it’s admittedly jarring at first to play a racing game this way, it doesn’t take more than a couple of laps before the controls start to feel familiar.

Playing Fruit Racing using VR controls is also helped by the fact that the game is gorgeous to look at; with it’s bright, colourful style reminiscent of Nintendo classics like Diddy Kong Racing.

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All-Star Fruit Racing VR is a brilliant introduction to VR, offering tons of replay value and an awesome piece off tech which you’ll be excited to show off to your friends. It’s free to download from the Google Play Store so definitely check it out!


After playing their game, I knew I had a fantastic opportunity to not only get some answers to questions I had about the game development process, but also to long-standing questions I’ve had about a growing niche within the tech industry that can feel inaccessible to outsiders and people that failed to adopt to tech early.

Despite feeling skeptical about whether a busy company would be willing to answer some questions about the wider VR industry from the owner of a completely unknown blog; I asked if they’d be willing to answer questions beyond their recently released game.

To my pleasant surprise, XR Games said that wider questions on the industry would make for a better article and were fully on-board to answer whatever questions I had!

Holy sh*t right? What an amazing opportunity.

Read our interview here.


Thoughts? Feelings? Impressions? I’d love to know what’s in your brain!

Email: kaeyo@inkbike.com
Twitter: @Inkbike
Facebook: @lnkbike
LinkedIn: Inkbike

Fin.