Informatics 295/190: AR/VR Theater

Professor Theresa Jean Tanenbaum, UC Irvine, Department of Informatics
Tim Kashani, Apples & Oranges Productions
Zach Anderson, Apples & Oranges Productions
Time: Mondays, 3-6pm
Location: Calit2 2100 (The Evoke Lab)

Course Description

This two quarter course will develop three experimental theater projects using augmented and virtual reality technology. These projects are being developed in collaboration with ICS Alum, and Broadway/Film producer and director Tim Kashani of Apples & Oranges Arts.  Teams of student designers and developers from the Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, and from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts will collaborate with professional artists, producers, and mentors to develop three different pieces of intellectual property that Tim has originated. The projects range from a current Broadway show to immersive new endeavors in storytelling. Similar to a capstone project class with a client, students will be on interdisciplinary teams, and will work closely with our clients and partners to design, develop and launch engaging new technologies for theater and performance that incorporate emerging technologies for AR and VR. This course incorporates a blend of traditional and self-motivated experiential learning using the same methodology applied in successful startups. Participation in this class is by application only.  Participating students have committed to both Winter and Spring quarters. We are looking for a diverse and creative interdisciplinary team that bridges specializations in ICS and the arts. This is an advanced class for upper division undergraduates and graduate students: maturity, responsibility, communication skills, professionalism, and work ethic are essential for success in this course.

IMPORTANT: This is a two quarter class and requires that students commit to both the Winter and Spring quarters! We will be working with intellectual property owned or licensed by our external collaborators, and so all course participants will be required to sign intellectual property agreements as a condition of their participation.

Course Logistics

Course Structure

We meet once a week for three hours. These meetings are meant to be time for us to prototype ideas, share resources, workshop new ideas, and take risks. Our expectation is that the bulk of the work will be occurring outside the classroom, and that class time will be essentially a VR/AR research development laboratory for us to experiment and play.

Course Website

The syllabus will be posted on the course website, along with any digital resources for your use. This syllabus is a living document and we will update it throughout the class to reflect the evolution of our goals and deliverables.

GitHub Repositories

We will be using GitHub to store and track the assets created for the projects in this class. I will create private repositories for each team as part of the course setup. Every student should create a GitHub account if they do not already have one.


We will maintain a Slack Channel as part of the Transformative Play Lab workspace. I will distribute sign-up links in the first week.

Grading and Evaluations

Grading Philosophy

Grading in this class will be a bit untraditional. We have undergraduates and graduate students in this class, and grading culture is very different for these two groups (in grad school, a B- is considered a failing grade). Our projects are also driven by external factors and we are (or should be) intrinsically motivated for them to succeed on their own merits, and not because a grade is at stake.

While there will be milestones throughout the class, we will not have any explicit numeric grades, nor will there be any tests or exams.  I will be tracking attendance, using notecards (see below), as is my tradition.

Course Contracts

Rather than doing purely numeric grading, I will be running this class using a course contract model, similar to how my undergraduate experience worked. This will be new for most of you, but will be worthwhile. How do course contracts work?  There is a process:

  • Week 1: Each of you will write out several paragraphs discussing your expectations of the class, and of yourself over the quarter. What do you hope to learn? What do you hope to accomplish? How would you like to be evaluated? What do you expect from the instructional team? Please be as detailed and specific as possible.  This is an exercise in goal setting, and in scoping work that each of you will be doing. Because the class is so interdisciplinary and diverse, your contracts will vary substantially from each other.
  • Week 2: I (Tess) will read your contracts and provide you with my comments and feedback. We will discuss what I think are realistic goals vs. unrealistic ones. I may ask you to push for more if I don’t think you’re being ambitious enough, or I might ask you to scale back your expectations a bit.  We will negotiate this, over e-mail, and at the end of the process we will produce a contract for your work in the class that we will both sign.
  • Ongoing: I will regularly check in with you about the state of the projects and your own individual progress in the class. These will be informal, but will give us chances to course correct as needed, and revisit the contract periodically. If there is a major change in either of our expectations, we’ll add an addendum to the contract to reflect this.

All students will receive “In Progress” as their grade at the end of the Winter Quarter. We will have a “mid-term” check-in to make sure we’re all still on the same page.  Moving into Spring, we will continue these check-ins.

Narrative Evaluations

At the end of the course we will do written evaluations:

  • Student Self Evaluation: At the end of the course you will revisit your contract and your accomplishments and write a several paragraph self-evaluation of your performance in the class. Did you learn what you set out learn? Did you succeed in your goals? What did you learn that you hadn’t anticipated learning? What lessons will you take with you from this class? What would you have done differently?
  • Student Course Evaluation: You will also write an evaluation of the course as a whole. What succeeded from your point of view.  What failed? What could be done differently in the future?
  • Faculty Evaluation of Student: I will read and review these evaluations, and I will write my own assessment of your performance, which will consider how well I believe you accomplished your goals in the class, and where I saw you struggling. For the purposes of your transcript, I will translate this qualitative assessment of your performance into the appropriate letter grade.

Attendance and Notecards

Class attendance will be determined by completing index cards. The index cards are also a means for me to get feedback about the course. I will distribute the cards at the beginning of the class and collect them at the end. For each class please write your name on a card, the date, your student ID and a comment about the course. If you would like to submit an anonymous comment, take an extra card and don’t put your name on it.

Course Related Outside Activities

Global Game Jam

Save the date now!  January 26-28, 2018! I will be coordinating UCI’s GGJ location this year for the fourth year in a row.  Previous GGJs have had amazing turnouts, with participants from UCI, other colleges in the area, and local game companies. This is a chance for you to polish your game design and development skills in an open and collaborative environment.  It will also be a chance to get to really get a sense of what your teams are capable of.  While participation in the Global Game Jam is not mandatory, it is strongly encouraged.

Film Screenings

Image result for king Kong the musical

We will be hosting several screenings of key media related to the class throughout the year, including showings of King Kong, and an AR/VR micro film festival.  These will be scheduled on an ad-hoc basis throughout the quarter, and attendance is optional.

Star Wars Secrets of the Empire “Hyper Reality” Experience (optional – limited spots)

Image result for star wars secrets of the empire

We’re looking into doing a field trip to experience the new Star Wars VR experience at Downtown Disney in Anaheim.  We will have limited spots available for this trip, and are still determining if it is feasible, but stay tuned for details.

Code of Conduct and Course Culture

We are a diverse and interdisciplinary group, and we may not always agree with each other in this classroom. My expectation is that everyone will act in a constructive, inclusive, and respectful manner in order to produce a collaborative environment where everyone is empowered to contribute fully. Central to any effective design practice is the ability to give and receive critical feedback in a manner that supports the goals of the project, builds up the abilities of your colleagues, and generates new creative opportunities. Certain behaviors undermine this process, and we will not permit them within the classroom.  We expect all participants in the class to abide by these guidelines for maintaining a constructive and inclusive environment*

many thanks to Bonnie “Bo” Ruberg for advice and language around inclusive behavior and conduct. These guidelines are adapted from their ICS 60 syllabus.

  • Refrain from using derogatory language, such as words with negative connotations that refer to a specific racial or ethnic group, or that are related to gender or sexual identity. Also avoid “ableist” language, words that use references to mental or physical disabilities as slurs.
  • Check your privilege. Think about who in the room has had a chance to speak and make space for others to share their ideas. Instead of making blanket statements about what certain people or cultures are like, speak from the “I” — that is, draw from your own experience.
  • Always use the correct gender pronouns and names for your classmates. Gender pronouns are words like she/her, he/him, or they/them. (If you would like the instructors to refer to you using a name other than the one listed on the course roster or you would like to notify us of your gender pronouns, please let us know.)

At certain points throughout the course we will be doing more formal Critiques of the projects. For these critiques we will use a form of the Liz Lerhman Critical Response process. The version we are employing here is one that has been used to great effect within UCI’s Sound Design program, and all credit for it lies with Professor Vinnie Oliveri. The process is as follows:

“The responsibilities of the responders are twofold:

1) not to bring their own agenda to work they are responding to and

2) have a desire for the artist to do her/his best work.

Responders are attempting to help the artist create her/his piece, not to create their own. It is important for responders, as hard as this may be, to not bring their own bias and expectations to the process.

The responsibility of the artist is to be honest and open. The artist needs to be in a place where they can question their own work in a somewhat public environment. Also, it is the motivation and meaning of the creator that is the basis on which feedback is given, so the artist should be very clear about her/his intent.


1. Self-Statement: Goals and Assessment
Artist identifies goals of the work and assesses those goals. Emphasize clarity in these statements. Consider how the goals may have changed as the work has changed. This helps the artist clarify the intent of the work and will help responders frame their responses.

2. Affirmation and Observation
Responders give the artist either positive feedback about the work or moments that affected them. People want to hear that what they have just completed has meaning. The artist must work to really hear the comments.  Responders need to try to make the palette of responses as wide as possible. Be specific and expansive in the use of vocabulary about the work.

3.  Artist Questions Responders
Artist has the time to ask the viewers questions about the work. Be specific; nothing is too insignificant. The more the artist clarifies what s/he is working on, the more meaningful becomes the dialogue.

4.  Responders Question Artist
Responders ask neutral questions of the artist about the work. It is very important not to be judgmental in the phrasing of the questions. This is a chance for the responders to help the artist step back and analyze the work. If given the chance, most criticisms can be stated or explored in this step in a neutral fashion.

5.  Criticisms and Opinions
If there is a criticism that can’t be stated in the form of a neutral question, responders can express opinions about the work to the artist after they have asked permission of the artist. The artist is allowed to refuse at any time. The opinions should be positive criticism, based on problem-solving techniques. It may seem redundant to ask permission for every single criticism, but it is very important. This gives the artist control of this very sensitive step and creates a dialogue, albeit a very basic one.

Milestones and Deliverables

Our goal in this course will be to iterate rapidly through design ideas, to fail fast, and to learn through doing. Ultimately we will be producing experimental software that exists at the intersection of games, virtual reality, augmented reality, and theatre. We will be figuring out what that looks like together, and will be establishing appropriate milestones and deliverables as we go.  Right now this section is intentionally undefined, but it will become more specific as the projects take shape.

Weekly Standups

We will devote time each week for the project teams to present their current work.  This might be the results of research into the specific design and content domains that we’re working with, it might be a new prototype, or a design revision, it might be an idea or exercise to workshop with the class.


Each team will be responsible for maintaining documentation of their projects, including design documents, requirements documents, timelines and task assignments, concept documents, and other suitable materials.

Spring Schedule and Materials

For the Spring quarter we will be moving out of our exploration phase and into a more formal development process. We will be using “Agile” development methods to split the quarter into 5 two-week long “sprints”. This means that things are going to get more demanding moving forward. Every two weeks, each team should have a prototype ready to review. While we will have some time in class to do standups and discuss project blockers, our expectation is that you will be meeting and working on these projects daily outside of class.

Image result for agile and scrum

Agile Development Resources and SCRUM

Weekly Schedule

Week 1: April 2nd

  • Welcome new members
  • Discuss recruiting needs
  • Discuss infrastructure needs
  • Overview Audience Interactivity Workshop
  • Team Standups/Meetings
  • For next week:
    • Read: Striner et al. – A Common Framework for Audience Interactivity (to be distributed on Slack)

Week 2: April 9th

  • Audience Interactivity Workshop (With special guest, Alina Striner)

Week 3: April 16th

  • First Sprint Reviews

Week 4: April 23th

  • Professor Tanenbaum @ CHI
  • Open Lab Time

Week 5: April 30th

  • Second Sprint Reviews

Week 6: May 7th

  • TBD

Week 7: May 14th

  • Third Sprint Reviews

Week 8: May 21st

  • Logistics for final showcase
  • TBD

Week 9: May 28th

  • Fourth Sprint Reviews

Week 10: June 4th

  • Showcase prep
  • TBD

Finals Week: June 11th or date TBD?

  • Final Review/Showcase

Winter Schedule and Materials

We will meet weekly to discuss new content, present current state of our projects, workshop new ideas, and play relevant games. There are readings each week that are mandatory, as well as some recommended additional readings that are optional. This schedule will change and evolve, in particular as project milestones come online, so be prepared for more work and deliverables to be added as we narrow in on specific project objectives.

Optional Reading List (Books)

Optional Readings (Articles, Papers, etc.)

Week 1 – January 8th

Week 2 – January 15th

(Note: This Monday is MLK day, which is a holiday.  Class will be optional, but fun.)

Week 3 – January 22nd

  • Drama Colloquium: Magia Transformo and Rangoli Project Playtesting
  • Micro-lecture: Sensory Work and the Creative State
  • Deliverables Due: By the start of week 3’s class, you should have:
    • A first draft of your Concept Document
      • What technologies are you planning on using?
        • Hardware & Software
      • Project Concept
        • In the ideal world, what would your take on this project look like? Dream big.
      • Project Features
        • What interesting features will your project have?
        • How will it utilize the hardware in a unique way?

     During class, you will:

    • Learn about Elevator Pitches and spend time (30mins) with your group to develop your team’s pitch
    • Deliver your first Elevator Pitch to the class and your instructors
  • Free VR/AR Play Time
  • For next week:

Week 4 – January 29th

  • Micro-lecture: Acting from the Outside-In and Masks
  • Deliverables: By the start of class, you should have:
    • A revised draft of your Concept Document with additional focus on:
      • Stakeholder & User Analysis
        • Who are your stakeholders and users?
        • How will you satisfy them?
      • Business impact of your project
      • Early-stage prototypes
        • e.g. Storyboards, scene descriptions, early scenes built in Unity
    • A draft of your pitch presentation (building off of your elevator pitch)
      • Start with your Elevator Pitch
      • Follow with details around your project, give us a progress update
      • Close with timeline & deliverables
        • Get specific about what you hope to achieve by Week 10 (we’ll look back at this during your final presentation for this quarter)
  • Activity: Ninja Slap!
  • Free VR/AR Play Time
  • For next week:

Week 5 – February 5th

Week 6 – February 12th

Week 7 – February 19th

(Note: This Monday is President’s Day. There is no formal class, but the lab will be open and we will have free VR/AR Play Time gear set up)

  • Open lab
  • Free VR/AR Play Time

Week 8 – February 26th

Week 9 – March 5th

Week 10 – March 12th

  • Micro-Lecture: Transformative Play and VR
  • Deliverables: By the start of class, you should have:
    • Final draft of Necessary Resources for Success in Q2
    • Final Pitch Presentation:
      • Elevator Pitch
      • Details around project (including a detailed status update)
      • Timeline and Deliverables for Q2
        • Did we meet what we said we would in Week 5?

Finals Week – March 19th

  • Mid-point check-ins

Additional Important Course Policies and Resources

Academic Honesty

Please read and heed the following information regarding academic dishonesty. The instructor cannot and will not tolerate academic dishonesty. For more information, refer to the UCI Student Handbook. The UCI campus policy on academic honesty resides here:

The penalty for plagiarism is at a minimum to receive a 0 on the assignment and have the case reported to the Associate Dean’s office. Particularly flagrant cases may receive more severe punishment (notably failing the course).

What is cheating?

  • Supplying or using work or answers that are not your own.
  • Providing or accepting assistance with completing assignments or examinations.
  • Faking data or results.
  • Interfering in any way with someone else’s work.
  • Stealing an examination or solution from the teacher.

What is plagiarism?

  • Copying a paper from a source text without proper acknowledgment.
  • Buying a paper from a research service or term paper mill.
  • Turning in another student’s work with or without that student’s knowledge. 
  • Copying a paper from a source text without proper acknowledgment.
  • Copying materials from a source text, supplying proper documentation, but leaving out quotation marks.
  • Paraphrasing materials from a source text without appropriate documentation.
  • Turning in a paper from a term paper website.

You should be on guard against plagiarism at all times.  At any time that you read anything in preparation for a paper or consciously recall anything that you have read or heard, you must be prepared to provide documentation.

Generally, when you use someone else’s ideas and/or words, you will either quote that person directly or you will paraphrase or summarize that person’s words. You must let the reader know which you are doing.

  1. If you quote the source directly, you must
    1. Put quotation marks before and after that person’s words
    2. Let the reader know the source by (1) putting a footnote or endnote number at the end of the quotation, or (2) putting at least the source’s name in parentheses after the quotation marks (such as when being taken from fieldwork).
  2. If you paraphrase (a paraphrase is about the same length as the original, but in different words) or if you summarize (a summary is a severely shortened version of the original), you must
    1. Introduce the source in some manner at the beginning of the passage being paraphrased (or summarized) so that the reader can tell where your idea stops and the other person’s begins
    2. State the ideas taken from the source in your own words and your own arrangement. It is possible to plagiarize sentence patterns as well as exact words. A handy rule: if, in a paraphrase or summary, you use a stretch of more than three words in their exact order from a source, you should put those words into quotation marks
    3. Provide an exact source citation for those ideas paraphrased or summarized. This may be done either by footnote/endnote number at the end of the passages or by parenthetical references to the work and page(s). This citation provides credit to the author being used and allows the reader access to the material for further study.
  3. You must also provide a footnote for any chart, graph, figure, table, summary, or other data taken directly from another source or any information derived from such materials. You should also be sure to check copyright as to whether you are allowed to use this figure.

For example, the text here on plagiarism was initially written Gillian Hayes for the Winter 2013 version of INF 242, although some modifications and additions of my own have been integrated into it.  The original can be found here:, along with Professor Hayes’ own disclaimer that the material has been “generously borrowed and slightly modified from the UTC Center for Advisement and Student Success.”

Special Accommodations

If you are a student with a disability (e.g., physical, learning, psychiatric, vision, hearing, etc.) and think that you might need special assistance or a special accommodation in this class or any other class, please check out the Disability Center online or visit them in person at: 100 Disability Services Center, Building 313, Irvine, CA 92697-5130.   If you are having difficulty with the class for any of these reasons, please let me know so that I can work with you to meet your learning needs. If for any reason you are uncomfortable discussing the details surrounding a given situation you need not disclose anything, but at least let me know that something is going on so that arrangements can be made to adjust things for you before you fall too far behind.

I am always available to meet with students who are having trouble, and I am usually willing to make some reasonable accommodations if you have a legitimate issue, but I require that you check-in with me before a problem gets out of control so we can work something out. If you come to me during finals week to explain that you were in the hospital for 6 weeks and couldn’t complete your work, my first question will be: “why am I just now finding this out?”

Counseling Center

Likewise, if you find that personal problems, career indecision, study and time management difficulties, etc. are adversely impacting your successful progress at UCI, please check out the Counseling Center or Student Services. College can often have adverse effects on one’s physical and mental health, and it is better to seek help early than allow the trials of pursing and advanced degree to cause serious harm.