Building a new reality

Basketball VR2

Your dreams of knocking down a long jumper at the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall just came a lot closer to being a reality. Well, a virtual reality.

Thanks to technology developed and designed by Catherine Onofrey, a senior majoring in Informatics at the School of Informatics and Computing, basketball fans everywhere have the opportunity to take some shots on the Hoosiers’ home court in an immersive environment that is as life-like as possible. Onofrey is an intern at the new Mark Cuban Center for Sports Media and Technology, and she developed the game as part of her senior capstone project for SoIC.

The idea was born on a couch.

“I have a friend who has an HTC Vive virtual reality set,” Onofrey says. “He was showing it to me, and I was completely taken by how immersive it is. You take the helmet off, and you really feel like you were in a different place. The capstone project required some code-intensive work, and I realized I could use that type of technology for the project.”

Onofrey coupled the idea for the game with a 3D modeling class she was taking at SoIC, and when she presented the idea to the staff at the Cuban Center, they were enthusiastic. She was allowed as much access as possible to the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall floor, and the athletic department’s staff photographers pitched in.

“The photographers would take me on the court and ask me what angles I needed,” Onofrey says. “Since renovations were going on, I had to hold off on getting some of the more realistic aspects for a while, but that gave me time to work on the base objects.”

Onofrey first mapped out a grayscale 3D environment that provided the foundation of the game. It also gave her a chance to work out some of the physics at play.

“At first, the basketballs didn’t act like basketballs,” Onofrey says. “It was more like a bowling ball. It would just fall and stick to the ground. If you’re building an immersive environment, you need the ball to roll and bounce or else it will break the reality. It was harder than I thought it would be, but it was just about tweaking the physics of the object itself so it would react correctly.”

She later added realistic textures to the objects, and she developed the size and scope of the areas surrounding the basketball court using photos and her own intuition. Onofrey slowly saw her bland design morph into a rich environment in a virtual setting that matched what she saw in the real world.

Another challenge was coding the game to function with the VR headset. Two control paddles are used to interact with the basketballs, and a trigger is used to release the ball when a user goes through the motion of shooting. Onofrey was a newcomer to tackling such a coding problem, but she leaned on the resources of SoIC, the Cuban Center, and online communities to develop a functioning product.

The result is a realistic representation of Branch McCracken Court at the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, plus added features such as virtual player cards highlighting some of the superstars of IU basketball and their accomplishments. The game has already proven to be a popular recruiting tool for the athletic department.

“The basketball program loved it,” Onofrey says. “And we did a couple of events for football, which was fun. They were excited to showcase the game and the fact that a student had designed it. Parents loved it, and recruits were blown away that I had made it. The department loved that it promoted both athletics and academics.”

Onofrey graduates in May and has a job lined up with General Motors as a software developer. She hopes to someday continue her work with virtual reality at GM.

“It’s cool to be behind the scenes and realize how much work goes into a program that is graphically intensive,” Onofrey says. “I have a new respect for the work that is done, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Onofrey’s game is available to the public to be downloaded for the HTC Vive.

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