Featured in NYU ITP Spring 2020 showcase
The concept of this immersive experience is to examine an ordinary interaction and transform it into an unexpected encounter. In this case, the act of punching with a subverted consequence.
The player is placed in a gloom and obscure world. An inviting red punching bag can be seen in the center of the desolate world. The barren world ground is actively contrasted by a sky filled with smaller punching bags blending with bloody clouds streaks: how does this alternate world make sense?
Unbeknownst to the player, when they punch the punching bag for the first time, dozens of doves would fly out. That is not how punching a bag works in real life. The act of punching something is a violent act: how could this make sense with the doves - representing a symbol of peace? How could such two antipodes co-exist in the same world, let alone in the same interaction? Taken back by the unexpected interaction, the player then faces their internal struggle of interpreting the encounter: whether to keep punching or to stop the violent act, whether to spread peace by setting the doves free or to let hope die out by chasing the doves away…
This project was developed in partnership with Nhi Pham and Neyva Hernandez.
Creative Process
The first step of brainstorming for this project was to come up with an everyday activity through which we would modify to make it unexpected. We were captivated by the expressive action of punching/boxing and decided to pursue the idea. The word “magic” somehow popped up in the conversation and I thought “What if birds fly out of the punching bag like when they magically fly out of a magician’s hat?” Instantaneously, something clicked: we realized that if we incorporated doves - a symbol of peace, they would unexpectedly counterbalance the suggestively violent act of boxing.
This is our first sketch of the experience, set to be situated within a theatrical performance where the protagonist is the player. There is a button with which the player can interact and influence the doves.
However, after much discussion, we revised and simplified our initial idea:
- The interaction would only involve the action of punching the bag
- The theater environment would be changed to a less context-based and more provocative space. We took inspiration from this scene from the Matrix, in which the environment does not guarantee any concrete clues as to where the player is currently situated, a place that is not defined by the conventionals.
This way, without much environmental context, we envisioned the immersive experience to be self-exploratory and self-interpreting. The player is given two choices: whether to stay put and observe the scene or to interact with it. Not much happens when the player stays put, thus, the action that is clearly designed to be carried out is to interact with the environment, specifically the punching bag.  
The first thing that ensures the player with an agency in this experience is the ability to see their hands right from the beginning. What’s more, the hands are barely in their naked forms: rather, they are inside a pair of red boxing gloves, which imbue the player with an elevated level of agency, the kind that comes with capabilities specific with boxing gloves. The satisfying sensation is derived from the ability to punch the bag and see it responds to the action through the change in position and speed as well as auditory cues (impact sound). Moreover, more than an expected displacement of the punching bag, the player is surprised with doves flying out of the bag every single time it is punched. It is at this moment that the player realizes that they can not only physically influence the punching bag, but they can also extend their agency on the doves - a metaphorical influence, to decide either to set them free to spread peace outwards or to keep them inside, trying to hold on to the last bit of hope in this dark environment. The message is self-contemplating: is the act of punching inherently violent? Is violence required for peace to be realized? 
The immersive experience was initially envisioned for the HTC Vive system. We intended the interaction to be organic, analogous to that required to punch a bag in real life: the player would have to pull the trigger while holding tight to the controller (which resembles the act of clenching a fist) and accelerate their controller/hand forward towards the punching box. However, because of the pandemic and subsequently social distancing, the project had to be re-purposed to a desktop application.
Development Process
With the developed idea in mind, we started to work on the project in Unity. Neyva Hernandez took charge of the environment, while Nhi Pham and I coded in pair on the camera system, the first person character, the interactables, and the interactions.
The player
We decided to put the main camera on the character so that the player can see the hands. As we could not use the Vive system, the ability to look down and see the player's hands provide a visual cue that interactions through the hands are possible. We, however, limited the angle which the players can rotate down, as we did not want the player to be able to look through the boxing man’s body. Lastly, we made the camera and the boxing man children of the First Person Controller so that they can move in tandem with the inputs from the player. This is about as far as we could implement the experience we intended to be without the HTC Vive.
The big punching bag and the doves
We then added a script to detect the collision between the boxing man’s hands and the bag, only when the punching action is triggered to avoid accidental collision caused by proximity to the bag. After detecting the collision, we added a script containing a Bird Prefab to generate birds flying out of the bag. The birds are generated with random positions, random angles, random velocities (using Unity Rigidbody and AddForce() function) and proper animation speed (the faster the velocity, the faster the flapping wings animation).
The Bird Prefab upclose.
We experimented with different color and ended up choosing a white-grey tone that suited well with the monotonous ambience of environment while not overpowering the whole experience. The addition of the moving birds provides the scene, which is made up of stationary or slow-moving components, with great contrast.
The environment
The rest of the environment (including the clouds and the volumetric fog), which aids to create a mysterious, dark, and cruel ambience:
Boxing with Ares

Boxing with Ares

Boxing with Ares is an immersive experience in Unity that invites players to a dark and eerie world where they have to navigate through their int Read More


Creative Fields