#61: Mike Arevalo on VR Typing Trainer winning an Educational Game Jam & unlocking the brain for learning through gaming in immersive VR

Mike Arevalo talks about the process of creating the VR Typing Trainer, which was created as part of the Orange Country Virtual Reality Meetup’s 48-hour Educational Game Jam.

mike-arevaloMike talks about the process of developing the game, and the structure of the game jam. His day job is to create educational applications, and they are always talking about how to immerse students in environments to help them learn more effectively.

Mike says that studies have found that gaming can stimulate a student’s brain in a way that static presentations never can, and that immersive VR can be a powerful way to unlock the parts of your brain to make it easier to learn new things. His advice to other game developers is to focus on getting the immersion right in your experience, and that your other goals and learning objects are more likely to fall into place.

I had a chance to play the VR Typing Trainer at Immersion 2014, and it is a very immersive and fun way to improve your typing. Having the words flying towards your face does create a certain amount of pressure and tension that makes the ordinarily dull process of typing much more engaging and fun. I could see how playing this game could help to cultivate some useful typing skills for when you’re in VR, and it’s definitely worth checking out — especially for an experience that was created in 48 hours.


  • 0:00 – VR Typing Trainer – Educational game to bring typing into VR to type without looking at the keyboard.
  • 0:36 – Sitting in Tron-like world, and targets at you and you have to type the word that’s printed on it. It’s an endless runner.
  • 1:00 – It’s a simple core game mechanic. Uses object pooling to take existing objects and get them to move towards the player. Have an algorithm to determine the difficulty depending on how long you’ve been playing the game.
  • 1:37 – Creating the Tron environment because it needed to something more interesting
  • 2:06 – Educational Hackathon
  • 2:26 – Ideas were pitched, and then broke up into groups
  • 2:53 – Saw Tuscany demo, and needed to get into VR
  • 3:09 – Use VR typing trainer to learn how to use keyboards more efficiency.
  • 3:47 – Hard to work with 7 programmers with different skill sets and not all Unity users. A lot of other art exhibits that were there. It had a bit more
  • 4:31 – A lot of planning required to coordinate.
  • 4:56 – Potential for VR. Mike is an educational app developer. How to immerse students to learn at a more effective rate, and gaming stimulates a student’s brain in a way that static presentations never can. Immersive VR can unlock parts of brain to make it easier to learn new things.
  • 5:48 – Advice to other VR developers to make an educational experience. Immersing the player into a place where they’d never be able to be otherwise. If you get the immersion down, then everything else will fall into place.

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:11.964] Mike Arevalo: I'm Mike, one of the programmers for the VR typing training. Our artist, Jeff, he wanted to create a concept that was similar to something like Typing of the Dead, or there was a Mario game that involved typing. And we wanted to bring some kind of typing game into the virtual reality world to teach younger children or maybe even older people who still look at keyboards when they type, to type without looking at the keyboard.

[00:00:36.555] Kent Bye: Great, so maybe you could describe the gameplay a little bit in terms of what's actually happening in this virtual reality game.

[00:00:42.458] Mike Arevalo: So you're sitting in a Tron-like world. You have these targets coming at you, and each target has a word printed on them. And in order to destroy the target, you have to type the word that's printed on them. And it's basically kind of like an endless runner type game where there's no end game except for if you get hit.

[00:01:00.335] Kent Bye: I see. And so maybe talk a bit about the programming aspect since you were doing a lot of the Unity. What kind of special considerations did you have to have for creating this game?

[00:01:09.197] Mike Arevalo: Well, the basic concept of the game is actually really simple. It's just getting a bunch of smaller subsystems. For example, I don't know if you know what object pooling is. We take objects that are already in the world, pool it in front of you, and then we then let the object itself take over and move towards the player. That's actually the basic core mechanic of the game. We also have an algorithm to determine the difficulty depending on how long the game's already been going. So as you're going, you start off with just single letters and move on to words. They get longer and longer in character sizes.

[00:01:38.071] Kent Bye: You guys have a pretty elaborate kind of Tron-like world. What was involved in creating that scene and environment?

[00:01:45.577] Mike Arevalo: That kind of just evolved through the 48 hours we were making the game organically. We kind of were making it in like a blue world with a normal keyboard. And after a while, after maybe 12, 15 hours in, we just decided we need to make this more interesting. What's something easy that we can do? And then 12 hours we have left, let's do Tron.

[00:02:06.874] Kent Bye: And so talk about the hackathon that this was happening about. Where was this at and how did the team come together?

[00:02:12.678] Mike Arevalo: This hackathon was actually at PeopleSpace up in, I believe it was Irvine. It was basically just a group of people meeting who decide on a couple of projects and then break off into groups to actually create the project in two days.

[00:02:26.567] Kent Bye: So how did that team form? Was there a bunch of ideas or was the team formed and then you figure out what to do or, you know, talk about how was the hackathon structured in that way?

[00:02:35.007] Mike Arevalo: A couple of people had ideas already, and they pitched the ideas in front of the whole group of people. I think there was 50 or 60 of us. And then after that, we all broke off into the projects that we were all interested in, and then we kind of interviewed with the main person to see if they would be interested in having us in their group.

[00:02:51.017] Kent Bye: And how did you get into virtual reality development?

[00:02:54.359] Mike Arevalo: I think the first thing I saw was a Tuscany demo. It kind of sold me on how immersive everything is. So, I saw the video of it and I said, I need to get me one of these. And that's basically how I got in there.

[00:03:09.513] Kent Bye: And because this was an educational hackathon, talk about how you see this VR typing trainer being used by people.

[00:03:18.339] Mike Arevalo: Well hopefully this would be used to educate people who are not necessarily good with keyboards to learn how to use keyboards more efficiently and to not look down on their keyboards and actually look up at their screen and process things while they're already typing. That way you get kind of like a multitasking type thing going where you're typing something but at the same time you're typing one thing you're looking at the next thing you're going to type or you're thinking about the next thing you're going to type so that you kind of, you're getting more done.

[00:03:47.983] Kent Bye: It sounds like you guys won the Hackathon, you know, the whole competition, and so what is it that you guys got out of it and what were some of the other projects that were also created?

[00:03:57.369] Mike Arevalo: Well, what I got out of it personally was how hard it is to work with seven programmers who all have different varying skill sets that not necessarily work in the engine that we were already programming in. It's basically how to corral that many programmers into making one cohesive product. As far as the other projects that we're going on we have a lot of like art exhibit type things going where you go to like the pyramids or you see other places in the world you can't normally go to and I think our project differs a little more because it has a little more gameplay aspect to it.

[00:04:31.117] Kent Bye: How did you divide and conquer this project then amongst those seven programmers?

[00:04:35.838] Mike Arevalo: It was a lot of planning. I think we spent four or five hours just talking about what we were gonna do. The code work was divided up in basically one person creates function, another person creates another function, and we all consolidated through one person, which would be me, inside of Unity to actually get everything to work.

[00:04:53.844] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you see as the potential for virtual reality and what gets you excited about it?

[00:05:00.173] Mike Arevalo: For my actual job I'm an educational application developer and so I'm actually pretty deep in the educational aspect of game development and we have meetings all the time about how do we immerse our students to learn material or reinforce material they've learned in classrooms at a more effective rate. And there's been studies that have shown that throwing students into a gaming type situation stimulates the brain in ways that static presentations never can. And if you then throw in the students into a virtual reality type environment that has a game inside of it, then you're simulating even more senses that students wouldn't usually associate with education. So you're basically unlocking parts of the brain to learn things easier.

[00:05:46.958] Kent Bye: What advice would you give to other game developers in terms of when they're making a virtual reality experience, what types of things do you think that make it more of an educational experience rather than just sort of a casual game where they're just passing the time?

[00:06:02.215] Mike Arevalo: I think what makes it more than a casual experience rather than a game that passes time, whether it's with gaming or educational uses, it's just immersing the player with everything around you. The point of virtual reality is that you're immersing the player in something that they cannot usually do otherwise. So I think if you get the immersion down, everything else will kind of fall into place.

[00:06:25.269] Kent Bye: OK, great. Well, thank you.

[00:06:27.010] Mike Arevalo: Thank you.

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