VRChat: September Showcase 2023 in Review
The perspective of a creator and a pilot for one of the largest consecutive airshow events in VRChat Aviation
The World Creator Perspective
Written by Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
To say that September Showcase is stressful for everyone involved would be an understatement, but it is the world creators who suffer the most. Not only does everything need to be ready with very tight deadlines, but also optimized for two different platforms with very different requirements and limitations. That being said, I suffered from a very particular set of challenges due to what I wanted to showcase for the audience. Currently, I am one of the few world creators in the Black Aces that makes their own aircraft models from scratch. This meant that not only did I have to polish a world, but make a realistic-looking, game-ready aircraft in a short amount of time. This year's original plane was the SW-210 "Colibrí", a two seat trainer designed by our very own Caio D. "Hueman" Barreto. We also had another creator with us during my week, Reason2Die4, who designed a heavy fighter, the F/A-27G "So-Ur", which I also textured. This made my world itself quite challenging, as it was also a collaborative effort.
Working on the Colibrí was some of the most challenging 3D work I've done so far, mainly because there were parts I had to design myself. The best example of this independent design work was the landing gear. This was one of the few parts where I had no references other than the placement of the wheels when deployed, so I busted out my 3D skills and went to work making one in around than two day, with animations included. UV unwrapping was an absolute nightmare, as always. Getting the textures compacted and done in such short notice made me worry about the quality I would be able to deliver, but I managed to muster every ounce of effort I had in my soul to finish it on time and even make two separate liveries for the showcase! Working with Unity was relatively easy, thanks to all the other world creators such as VTail being there to help answer any doubts that could arise. It took me quite a bit to get my world done. Getting all the systems working was a bit difficult, but at the end of the day it was the Quest version which gave me the most issues.
Meta's Quest 2 platform makes creating worlds an unbelievable hassle. Worlds need to be below 100MB, with a reduced number of assets and limited use of shaders due to the lack of shadows and a depth buffer. Thankfully, I had prepared everything in advanced to be as easy to port as possible, so I had a bit of an easier time with it as I would have otherwise. The world needed to be up one week before the show because the pilots needed that time to figure out the aircraft, their physics and which maneuvers they would do. This was achieved with my planes, both the Dragonfly and the Colibrí, but the So-Ur got delayed by a couple of days due to some issues we were having with its integration. We solved said issues, and we were able to mount one hell of a show. For world creators, September Showcase is the most stressing event one can participate in. It feels sort of like a gamejam, an effort against the clock. This year, we had to create 5 different showcase worlds and around 17 new aircraft. It is incredible to see that we are able to pull something like that off, specially when you consider that some world creators hadn't even touched Unity in months; and one, Pilot, had never touched it as his showcase world was his first one ever. I love this event, but I am glad I will have my free time back now that it is over. I will get to work on the Colibrí's world at my own pace now, see you there!
The Pilot Perspective
Written by Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
This is something that was mentioned in a past interview with leadership of The Black Aces Stunt Team, but it is hard to not overstate it. As someone that has experience with various types of flight games and simulators, what keeps me coming back to these showcase events is the unique and challenging type of flying it is. It is not something that can be replicated on platforms outside VRChat's aviation community. Even high level Digital Combat Simulator virtual flight teams do not deal with this type of situation. Let me put it in perspective using September Showcase 2023.
This year, five world creators affiliated with the Black Aces VRChat aviation group designed a set of aircraft to be shown off in front of live VR crowds. Normally these showcases - airshows that unveil new aircraft to be released for the public to enjoy - are a bi-monthly events. The pilots that fly these aircraft have weeks to learn their intricacies, spread out their practice sessions and get new routines ready.
With there usually being two or more types of aircraft available, transitions between each routine also include deciding on directions of departure and approach and timing between music. For each aircraft, they must learn a degree of control from the edge of stall through consecutive aerobatic maneuvers; well enough to consistently perform those maneuvers before the public sees them.
However, during September Showcase, the time to prepare and get everything right is reduced to less than six days per week. For five weeks straight. For the pilots, this time crunch presents a real challenge. Even for a group of 13 pilots of varying levels of readiness. Even rotating teams of pilots per showcase only lessens the workload somewhat.
This year, they were tasked with mastering an array of aircraft from radial piston legends to fictional, but believable designs all flew with varying degrees of realism depending on the intention of the world creator. We flew the following aircraft:
Dassault Mirage 2000
B-17 Flying Fortress
B-29A Super Fortress
The nerves and stress can run high during this time, with a lot of "try it and see what happens" maneuvers during practice. Many of them result in spectacular explosions and laughter. But even after the hardest performance in front of crowds so large, pilots lose frames per second while flying formation, the immediate feedback from a live audience is such a rush.
Leaving the cockpit of an aircraft then being met by dozens of spectators and an almost guaranteed after party, it reinforces the feeling of it truly being a live event. During these times, the mixture of relief that everything went well, comments from the audience and comradery from fellow pilots really wraps up the experience.
It has been well over one year since I started airshow flying with the Black Aces stunt team, and the allure of high-flying performances in front of a "live" virtual audience continues to dazzle me to this day... I just thank goodness every month isn't September. Haha!