Quill Falls Short of the Hype

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I’ve been using Quill since Oculus Story Studio released it on December 6th to coincide with the launch of the Oculus Rift touch controllers.  There are many articles online that recount the origin story of Quill as the baby of a 48-hour hackathon that grew into the beta that was released last month.  Maybe I’m just spoiled by the development head start that Google’s Tilt Brush has on all of the virtual art creation tools, but Quill feels rough and unfinished.  (Feel free to rush to the comments now to defend Quill based on the ‘beta’ label)

Environment

One of my first disappointments after launching Quill is that they didn’t take advantage of the articulating hand analogs that are found in almost every other touch title.  Instead you get a cube and a circle that look like placeholders that someone forgot to replace for the release.  This, along with the fact that there isn’t a ground plane or virtual work environment contributes to an uneasy feeling of being swallowed up in an empty void.  Even after I found the ground plane option and turned it on (appearing first at chest level), because it is a repeating grid pattern it created an optical illusion that “moved” it forward and back in relationship to what I was drawing.  Quickly turned off.

Menu interface

Let’s talk about that menu.  This is where I have the most trouble with accepting this as a revolutionary virtual reality application that people keep gushing about online.  The menu system doesn’t just feel like it was ported from a 2D desktop application; it feels like a desktop menu from the 1990s.  I spend more time poking at that menu (that pops up way too close to my face) and navigating through directory and layer trees than painting.

Sound design

Sound effects might be an odd thing to pick at since good sound design makes things feel so natural that it just becomes part of the experience.  The sounds in Quill are too abrupt and scratchy for my taste.  Forget about trying to paint while listening to music on headphones if you want to use the undo option – it is just way too loud and obnoxious.  I do appreciate the option of adding my own sound file to fill out the story-like experience of an illustration.

Infinite scaling

I know what you’re thinking – how can I have anything bad to say about infinite scaling.  This is one of those things that sounds awesome in abstract but falls flat when faced with practical application.  I’ll admit that creating something with a wide range of scale is a fun novelty, but it is a feature that will be better suited for future hardware that is less of a limiting factor in how big we can create worlds in virtual reality.  I think people are more in love with the concept than the reality.

Layers

If you are entering VR from a Photoshop or other 2D illustration software background you’re probably pretty excited about layers.  Why do we even need traditional layers in virtual reality?  Their use in Quill is to let you duplicate groups of brush strokes and temporarily hide things.  I should be able to just reach out and select my brush strokes and duplicate them without having to poke around a 2D menu.  I was constantly moving, manipulating, or scaling the wrong things because I had the wrong layer selected.

I think that Quill has a ton of potential and has a unique artistic style that looks amazing.  It just misses the mark as a virtual reality application.  I hope that the makers of Quill take this critical review how it was intended – as constructive feedback to make Quill live up to the hype it continues to receive.

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