Celebrating Black History Month Inside Facebook Horizon

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Celebrating Black History Month Inside Facebook Horizon
February 23, 2021

Our celebration of Black History Month continues in Facebook Horizon, where we’re spotlighting worlds made by Black creators. A unique social experience in VR, Horizon is building an inclusive, vibrant, and diverse community. Today, we sit down with Stacy Obakpolor, Art Face, Warren Reid, and Micah Allen to learn more about their creations and their thoughts on Black History Month.

 

Creator: Stacy Obakpolor
Worlds: The Observatory + The Orrery

How would you describe your world to someone new to VR? What’s a highlight you would want people to know about this world?

Stacy Obakpolor: I think I’d describe The Observatory as a peaceful observatory where you’re free to relax, reflect, or discover. The telescope serves as the focal point, and you’re free to position it in 90-degree increments.

 

I’d describe the Orrery as a simulated mechanical model of our solar system, where you can walk around and inspect each planet as they orbit around the sun.

What inspired you to create these worlds? Were you influenced by another creator, hobbies, or a location in the real world?

SO: Music, books, and video games have always been my biggest inspirations. I’ve also had a fascination with the vastness of the universe and always find it difficult to resist looking up at the stars whenever given the chance. Telescopes are especially cool since they’re literally windows into our universe’s past. It just sort of sets the imagination on fire. In the words of Marge Simpson: “I just think they’re neat.”

 

Tell us about the actual building process. How’d you put it all together, and did you work with a creative partner? If so, what was that process like? How did you decide what to create?

SO: This was a solo endeavor. I know a lot of experienced creators will cringe at this, but I actually prefer to start with my props and make them as detailed as possible before moving on to the environment. It’s a lot more motivating for me to have polished props that need a home than to build a home and suddenly need to fill it with props—I’m weird that way. I started with the telescope and slowly worked my way out to the edges, making adjustments as I went.

 

As far as deciding what to create, I always try to ask myself one question: Would I want to personally spend time here? If the answer to that is no, then what can I add to make that answer a yes? In this case, I wanted a space that evoked a sense of wonder, discovery, and peace.

 

Do you plan to continue tweaking this world or are you planning a new one? If so, what?

SO: It’s funny how what’s missing from a world is ridiculously obvious when you come back to it much later. I plan on adding furniture, more scripted behavior (now that I’m more comfortable), a second or third story, gateways to other creations, and more details to the environment.

 

I’ve also started planning a new world that I can hopefully share soon! Thought it would be cool to take things in a different direction and see what I could do underground leaning entirely on bioluminescence as a light source. And I've always wondered what cities built into stalactites would look like.

 

What does Black History Month mean to you? How does it feel to be part of this celebration in VR?

SO: For myself, Black History Month serves as both an important reminder and milestone. I’m sure many Black people in the 1950s and 1960s never would have believed they’d have equal rights, much less have an entire month dedicated to celebrating Black achievements. To be alive today and be part of this celebration using a technology that is dear to my heart is incredibly humbling.

 

What role does VR have to play in uplifting Black voices?

SO: VR is doing today what was considered science fiction not too long ago. One of the most powerful aspects of VR is the ability to tell stories from the perspective of someone else you could never be in the real world and empathize with that person. Traveling While Black does a fantastic job of this! To be able to live an experience, even briefly, through someone else’s frame of reference is incredibly powerful, and it’s something VR is uniquely suited for in a way no other medium is.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

SO: It can be difficult to know where to start when getting into 3D content creation. I’m entirely self-taught and relied pretty heavily on video tutorials until I was comfortable. There’s no shortage of free YouTube tutorials out there if you’re looking to get started. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and experiment! Feedback is a gift, so don’t be afraid to share your works in progress early and often. The creative community is filled with amazingly talented and generous people that are always happy to provide feedback and help you troubleshoot. And never let the gulf between your idols and your abilities discourage or overwhelm you. As long as you’re having fun, the rest will take care of itself.

Creator: Art Face
World: Art Face 2

How would you describe your world to someone new to VR? What’s a highlight you would want people to know about this world?

Art Face: I think the first thing I would have to say is: a feeling of being free—not having to worry about who you are, or what your background is. It’s a place to just come and have fun, or hang out with friends.

 

What inspired you to create this world? Were you influenced by another creator, hobbies, or a location in the real world?

AF: I had this idea in mind for some time. I’m an artist and always thinking of new things to draw, but making worlds in Horizon that I can share my art for people to play in takes it to a new level! 

 

Tell us about the actual building process. How’d you put it all together, and did you work with a creative partner? If so, what was that process like? How did you decide what to create?

AF: I started off with making the dragon and after that making rooms people could walk in and have a look around. But outside of making the art, one of the best parts was working with my friend Revenite, who I came to know just from being on Horizon. He helped me so much with this world in so many ways! It was really cool when we would try something and get it to work—being able to give a high five in VR is really awesome.

 

Do you plan to continue tweaking this world or are you planning a new one? If so, what?

AF: So I still have plans to come back to this world and add more to it. I still want it to feel like a home to anyone who comes to visit, so people can keep an eye out for new updates. Right now I’m working on a new world for people to hang out and meet new friends. I feel that making new friends in VR is awesome, but the places they meet should matter as well. When we meet people in the real world, we always remember the place for something it had to give. Maybe they had good food or music—places in VR must stand out the same way they do in the world. 

 

What does Black History Month mean to you? How does it feel to be part of this celebration in VR?

AF: Black history means so much to me. It’s because of other people being the first to do something big in this world that allows me to do something like this. If no one took the first step to make things better, life would always be the same. So I feel blessed to be part of this celebration in VR, and I hope that my art and my words will help someone who may read this.

 

What role does VR have to play in uplifting Black voices?

AF: Tell your story! Whatever it is you enjoy, VR is a new world that needs amazing people from all walks of life to show up and show out. I had no idea what I was doing when I started making art in VR, but now it has helped me touch other people that otherwise I may have never known in the real world.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

AF: I run a YouTube channel for anyone who wants to learn more about making art in VR. It’s a safe place for all art lovers and pretty much anything in the world of VR. Just look up Art Face on YouTube and come say hello! 

Creator: Warren Reid, aka UrbanMasque
World: Bowl-o-Rama

How would you describe your world to someone new to VR? What’s a highlight you would want people to know about this world?

Warren Reid: I would describe this world as a sporting venue where people go more to socialize than to actually bowl—kind of like real life. Bowling alleys where I grew up were social spots with food, dancing, bars, and tabletop games. This club vibe is what I would highlight to people also. We tried to give it a dance club atmosphere in this bowling alley by setting up a DJ booth, and we also trigger neon lights on the alleys and change the lane color when people want to party!

What inspired you to create this world? Were you influenced by another creator, hobbies, or a location in the real world?

WR: In the post-COVID world, I miss going to sporting events and music festivals. So I usually make social spots that have a sports and entertainment theme to them because I feel like people would gravitate to spaces like that in VR since we can’t congregate at them IRL. It isn’t remotely close to a replica of the places I went as a kid, but the alley I made in Horizon is still heavily influenced by Bedford Lanes in Brooklyn, NY, and Belrose Lanes in Queens. I spent a lot of time in both places as a kid.

 

Tell us about the actual building process. How’d you put it all together, and did you work with a creative partner? If so, what was that process like? How did you decide what to create?

WR: Conceptualizing a scene and then building it is my strength, but scripting isn’t my strong point. So I collaborated with Stacy O. on this world, who scripted all of the pins dynamic and let me learn scripting slowly by leaving the simple tasks like confetti and DJ triggers to me. Horizon is an amazing educational tool for game design! When I build, I start with the world and the scale of the world, and create the frame. I use the entry avatar, suss that out in each room, and then come back in spurts to add more details with each visit. The bowling alley was different because we started with an empty world and figured out how we wanted to make the bowling alley dynamic first and if it would work at all. I didn’t want to spend the time creating a scene only to have the core interactive feature not work. So, after testing different sizes, materials, and spacing, we got the bowling dynamic to a place we felt comfortable with, and then I built the world around the lanes lol.

 

Do you plan to continue tweaking this world or are you planning a new one? If so, what?

WR: One of the great things about Horizon is that I can get feedback and feature suggestions from this awesome community and implement them as we go. Publishing updates is so easy! In general, I’m open to feedback, or if someone says, “Hey, it would be cool if you added this” or, “I’m really skilled at X, can I try to tweak this aspect of your world?”, then I’m all for it! I would like to do more with the lighting, but I think that the bowling alley is pretty much fully baked. I’m open to suggestions, so if you have any, please send them my way, but as far as that world I don't have any more ideas on things to add.

 

What does Black History Month mean to you? How does it feel to be part of this celebration in VR?

WR: While Black folks all over are unified during this time in our reverence for our ancestors and our current struggles, I’d imagine that Black History Month means something different for every African American. Recently it has become a time for me to acknowledge the trailblazers who have allowed me to exist comfortably in the current moment in time—the famous names we all know, but also the stories that history might have missed even in our own states, cities, and family. It also reminds me that history is watching me now, and whether I like it or not, I’m an ambassador for future generations. So I don’t take for granted being a part of celebrations like these. I’m honored to be acknowledged and thankful that you’ve created this space to recognize a diverse set of voices.

 

What role does VR have to play in uplifting Black voices?

WR: It’s cliche, but VR is absolutely an empathy machine! Traditionally, you would read through someone’s plight in a history book, in recent years we’ve come to see what happened to someone through a film or documentary, but VR exponentially enriches the learning experience by literally shoving you into the shoes of another person. I think that is the key. Exposing users to Black voices and perspectives is important—especially in a new medium like VR.

 

VR is going to play an extremely important role in telling Black stories and uplifting the next wave of Black artists and creators. For instance, I don’t know anyone who has watched Traveling While Black and wasn’t left with a profound impression. There are tons of amazing experiences offered in VR that do this, and they’re only going to get more compelling. VR takes you into someone else’s perspective. It gives you insight into a point of view that you might be too uncomfortable to approach IRL or may not have the network to expose you to certain things. Additionally, it takes you on that journey in an isolated environment, so you have time to digest the ideas and perspectives on your own without outside influences and muting external biases.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

WR: In VR, I make it a point to make sure my avatar is as close to my likeness as possible—not because I don’t want to be someone else for a while, but I feel like it is more important that other users see Black people in the virtual space and normalize our presence there. Also, I just wanted to note to the game devs out there that VR is all about immersion. So if you’re creating a game and the player can see their appendages and skin color, please make sure to include some that have melanin. I know it might seem like a given, but you’d be surprised. If you would like to talk about anything I mentioned above, please reach out to me on Instagram: @Urbanmasque.tv.

Creator: Micah Allen
World: Alien Catacombs

How would you describe your world to someone new to VR? What’s a highlight you would want people to know about this world?

Micah Allen: Alien Catacombs is a fantasy adventure series I made for Facebook Horizon. I would classify it as an adventure game that includes platformer, escape room, puzzle, and light combat elements. The lava pit and dragons tend to stand out for most. At the time I created it, I was still figuring out ways to animate lava effects. I also tend to like creature animations and their interactions with players.

 

What inspired you to create this world? Were you influenced by another creator, hobbies, or a location in the real world?

MA: Alien Catacombs really started off as an experiment. It was my first published world in Horizon, and I was testing out the capabilities. I’ve always had an active imagination. As a child, I always wanted to experience what it felt like to be in certain fantasy movies and video games. My parents had me watching classic movies like The NeverEnding StoryWilly Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and The Wiz. I fell in love with movies like Hook and Toy Story as a kid. I’d always been particular to first-person games like TurokDoomDuke Nukem, and Morrowind. As far as books, Goblins in the Castle had a pretty big influence as well as the Goosebumps series. VR coupled with Horizon’s scripting capability allowed me to create my own fantasy experience and share it.

 

Tell us about the actual building process. How’d you put it all together, and did you work with a creative partner? If so, what was that process like? How did you decide what to create?

MA: Like most of my worlds, this was a solo project. I’ll have this “I wonder what it would feel like” moment in my head and just explore it—like “I wonder what it would feel like to be lifted into the air by a giant creature in VR?” Then I just build the story around the idea, test the limits, and see where it takes me. The building process was a lot of trial and error. I was still learning how Horizon worked. I played with a lot of colors and skewed shapes. Whenever I discovered a new script, or a new possibility in Horizon, the project would take on another layer. I like to test the limits of things and squeeze as much as I can into what’s allowed.

 

Do you plan to continue tweaking this world or are you planning a new one? If so, what?

MA: Part of me wants to tweak a few things since it was my first world, and I have learned and built numerous things since. Then there’s a part of me that wants to keep it as is for historical purposes—like showing my evolution in the platform, and even the evolution of the platform itself. I am in the process of creating Alien Catacombs 4 and Valley of the Beasts Part 3.

 

What does Black History Month mean to you? How does it feel to be part of this celebration in VR?

MA: Black history to me means seeing my people excel in all spaces, especially spaces that we aren’t traditionally used to being a part of. It’s important to know where we came from to understand what we still go through and are fighting to overcome. It feels amazing to be a part of this celebration. I built Alien Catacombs and Valley of the Beasts for pleasure, not expecting them to get to where they are. It’s still kind of hard to wrap my head around being one of the firsts at something in any capacity. My dad passed away last month, but he and my mom were responsible for exposing me to tech at an early age. I realize now how lucky I was compared to my peers growing up in the inner city. I know that he would be proud of this accomplishment.

 

What role does VR have to play in uplifting Black voices?

MA: Representation is a key role that VR needs to have when it comes to uplifting Black voices. As of now, we have a very minimal presence in tech, but with VR, especially social VR, we can find more people like ourselves that we wouldn’t have met otherwise. Groups can be formed by people across the country and even across the world. VR gives us the opportunity to share our experiences in ways that weren’t possible before. Collaborations are no longer limited to people in specific cities. On a developer level, with the proper funding, there is a potential to put creatives together with specific yet adhesive roles to create some magical things.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

MA: I’m also a singer-songwriter. I’ve been singing since I was like five years old. A few of my inspirations are Stevie Wonder, Donald Glover, John Legend, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway. It translates well in VR actually. I’ve had the opportunity to put on a few shows in VR. I actually did more shows in VR than IRL this past year due to the pandemic.

 

Thanks to Stacy Obakpolor, Art Face, Warren Reid, and Micah Allen for sharing their stories and participating in Horizon’s Black History Month celebration. We can’t wait to see what you build next.

 

For participants in Horizon’s invite-only beta, we’re hosting an event with these Black creators on February 24 at 5:30 pm PT. Click here to subscribe.

We’ll continue to showcase creators from the Horizon community, so stay tuned to the blog for future updates.

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