VR is fun. It can make you giggle or drop your jaw. But can it do real work? Can you actually design and develop something inside VR, all while taking advantage of its immersive properties for creativity? That’s the question we’ve been asking for the better part of a year at Co.Design. And now we have an answer.
Yes! At least in part. Because in what appears to be an industry first, every character and model in the new VR game Paulo’s Wing was drawn entirely in VR. And without any cleaning, the assets were brought right into the Unity engine to be placed in the game.
"The reason we did this was because we were blown away by the application Tilt Brush. It was THE app that made me realize that VR enables you to have experiences that you just can't have on a monitor," says developer Kevin Harper. "[But while] the art done inside the app is so cool, how do you share it? Send someone a picture?" You can really only fully appreciate Tilt Brush art inside Tilt Brush itself, which is kind of like saying you can watch an Oscar-winning movie, but only by visiting the studio it was filmed at. However, if you could take art from Tilt Brush and put it into a VR game, it could live a whole, broader second life.
At his day job, Harper is a developer at UsTwo—makers of the M.C. Escherian world of Monument Valley and haunting VR app Land’s End. But in his spare time he’s been developing Paulo’s Wing under his studio Angry Array, alongside fellow small studio Blitzen Games.
The game itself hands users a sword and shield. Inside the HTC Vive, you can swing and block your way through an arena of floating fantasy monsters. The game play is fun and frenetic. But the experience is made through its art direction—a whimsical, Grecian sensibility, filled with charming scary bulbous monsters that feel straight out of a Zelda game; they launch fireballs that look more like scribbles than anything else. This aesthetic stems largely from the thick, hand-drawn lines of Tilt Brush.
Blitzen Games' Jet Landis Tawara and Kei Tawara developed the graphics first through traditional 2D sketches and color comps (which is pretty standard in game design). They then brought these 2D sketches into Tilt Brush to use as a reference point as they hand-painted the final figures in full 3D, much like they might have developed a figure in Maya or 3DSMax.
"Creating art in VR was a blast. As an artist it's an amazing feeling when you can step into your canvas and take a look around," says Jet Landis Tawara. But she admits that this young piece of software, which lacks the rich tool set of Adobe software, has its quirks. "Painting in Tilt Brush can be a time-consuming process . . . There is something permanent about painting in VR because you once you've committed to a color, you have to either stick with it or start over."
Still, Tilt Brush is fast. "Art creation was super straightforward. If you need a sword, you draw one—you don't model it," says Harper. "That was really cool but it also meant that you had to be okay with holes and messed up deformations when you animate. We made sure that the art style stayed on the left side of the uncanny valley."
Indeed, you only need to look at your character’s own hands to notice the imperfections, like gaps in the figure missed by a line of pixel paint. But Paulo’s Wing still works specifically because it’s not attempting to be hyperrealistic, and instead embraces its own digitally drawn nature. If I were a betting man, I don’t think this will be the last time you see this post-pixel, post-polygonal, 3D-painted aesthetic. In fact, given that Google only keeps investing more into Tilt Brush—and has actually developed a new pipeline to export Tilt Brush assets into the Unity engine since this game was developed—I think Paulo’s Wing will be the first of many games that look just like this.
Tilt Brush could very well be the next pixel art, the fashionable, low-fi aesthetic that drives the indie gaming scene into the world of VR. And that would be just fine by me.
Paulo's Wing is available on Steam for the HTC Vive now for $15.