A critically-acclaimed narrative-driven comedy-adventure from art-collective-turned-developer Tender Claws, Virtual Virtual Reality has taken the Oculus community by storm, earning a near-perfect rating on Oculus Go and Gear VR. Today, we’re excited to announce that the game Kotaku called a “lovingly cheeky response” to consumer VR’s initial hype cycle is now available on Rift!
To celebrate the spread of Virtual Virtual Reality and its delightfully satirical tech-fueled future, we sat down with the Tender Claws team for the inside scoop on Activitude and its resonance with VR gamers.
What was the initial inspiration behind Virtual Virtual Reality? How, if at all, has the project changed over time?
Tender Claws: The humor and satire in V-VR works because the co-lead on the project, Samantha Gorman, began working in VR in early 2002. The story is based on her long engagement with VR and its many evolutions. V-VR is basically both a love letter to and commentary on VR itself. Many of our projects are interested in examining humans’ relationship to technology, so V-VR also directly responds to real issues like the gig economy and outsourcing, which are being influenced more and more by AI.
We generally work from the premise of seeing what the medium is capable of and the specific ways that can be used to support a narrative. We began V-VR in 2015. With rapidly evolving media like VR, the canvas you have to work with is constantly shifting. We recently included new realities that take advantage of different types of tracking. We take great care in optimizing the game’s look and feel for every platform. Even having two controllers changes a player’s relationship to the game. However, the overall goals and themes of V-VR have remained the same.
What motivated you to bring V-VR over to Rift? How did you optimize the experience for 6DOF?
TC: Rift is really exciting for us because of its room-scale capabilities and even greater immersion through 6DOF. We worked hard to optimize V-VR to take advantage of those features, especially since players can use two controllers with Rift. We revamped the object manipulation system and added new physics interactions so that players can grab an object with both controllers simultaneously and have it move and twist in a natural, intuitive manner.
We added in full real-time shadows and upgraded the visuals throughout the experience. We’ve also added two new realities, where the tasks and environments encourage players to move around within the scenes in greater detail, beyond just using the teleporter.
Since debuting on Oculus Go and Gear VR, V-VR has proven wildly popular, with a 4.78 aggregate rating. To what would you attribute the game’s early success with the Oculus community?
TC: We’ve been thrilled with the player response to V-VR; the enthusiasm is really humbling. We’re a small team, so it’s great to see something we’ve made played by so many people. Interest in V-VR likely spread through word of mouth, since it’s been visible at award shows and festivals. We think there may be a hunger in VR for deep content that’s fun but also insightful. V-VR was a design lab for us where we set out to marry compelling narrative with strong interaction design.
Why did you decide to bring VR and AI together conceptually? How do you see these two technologies in conversation IRL?
TC: There’s an interesting relationship between VR and AI. On the one hand, AI has the potential to change how our society and economy function on a fundamental level—as jobs and simple tasks are replaced by AI, does that make humans more fragmented and isolated?
On the other hand, VR, particularly social VR, has the potential to bring humans together in exciting new ways—look at something like Oculus Venues where you can experience a concert with your best friend or your sibling even if they’re across the country. VR can connect us on a deeper level than just a phone call or social media. Right now, VR and AI are still in their beginning stages, but we thought it was interesting to explore how they might interact and impact us in the future.
In what ways, if at all, does the game’s actual AI reinforce and/or challenge its narrative?
TC: We don’t want to give away too much of the game for those who haven’t yet played, but the deeper you get into V-VR, the more you will (hopefully) question its initial premise. Are we serving the AI, or are they serving us?
What’s next for you? Any exciting projects in the works?
TC: We’re hard at work on a new AR game called tendar, where players teach a virtual guppy to live in the real world by “feeding” it through a well-balanced diet of emotions. Your guppy will learn, evolve, and analyze the world around it based on players’ facial expressions and level of cooperation. It explores some of the same overarching technological and societal questions as V-VR but in a new light. E3 attendees can see a demo of tendar in the IndieCade zone in the West Hall. And ... we’re collaborating with Oculus on a new experience coming next year!
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
TC: Thank you so much to all the players who have joined us on the journey through Activitude—your feedback and support mean the world to us!