anandala

Kevin Mack’s Anandala is an awe-inspiring piece of VR-native, generative, abstract art with some really compelling experiments in interactive, embodied NPC entities he calls “blorts.” There are 130 of these blorts spread out throughout a massive series of never-ending tunnels split into different zones. I’ve had some of the most compelling and playful interactions with these blorts that go beyond anything else I’ve experienced in VR. These blorts feel alive as they exhibit a broad range of responsive behaviors that I interpret as curious, playful, contextually-aware, interactive, and non-aggressively embodied.

While not driven by any machine learning, neural architecture, the heuristic-based AI behind the blorts take in enough external inputs to make them very difficult to predict what they’re going to do. This includes reacting to your position, gestures, movements, musical sonifications, what is happening in the surrounding context over time as it maintains a short-term memory of your actions and it’s own changing state. Mack said that there are a number of ways that he can tune each blort so that they each have their unique set of behaviors, personality, and character.

Each blort also has a unique underlying topology, but it is constantly shapeshifting via a vertex-shader that that is responding to a number of environmental inputs. Each blort also has an interactive, dynamic shader texture that’s like a psychedelic abstraction of fluid dynamics. It’s a variation of the shader that is on the walls of the series of never-ending tunnels, and the combination of these generative inputs produces an infinite source of perpetual novelty that’s both viscerally stimulating and feels like a boundless source of awe as it consistently perverts my ability to predict what’s going to happen next.

Interestingly enough, even though Anandala is viscerally stimulating and cognitively engaging, it still manages to have an overall calming and hypnotic quality with a sort of visual entrainment, transcendental Buddhist soundtrack, and induction of a flow state driven by curiosity and poetic interpretation of embodied behaviors of blorts like a divinatory reading of tea leaves to try to discern what these alien intelligence metaphors are doing and why. It’s hard not to anthropomorphize these blorts, talk to them, and use them as a blank slate to project ourselves onto. Mack shares a series of his own interactions and conversations as he’s been developing it over the last couple of years.

Anandala the spiritual successor to Blortasia, which features a similar underlying architecture and environmental shaders with slightly-refined, flying mechanic that enables intuitive locomotion to explore the space. Again the biggest change in Anandala are how sophisticated and complex the blorts have become, as well as some Easter egg behaviors and locations to discover.

I had a chance to interview Mack after Anandala’s World Premiere at the Venice VR Expanded festival that runs until September 19th. I highly recommend checking it out if you got the Venice accreditation, or you can also get temporary access to it via Viveport Infinity until the end of the festival.

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