#1141: Venice Immersive VRChat Worlds Gallery Producer Mike Salmon on Curating the Frontiers of DIY World Building

Mike Salmon is the producer of the VRChat Worlds Gallery at Venice Immersive, which means that the scouts out potential worlds, helps track down potential events to feature, and coordinates all of the physical and virtual docents who helping to actually run all of the various world hops. The VRChat world gallery had over 30 different worlds that were featured on a variety of different world hops throughout the day, but there were also five different VRChat worlds that were in competition. Two were immersive theatre pieces (Gumball Dreams & Typeman), and three were VRChat worlds including Kevin Mack’s Namuanki, Fins’ Treasure Heist, and MetaRick’s Uncanney Alley.

I talked to Salmon about his journey into VRChat and the underground music scene, his short-list curation strategy, and collaboration with curators Liz Rosenthal and Michel Reilhac. In my last interview with Liz & Michel, we spoke about the festival’s emphasis on trying to onboard other immersive storytellers onto VRChat in order to show the quality and extent of some of the worldbuilding that’s happening on the platform. Salmon likes to call VRChat the YouTube of VR in the sense that the publication of experiences are much more democratized in the sense that they don’t have to be curated by a big walled garden like Meta. This allows for a lot more experimentation as well as more avante-garde, DIY, punk aesthetics, but also experimenting with more bite-sized experiences that you wouldn’t necessarily want to download an entire application for.

There’s also a social dimension to VRChat, which means that the social dynamics are built-in and often times the environmental design provides a background context for connection. Salmon points to the Rat King as a world that is like a community-driven and open source DJ club with a video player that allows anyone to throw their own rave within a VRChat instance. Each year Venice highlights a number of different clubs and events, and this year they featured LLLL SILENT DAWN RELEASE PARTY by PK, OXYMORE by VRrOOm, SANCTUM by PammeMatth, and SODAWORLD by Michael Balkind. You can see how I categorized the different VRChat Worlds Gallery in my Venice Immersive sneak peak post after I had a chance to check out the worlds ahead of my trip to Venice.

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that's looking at the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and the future of spatial computing. You can support me on Patreon at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So in today's episode, I have Mike Salmon, who is one of the curators of the VRChat selections there at Venice Immersive. And so Liz and Michelle have been integrating different dimensions of VRChat since the pandemic came about in 2020, and they actually had their festival within the context of VRChat. And then in 2021 and 2022 they've had these VRChat world galleries where they have a selection of VRChat worlds that are out of competition but are also trying to highlight different dimensions of what's happening within VRChat in terms of world building and the different immersive stories and the experimentations and Mike calls VRChat sort of like the YouTube of VR, where you're able to have this kind of punk DIY projects, but experimenting on different dimensions and having this whole social aspect as well to be able to explore these different dimensions. And so, actually, Venice this year did a lot to be able to facilitate these different world hops. They have different selections of different worlds, 30-plus worlds all together in their VRChat worlds gallery. They had a number of different special events as well of different music events and DJs and raves and different things that they're highlighting so different special events as well as different worlds that they're highlighting and so we kind of talk about that whole scene and his responsibility to help to be on the frontiers of scouting out and trying to provide and curate a shortlist of different worlds for Liz and Michelle to take a look at and then make their final selections and come up with different ways of combining them into these different world hops and all the things that they had to do to be able to pull that off this year and try to really elevate what's happening in VRChat, but to introduce it to people who may not understand all the different ways of navigating and being onboarded. And so, yeah, lots of effort to be able to do that this year with a whole series of online docents and physical docents to be able to facilitate all these different VRChat events over the course of the week there at Venice Immersive. So that's where we're coming on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Mike Salmon happened on Monday, September 5th, 2022 at Venice Immersive in Venice, Italy. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:31.052] Mike Salmon: Hi, my name is Michael Salmon and I'm here at the Venice Film Festival and I'm producing the world section, which this year is focused on VRChat worlds. So we have three sub-sections of that. We have ten headsets that are running daily world hops, so that's thirty worlds roughly that are broken down into eight different world hops that we repeat every day. We then have six headsets that are running the pieces that are in the competition. So that's Namu Anki, Uncanny Alley, and Treasure Heist. And then we have another three headsets that are running two really cool performances, Type Man and Gumball Dreams.

[00:03:08.527] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into immersive media.

[00:03:14.809] Mike Salmon: Yeah, sure. So I used to work at NBC Universal and I was in an innovation team there. So my job was to scout interesting technologies and various different companies and services that we thought that the business might be able to adopt. So that was going out to startups and finding new tech. And basically one of the guys in the IT department who worked next to me got an Oculus Rift from the Kickstarter. And at that point I was completely smitten and really annoyed my boss and my boss's boss by completely turning my back on all other technologies and just focusing entirely on how I could just make a career out of doing VR, which spent most of the time sort of begging people for money to make projects or getting GoPros and sticking them together and going out to the news team and helping them learn how to stitch content. And we ended up setting up an immersive entertainment team there for a little bit. We made a metaverse platform called Universal Worlds, but unfortunately it was a little bit ahead of its time and it got canned. And at that point I left and started up doing my own thing.

[00:04:23.410] Kent Bye: And you also worked on a project called Eleven, is that right? Maybe you'd talk a bit about some of those other projects that you worked on.

[00:04:29.953] Mike Salmon: Yeah sure, so 11.11 was a project that I worked on with a producer called Marad Nori. He was also with me at Universal and it was for sci-fi and we showed that at South by Southwest and Venice in 2019. So it was very much influenced by like punch-drunk style immersive theatre. So the idea was it was 11 minutes and 11 seconds until the end of the world. Bombs were going to drop, everyone was going to die. There was one last ship that was going to take off and we had this huge island that we'd made and there were six stories that all played out in real time during that 11 minutes and 11 seconds. And you could choose which character you wanted to start the experience with, but you were free to either follow that character's experience, or you could detach from them and just wander around the space completely freely. And if you walked up to, let's say, a burning building, you could fast forward and rewind time using the controllers, so you could then sort of rewind and find out why that blew up. And then we also gave you a couple of different ways that you could view the experience. So while you were using it, you could press the controller buttons and you could change from being first person view and then rise up to what we call goddess mode. So you could watch all those six sort of stories playing out in miniature below you.

[00:05:48.993] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a lot of really innovative controls on that, and I think I actually have an unpublished interview with your other co-producer or co-director on that piece that I want to get out at some point, languishing in the backlog, but I think it's a really innovative piece that does give me a lot of that Sleep No More immersive theater vibes. And I met you at that South by Southwest, and then I think our next encounter was for Raindance. We were both jurors on VRChat Worlds, and I think we had quite a number of epic experiences, including the devouring. I think we had a whole, like, six-hour experience with you and Joe Hunting, who ended up going on and directing. We met in virtual reality. But I guess before we sort of dive into that aspect, when was your introduction to VRChat? When did that come onto your screen to start going into these different worlds to the point where you were selected as a juror by Maria from Raindance?

[00:06:41.598] Mike Salmon: Sure, well before I was into VRChat, so I experimented with lots of social VR platforms during the sort of early DK1, 2 days and so in the early days I was more drawn towards Altspace because I think like most people who use VRChat for the first time had a few hairy experiences and the community within Altspace seemed a little less like the YouTube comments section, you know, like a little less crazy and so I actually went to like the first alt space big party where they did the Super Bowl screening and you know there's like a hundred people in a space and I was just completely besotted by this idea of hanging out with folk in VR and and there's a guy called Nate who worked there and I ended up like DJing at his club in like 2018 and in fact I was so besotted by that I ended up like carting my own gear down to meetups in London and I would set up like an alt space station so that the guys who were working there could then meet people very much like we're doing here in Venice now. And so we could meet people and take them around because I just, I wanted people to understand that VR isn't this isolating experience that at the time was the narrative, you know? It was like, you put a headset on and that's it. And so, yeah, so that's what I found really exciting was this idea of connecting with people. And so I think part of my personality is to get slightly overexcited about things. So as soon as I got into VRChat, I would tell everybody that would listen, that there was this incredible community of people. I met the Metaverse crew early on, and I met them through Joe Hunting. I'd seen a bid that had come up for some money that was meeting people, to do something with English and South African companies. And so I was asking him, do you know anyone from South Africa? Because I really want to apply for this and see if we can get some money to build a world. That didn't come through, but I met some of the most creative and amazing people. Some of my best friends in the world are people that I've met during Metaverse crew meetups. We meet up every Thursday, we hang out. There are some very clever folks in there who do Discord sessions and help people learn how to make avatars, how to make worlds. I've tried to learn to use Unity four or five times. You have that FPS shooter that's part of the tutorial and every time I get three quarters of the way through it and I think, sod this, I can't do it. The feedback loop is too long, I'm not seeing something that I actually enjoy, that I can be proud of. And so I sat down, went to a couple of tutorials that MetaRick did, and he teaches in a way where you say, look, you just chuck these things together, press these buttons, and look, you've made something. And I did it, and I made something. In fact, I, well maybe I shouldn't be saying this, who knows, I pulled all the assets out of 11.11. And it just literally went into the build, just ripped everything out and then made like a little remix world. Put a video screen in there, put a break chord DJ on, DJing in the background. And I was like, my God, like I've made something, I've created something. And that really stirred me on to want to really explore what's happening on the platform.

[00:10:03.107] Kent Bye: I think I've actually been in that world, where you kind of run around all these different tunnel-like things up in the air. And it's kind of that. You climb up a mountain, and you have some music playing. And you have a big music connection as well. Your style of music is not necessarily my style, but maybe you could talk about some of the types of music experiences that you like to have within VRChat.

[00:10:23.138] Mike Salmon: In A Myth Spent Youth I used to go to a lot of warehouse parties and we used to run a sound system on a club night called Cracked and we used to play like Weirdy Beardy Electronica and Breakcore and lots of very sort of noisy stuff. So I've always had that music background, music's a very big passion of mine. So when I found that there was this huge rave community in VRChat, it got me incredibly excited. So we've done two shows here at Venice actually, where we've had, on Friday night we had Soda, which was an African night, really incredible. So the guys have a club in Johannesburg, They have a digital twin of that club in VRChat so people from all around the world can hang out in this digital twin of the club and watch the music that's happening in the club. But in the club they have screens so all the people in the club can see what's going on in VRChat. They also have headsets so the folks in the club can then put the headset on and come out and hang with us in VR. So those sorts of connections are incredible and then on Saturday night we threw basically a rave. We threw a sanctum party and the sanctum guys have the most incredible club. It's like this big gothic church and you sort of find your way through and you find this like reactor room that has dancers, it has incredible live visuals and it's just all of the sort of creativity that goes with running sound systems and doing music is live in VRChat. And if there's any sort of music you like, you'll be able to find something on the platform. Like even the stupid things I listen to, like there's a night called Vibe Tribe, where you can just go and listen to like incredibly ridiculous speedcore and hardcore. That makes me incredibly happy.

[00:12:13.155] Kent Bye: Yeah, Ghost Club I think has some interesting... the Japanese club that has a lot of independent... or just musicians from Japan. One that I really enjoyed and appreciated that was actually also featured here at Venice was P.K.' 's, aka the King Deluxe is the label that P.K. has, but they had a L.L.L.L. This was like a music video journey that you go on I don't know how you would describe it but taking a performance and using a lot of shaders but instead of just a club turning it into like a World-building like adventure where you're actually moving through spaces which is another one oxymoron which you can also talk about which was another production by VR room which has Just again from each of the songs that were being played on this set moving through different spaces and so maybe you could talk about some of that Evolving of taking different aspects of the VR chat world building and starting to apply it to some of these different DJ sets Yeah, so I think

[00:13:09.068] Mike Salmon: I often refer to VRChat as the punk element of what's happening at this festival and the reason I say that is because you can do anything. The only limits are bandwidth, processing speed and imagination. So when you have people like the guys at Vroom who did Oxymore and PK who did the 4L show, what they're doing is they're exploring what's it like when you're not trying to recreate the real world. And so that PK show is a really great example of that, because that's like the launch of an EP, and you have, I think, maybe five or six songs that all play out.

[00:13:44.413] Kent Bye: It's a little bit more of like an independent label, like indie music when I hear it.

[00:13:48.685] Mike Salmon: Yeah, yeah. And so, you know, you start off in the club and then it starts to rain in the club and the club then sort of melts away and you're in the middle of this really beautiful space and slowly by slowly, you know, you have this journey where the ground lifts up, you end up in space and then you have all of these mad trippy visuals and then you come back to this place which feels like you're on a sort of mushroom trip in the middle of this space. And I love that because there's this sort of environmental storytelling that goes with the music. And the same with Oxymore. And you've got people like Om III who runs mass, you know. You're in the middle of a mass club and it's in this sort of crazy sci-fi space. And then suddenly and nowhere the roof disappears. And you're in the middle of this beautiful stars and everything else. And then later on you've got flames that come out of the dance floor. So there's this amazing sort of creativity which means you don't have to necessarily recreate a stack of speakers in a club environment.

[00:14:50.437] Kent Bye: Maybe you could talk a bit about the process of putting together the selection of the VRChat worlds. Because I know there's a number of different phases of curating. And there's not necessarily even a submission process. It's a little bit more of, like, there was a thing that you said around how VRChat is kind of like the YouTube of VR. And maybe you could sort of elaborate on that, and then also talk about the curation process.

[00:15:13.130] Mike Salmon: Yeah, so the YouTube analogy comes from the fact that it's this democratizing platform, right? If an idiot like me can watch a few tutorials and make something that they can be incredibly proud of, then people who have real developer skills can make absolutely anything. But the key thing is, for me, the content doesn't need to be an epic story. It doesn't need to have a team of developers that have hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of funding. You can have a world which is a trippy shader, done really well, because the whole point of VRChat is you're hanging out with friends, you're spending time on the platform and then going out and discovering content. So those pieces of content can be these tiny bite-sized pieces, or they can be devouring and take 10 hours to complete. But it means that you have this ability to express artistic visions that don't need to be funded by an arts council. You don't need hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce them. So that's why I liken it to YouTube. Anyone can make a YouTube video and upload it. Anyone can make a VR chat video with a small amount of knowledge. But for this selection I've been like a big champion of VRChat and spent some time with Liz and Michelle who are the curators and you know taking them on world hops and showing them lots of this great stuff and they're so receptive. I'm very honoured to be involved in such a prestigious event and I have complete imposter syndrome when I'm here where we've got all these amazing creators and I'm larking about in VRChat raving. But so, you know, it's not like they didn't feature social VR before, you know, they've had worlds that were built in high fidelity. Finding Pandora X was a VR chat world that was a performance and that won one of the awards in previous years. But so I think what happened was, When the pandemic hit, they did the 2020 show in VRChat, and it was so much fun. Liz and Michelle just wanted to improve on that for the next year. How do we embrace the community whose platform that we used and brought us such joy? So they came up with the idea of having a world's gallery. So out of competition, They have VRChat Worlds that submit, like any other project, to be part of the main competition, but they wanted to do an out-of-competition section that was just a way of highlighting the amazing creativity that is on the platform. Because lots of people have been coming up to me during this event and saying, oh my god, I get it now. You know, they've been on a world hop, they've seen what happens. Most people who use VRChat end up, they look at the menu system, they go to the popular worlds like Black Cat or The Great Pug, you know, they're in the middle of screaming teenagers being idiots, right? Jenny, who we met in virtual reality, was saying, it's like going to a pub at 3am, walking in, loads of people screaming and being idiots and saying, I hate this country. That's a perfect way of putting it. So yes, what I've been doing here is basically indoctrinating people into what's going on the platform. So I keep like a big Excel sheet of all of the worlds that I go to that I really enjoy. and then during Liz and Michelle's selection process I have a list of maybe 200 worlds and I consult with the gurus out there who I really respect their opinion and so people like Fiona will help suggest a bunch of worlds and then I have like a really long list of worlds and then during the two weeks of selection we do world hops every single day and at the end of it the curators then choose what they want to show at the festival.

[00:18:58.402] Kent Bye: Yeah, I actually had a chance to catch up with Fiona, aka Jen Davis Wilson, who helps run the VRC prefab community, which is a lot of the techniques and tools. And I was talking about her process, and she says that every new world that comes up, she goes into like the new worlds. And so she She puts together actually a curated list every month of the different worlds from Everything Immersive. She comes up with her monthly suggestions. And so if people are inspired by this election, I highly recommend tracking down Fiona, a.k.a. Jen Davis Wilson. She does the monthly curation for Everything Immersive. I know she's deeply connected and up to speed and all the different stuff that's out there and she also mentioned that she was helping to recommend different people to help work the different shifts because you have not only the selection process but you also have different layers of people working you have people that are actually embedded and maybe say VR chat natives in some sense that are helping to instruct and be the docents in the virtual spaces and also just to help onboard people. And then there's the people who are the physical docents who are helping people on the technology side, making sure if anything's going wrong. So maybe you could just talk a bit about that process of organizing this, because normally when people do VRChat World Hops, they're already indoctrinated, let's say. So to try to onboard people into that, then there's a lot of hand-holding in order to help teach them the system and help give them some sense of what a World Hop is all about.

[00:20:22.665] Mike Salmon: Yeah, so last year when everything was virtual we had the virtual world and we had portals to all the worlds that were in the selection and then we did maybe three or four world hops in the evening as one-off events. I ran one, Joe Huntsing ran one, Fiona ran one.

[00:20:40.447] Kent Bye: Liz ran one, and... Were they worlds that were in the selection, or just random worlds that you were selecting?

[00:20:46.689] Mike Salmon: Each person who ran the world hop chose what they wanted to put in, so some had some from the selection, but there were lots that weren't. But what we found was, people who weren't VRChat natives, when we said, OK, we've got this world, and all the portals are over there, go and have a look. they didn't get the right experience because quite often they were going in on their own. And so just having a bit of a wander around a bunch of worlds that we'd suggested, that's not the VRChat experience, right? Just, you know, having a bit of a nose around. So what we decided was if we're going to do it, we want people from the VRChat community to sort of take people by the hand and show them around, and there's a couple of reasons for that. One is VRChat is, for people that are new to VR, it is a little tricky, there are quite a few controls, there are things that you have to learn, so having someone there to help you is very, very helpful. But the other thing is that we want this experience to be a window into what it's like in VRChat. And these are all folks who spend their time in there, world hopping, hanging out and having fun. And that's exactly what we've got. So we've got lots of people from the community. And so part of the experience is just chatting to them on a human level about what it's like spending time in VRChat. And so that's one of the reasons why I think it's been such a success and why people have come out saying, oh, now I get it, because they've had that sort of connection with the natives of the platform.

[00:22:18.482] Kent Bye: Yeah, I have a story leading up to Venice is that all the different 30 VRChat worlds were announced ahead of time. And so many of them, I think actually all of them are already public. And so I went through and the list because I wanted to just see the selection and see what was there, how I start to think about the different genres of different types of pieces. And so I was systematically going through them. And I was taking photos and just kind of like logging them in my mind just by myself and just kind of at my own pace because I was wanting to just get through all the worlds before I took my trip to Venice. And so I had on though the join me if you want. And so I was going through some of the worlds and I had some people pop in and I was kind of like, then I caught up with them. And then I was like, you know what, there's this one world that I actually want to check out with some other people. I've heard a lot of really great things. It's Dr. Morrow's organism. And so I know it's a big vast world and be fun to be able to go in there. And so what happened is that we went in there and no one had been in there. And then someone else's friends who was a friend of a friend come in and said, this is my favorite world. I'm going to go along with you and I'm going to make sure that you don't miss anything. But this is a world that you need to just kind of explore on your own. And I'll help guide you to make sure that we can kind of move along. And so it was basically like a pleasure for this person's like this is my favorite world anytime I see my friends go in there I'm gonna come in and we had this VR chat experience in that sense because it was like this walking around in this constant state of awe and wonder of like the vast getting to the mind of dr. Morrow of the Surreal nature of all the different worlds. I've never seen a world that was that big and that vast it was so Incredible. I just want to sort of give him a shout out But also he's got the Olympian Knights another world that as I was on the jury for rain dance And that was the one that actually won the selection. There's something about the way that he lays out the architecture of a space that when you go around the corner, it's like you discover a whole new realm. And so I think that in this piece of organism, there's all these corners and impossible spaces, but kind of like this surrealistic twist and a lot of embedded Russian culture and Russian language that's in there that I don't fully grok. But it seems like it's a place where you go to, and it puts me into this state of awe and wonder. But also there is this group exploration, because it is such a big space, you're very likely to go in there and miss something. But having a group of people that are able to share that as an experience to do this collective sensemaking. So I felt like I had the true VR chat experience leading up to it that was able to kind of recreate that, especially in that world.

[00:24:45.277] Mike Salmon: Yeah, that world particularly has a bit of a special place in my heart because one of the things that I had to do for this was work out how long I think it was going to take someone to do the world and then work out how many worlds should be in each hop. and so we could time it out that they would last the hour and so you know I'd go in and plan a route and I'd take lots of photos so that I could then say to the tour guides like okay so this is the route that we're going to take and so I did that maybe three times and every single time that I did it I found something that I hadn't seen before And sometimes it wasn't just, oh, look, there's an interesting corridor with an effect. I found, like, an entire wing of the space that I hadn't explored. And so, yeah, that was really, really special. And it's the same thing also with the other world that's in this selection, Olympia Nights. You know, I was looking around a tower and I fell off the tower. And when I fell off the tower I looked round and there was a little entrance in the bottom of the rock formation that it was in. You went into this cave underground and then it basically it turns into, I don't want to mess it up for anyone, but if you find that cave it leads you to an incredibly surreal and trippy end to exploring that world. Which, again, there's no wayfinding. It's not a game. It is just a space that is there to be explored, and the joy comes from exploring it and discovering and finding new things. And that's actually a big part of why I really enjoy VRChat. It reminds me very much of when I used to be a very avid record collector. My friends used to laugh that they never really heard me play the same record twice. It's all about discovery, it's all about discovering new things and that very much fits with that nature of VRChat. The idea is that's how I use it. People use it in all manner of different ways. I've got friends who their idea of a good time in VRChat is to go into the public instances and go and make friends with people they've never seen before. The thing that I love is discovery and finding new things and going on world hops with Metaverse crew. finding worlds that they've made or that other people have made, and then sharing that.

[00:27:08.810] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, let's briefly talk about the VRChat worlds that are in competition, because you have Uncanny Alley, Nama Unki, Fins, who's got the Treasure Heist. He's also got Magic Heist and District Roboto. Fins actually has three VRChat worlds, two out of competition, one in competition. I think that's worth shouting out. Dr. Morrow has two. And then there's some others that have some photogrammetry worlds in there. And then you have the Type Man, which is an immersive theater piece. And then you have the Gumball Dreams, which is another VRChat piece that originally started with the Gumball Dreams by Screamin' Color, which I think we took a world hop through that with Screamin' Color, who gave us this guided tour. That's an instance of taking an established world and putting an immersive theater piece on there. So, sometimes the actual creators are dropping in. I know that Finn's dropped into the sessions. I know Kevin Mac has been dropping into different sessions. And Metarik from Uncanny Alley, he was the one who gave me the tour here as we were going through the different worlds. this case you have the guided tour but not only the guided tour from the docents but the actual creator to be able to do the walkthrough of a piece and so yeah maybe we could talk about the VRChat worlds I guess there were submissions that are being made is that something that you were like reaching out and encouraging people from a VRChat community because Venice may not be on their radar at all so you know just the process of like taking these different worlds that were kind of set apart from the other worlds gallery that are actually in the same competition as with all the other experiences here at Venice.

[00:28:34.318] Mike Salmon: Yeah, I think that that's the thing that I am most interested in working on going forward is the fact that the world building community is very new to the festival circuit and although we've had Venice in the past and we've had rain dance and it's not something that necessarily a lot of the people understand and conversely A lot of the creators, I think, when they saw that we had 19 headsets here doing VRChat, were a little surprised that the Biennale is celebrating worldbuilding in such a big way. And I want to help the worldbuilders understand that the content that they're making is just as valid as anything else that is at the festival and to learn that submission process and understand that at certain times of the year it's a good idea to have their worlds ready and they need to premiere and everything else but we're very lucky to have some incredible creators so you know Sir Kevin Mac had a piece in last year's Venice called Andala which was an incredible piece and Kevin joined us for pretty much every event that we ran. I think I ran 25 events in VRChat over the course of that festival, including Meet the Creators, and we did raves at Shelter and Mass, and we did guided meditations, and Jean-Michel Jarre concerts, and we did a very, very big program of events, and Kevin was there for everything. came to all the world hops, and you could just see a switch go off in his head, like, this is why I was into VR, I think, you know? And so it was really exciting to see him. He joined the Metaverse crew very quickly, and Ben was reaching out to everyone, like, how do I do this? How do I get my shaders to work? Because his procedural shaders are basically magic. So his world, Namu Anki, is this sort of exploration of an alien world which has come to him in visions from these ancient elders. From the future? From the future, yes, absolutely. And there's this causal loop between these visions and the fact that this race of beings comes into existence. and listening to him doing this tour. I've done it, I don't know, four or five times with him now and it's wonderful because I genuinely believe that it's true. So then we have Uncanny Alley by MetaRick and one of the things I'm really excited about that is he has this connection between VRChat and the sort of more open Metaverse. So you spend your time going through this incredible metaverse-focused world, this sort of very grimy and very punk, and you're looking for this character called Ghost. And it turns out that she's escaped, and she's not just escaped, but she's escaped VRChat. and when you finish the world you can open up, if you go to uncannyalley.io you can open up a web-based experience which is something akin to VRChat but running entirely in the cloud and that's where you find Ghost. And so we had a technical issue where he built it on one platform because the servers were based in Japan, it was loading too slowly. So he just rebuilt it, put it on another one, and actually there was a portal. So the first one was on the VCAT cloud platform, and if you ran through a portal, it just opened up another web tab, and you were in this different platform called HyperFly. And doing that was just an absolute shock because it totally shows this idea of the sort of open metaverse and how things are going to change, how you're going to have this interoperability between worlds that is basically the internet. Yeah, and then we have Fins. So Fins is absolutely one of my favourite VRChat creators. His world Aquarius, which is just this beautiful aquarium space, is somewhere where I quite often go to hang out when I just need to chill out. And so he's created this huge ancient Egypt inspired quest game. and he just makes these incredibly cinematic worlds where you have all these cut scenes and things which feel like they're out of a video game and like one of the things that we keep saying is we're looking at the other experiences here that take years to make and in these huge budgets and then you talk to Finns and you say so how long is it taking you to make Treasure Heist? Is that oh you know a month and a half?

[00:33:13.785] Kent Bye: He's a really exquisite world builder and he does a lot of commissions and, you know, a lot of worlds that he's putting out. So that's, yeah, he's really the process of building out those worlds and the different puzzles. And also with the Magic Heist, which I think it's shown earlier that I think I saw it at Raindance, was an experience that is a little bit more of a cinematic where you're getting onto a ride and it has a little bit more of an explicit narrative. And so there's a lot of worlds that are environmental storytelling. And this was trying to be a little bit more explicit of trying to push the forms of combining the process of moving through a space but also trying to use the space to tell a larger story, which I think has started to get into some of those different dimensions. Stay Alive, My Son is another piece here that I think starts to use the metaphoric translation of a story of the genocide in Cambodia, but you're moving through a space that has a lot of Symbolism that's reflecting back into different dimensions of the character in the environment in the story and so I think the aspect of you're building VR chat worlds and most of the VR chat worlds is meant to be kind of a Neutral background that because you're there with your friends and you're just trying to have a chat but to add dimensions of the story I think that's I think the next frontier of You know, here, like Kevin Mackey was saying, he can do a guided tour and tell that story, but what's the process of automating that or embedding that within the world? Obviously, there's The Devouring that has a lot of, like, puzzle games and storytelling, but some of those different types of puzzle games don't tend to be selected for the Venice competition, just because I feel like escape rooms and puzzle games, there's obviously, you know, Ascenders here, and there's plenty of different VR chats that are more of the escape room genre. But I feel like storytelling is things that kind of set it aside into the next level. And there is actually one escape room around Tesla that's in the worlds gallery. But yeah, I'd love to hear any reflections on the structures and forms of the different types and genres of VRChat worlds.

[00:35:02.781] Mike Salmon: Yeah, so we have a very wide selection of worlds in the selection, and in all honesty, ones that I kind of can't believe that I've got away with showing. You know, it always makes me so happy when I show something to Liz and Michelle that I think this is far too left field. There's no way that this is gonna make it and they come back and they come out with grins on their faces again That was brilliant. We've got to have it. So we have things like fractal Explorer, which is a it's a music visualizer but it is just this giant wall of fractals you go in there you choose the music that you want it streams in from YouTube and then you It's just this concophony of shapes and colours and it's just a really heavy, visceral experience. And we have things like, you mentioned Ghost Club, we have Q Archive from Ubaki, I hope I'm pronouncing his name right, Ubaki. And so, you know, that is essentially like a sort of music video for a piece of really nice techno. We have a piece that is set on a tube train, which again is like a really amazing sort of music video piece. But again, they're not music videos. They're these sort of experiences that... that you can walk through and you can spend time in and you feel like you're part of what's happening. Then we also have three pieces by Nobel Choco and he actually turned up at the festival which was wonderful and so he's been out doing photogrammetry captures so you can explore parts of Venice and we've had while the people are doing the world hops you've had people walk past and sort of point and go oh I was there this morning which is really nice.

[00:36:44.470] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's also a really vast port where you start to combine the photogrammetry with the grappling mechanics and so you can actually grab the grappling things and kind of swing around and so using different VR chat aspects to kind of move around. I really like the, it's called the Dice Club. There was music playing but you're in the club and you start to play around with the shaders and just to see what I imagine is that you like are putting on some augmented reality glasses and all of a sudden everything just looks super trippy with all these edge detection shaders and whatnot but you're in VR, and so you have the ability to be in these clubs and see the different ways of modulating that. The way that I start to think about it is that there's the different types of experiences in clubs, there's the photogrammetry worlds, there's a lot of different sort of explorations and a couple of pieces from Japan. And so, for me, that was interesting just to see how, you know, you have a lot of the virtual world creation, but then you have the reality capture, which I guess in some ways could be thought of like the documentary form of world building, which is to go out and capture something in the physical reality and bring it into VRChat. you know, some of the different spaces I was able to walk around in that selection and going from a cave in Japan or another ritual space in Japan and maybe just kind of elaborate on the form of photogrammetry as it fits into the wider VRChat community.

[00:37:58.902] Mike Salmon: Yeah, so I think the Cave Okinawa is a really good example of that because it is not necessarily the professional level of photogrammetry that you would get in other parts of the competition if they were using that technique because they've not necessarily gone through the painstaking cleanup that is required with a lot of that technology. But then when you get to the end of the cave, you click on something and it shows that it was basically done on an iPhone. And so, again, I think it just goes towards this thing that anyone can make something in VRChat. And so the fact that people can experiment with reality capture and also play with... One of the things that I really enjoy about those reality capture worlds is the errors are there on display and it makes them like all the more interesting to explore because the errors actually make these really beautiful weird broken glitchy patterns like you look into the the shop windows through Venice and you know you don't see the beautiful masks and everything you see this was sort of weird distortions that come with it and I actually kind of prefer them to be in that sort of slightly rough odd state.

[00:39:12.375] Kent Bye: One of the, I guess, one of the genres that I identified, and I don't know if it was the way that the world hops were structured is not the way that I was categorizing my own mind, but there was worlds that were playing with lighting. So there was a piece by Fens, District Roboto, which is a beautiful exploration of lots of different types of lighting and lighting scenes that just really gave me this deep sense of being in another place. And then there was like this another world where I was like playing with shadows and playing with light. And then another world where there was all these dinosaurs that had the movement of the shadows in the background. And all those were playing with light and shadow in a way that I thought was particularly interesting. And maybe you could talk about some of those experiences that were kind of like exploring different lighting conditions, but also the more interactive aspects of the light.

[00:39:57.351] Mike Salmon: Yeah, so the interesting thing about Distro Porto is it's like a homage to a game called Stray. And one of the things that's amazing about Stray is the various different ways they approach lighting. It's an incredibly beautiful game. So one of the things that I think Philips was trying to do is work out like how do I push lighting in VR chat worlds because you can't really do real-time lighting in VR chat. You can, but it's very processor intensive. So you have to bake a lot of the lighting, which means that things like casting shadows becomes a lot more difficult. So Shadow Factory, you know, it's a very simple world. It's just full of like pieces of geometry and lots of sort of light that comes from different angles that causes the geometry to cast shadows on the wall. And you can sort of play with torches so that you can make your own color maps on the wall through the geometry. but there's one room where they have these balls of light and each ball is a different color of the spectrum and you're able to move those balls around and what that does is it splits the light so you end up having these incredible light patterns sort of dancing all over the walls and then you can pick the geometry up and it has a sort of anti-gravity so you can throw a piece of geometry that slowly moves through the space and as it does that it casts all these beautiful patterns on the wall so it's a very sort of calming relaxing space and I again like Aquarius it's a place where I have actually gone to put a bit of music on in the background and spend a bit of time just there to sort of I might, in fact, I might do that after this festival because I definitely need to decompress.

[00:41:47.038] Kent Bye: Yeah, that was a world where when I was playing around with it, it's really compelling because your brain is trying to predict what's going to happen next. And so you have a light source and you have these objects moving through the space and your brain is kind of like, OK, what's the pattern of the light going to look like as you do that? And so it's a very satisfying type of experience that I found kind of just moving and interacting with the objects.

[00:42:08.747] Mike Salmon: And you think that is not an experience that you would download from the App Store. And I think that is the important message in this. These bite-sized pieces of content that are just a piece of art for art's sake. It is something that is beautiful and something to experience. You would never download that as an application, pay for it and then boot it up and then spend 2 minutes in it, 5 minutes in it, 10 minutes in it and then move on. And it's because VRChat is the space where you jump from world to world, discover things, have friends. I've been back to Shadow Factory so many times on World Hops. because, likening it back to buying records back in the day, it's like you get excited about showing off, introducing people to new genres of music, and it's the same with WorldHop. People are very proud when they've found a good one and they're able to then go out and disseminate that amongst their friends.

[00:43:09.952] Kent Bye: I was having some dinner with some friends in Venice and thinking about the future of the metaverse and based upon a lot of the dystopic science fiction and for me when I think about the metaverse I think about when I come here to Venice and how I'm coming into this building this physical space which is apparently where they used to have like quarantine for people who are sick and so it's got all these wings and but within each of these wings you have these boots where you can sort of jump into a metaphoric portal into another world and then you come back out and then you're back into the space and I think about that like that's kind of like what the metaverse might be is like this way to go into a door and back out through that door back to the place you were and so in some sense there is a Venice immersive 2022 VRChat world that when you go to the bottom there's actually portals to each of these different VRChat worlds so that people could go into each of those worlds. The problem is, is that there's no link back into the world. So you can go back out to the door, go back to another space. You kind of have to go back through the menu system. It'd be nice to have a VRChat system remember where you came from so that you could go back to a place and walk through a door to go back to the original place. So you can have a little bit of that persistent physical reality experience that we have here in Venice where you go into an experience and come back out because it would be nice to just like go into that VRChat world go and kind of pop in between but the way that it's kind of architected with VRChat software it's more about you kind of have to already have it on your list or favorite it or have like a separate spreadsheet and then invite yourself it's kind of like a you know which is what I did I made a big spreadsheet I had all these links I would pull up my Steam menu look at my desktop go to a Chrome and then you know open up all these tabs and then one tab by one and then invite myself and go back into the VRChat and then jump into that world. That's like the hack but it would be a lot nicer to be able to create a system in the same way that the internet could hyperlink and you go outward but you have a back button on the web browsers to go back but there's no back button within VRChat to go back to the previous world and I think that would help create the surfing the web type of vibe that you could start to have aggregator sites or sites like Venice that are trying to curate these sites so that it would just make the world hop easier to discover these worlds.

[00:45:19.613] Mike Salmon: Yeah, and that's exactly what we want the Venice World to be, like a testament to the event. You know, to stand the history of time, go back and see what was happening. But yeah, those sorts of tools are very difficult to create. And I think the more web-based version of these sort of social platforms, when that technology evolves, is where I think all of this is going. You know, the idea of, I don't want to run separate applications for everything. I want to be able to flick between one, the other. And I think, you know, this is where some, there's a lot of controversy around NFTs and crypto wallets and everything, especially within the VRChat community. That's pretty anti NFT in a lot of places.

[00:46:09.649] Kent Bye: They've actually, the company policy, that it's against their term of service and community guidelines to have any NFT.

[00:46:15.573] Mike Salmon: But anyway, I just wanted to... And I don't know the reason, but part of that, I think, is because Steam have obviously banned NFTs. And so Steam banned NFTs, VRChat probably can't do it, right? Whether they want to or whether they don't. But this idea that, you know, I might have a wallet that has an avatar in it, so if I have my MetaMask wallet and I jump from the VK platform to HyperFly to WebAverse, and I can keep my bunny avatar, now that becomes really interesting.

[00:46:50.612] Kent Bye: Is there any other worlds that are here that you want to give a shout out for things that, you know, we talked about different genres. There's music shader worlds that are selected in there and a number of the world open worlds are my personal favorite, the Dr. Mora worlds or the organism and the Olympia Knights. And there's also like interstitium or something like that. And then there's Fins' magic heist, I think is worth checking out in terms of a vast world of journey. There's the escape room. Is there other worlds?

[00:47:15.905] Mike Salmon: Yeah, I think there's one that I'd like to give a shout out to because it's part of a culture that I find really interesting. So one of the worlds is called the Rat King. So the Rat King is this spooky old house. And if you open the door, you can go down to the cellar and you go down and down and down and down and then down a bit more. And then you walk down this dark corridor. And at the end of this dark corridor, there's like a missile silo. And it's another rave space. But what I find really joyous about that is that it's always there, anyone can, the video player in there is open, so all of the VRChat rave scene all runs through video players and putting links into video players there's a CDN system called VRCDN which most of the clubs use so I use that so that I have my DJ decks in real life set up and then I can DJ in VRChat and then I can run a night in Rattking because that play is open. And I find that just, I think, says a lot about the way that this community works. It's not only if they made a venue and they put on events there, they leave it open so anyone can set up an instance and put on their own show. Yeah, that's pretty cool.

[00:48:36.810] Kent Bye: I love all the punk vibes of VRChat. Do you have any punk background?

[00:48:41.495] Mike Salmon: Well, you know, like, who doesn't have a few punk records in their record collection? You know, as a kid, I might have written Sex Pistols on my jeans when I was a little kid. But I just, you know, it's these DIY vibes which makes the place very special.

[00:48:57.327] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality might be and what it might be able to enable?

[00:49:05.451] Mike Salmon: Well, the piece that I've been talking about is moving to something which is online, where it's websites, where it's open, where I can create an avatar and drag and drop it onto a website and it appears because it's in the right file format. It's incredibly early days, but that's the thing that really has opened my eyes when MetaRick showed me that portal that he made. that's the thing that I find incredibly exciting, because that's where you start to lose all these barriers to entry. We were talking to Rick, I had his world open on my phone, and I was chatting to a bunch of people, and I was like, hey, meet Rick, and we were just shouting at my phone, and we were talking to him, and he was an avatar in this 3D world. And so, as soon as you start to reduce all of these barriers to entry, you don't necessarily need a headset, although a headset's always gonna be better, You don't need the PC. You don't need all of this stuff. When you get to something that is like Mozilla Hubs, but developed in a way where you are able to build things that have the sort of level of sophistication and creativity that VRChat does, that's where I think things get incredibly exciting.

[00:50:18.337] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:50:23.999] Mike Salmon: Not that I can think of.

[00:50:27.700] Kent Bye: No final thoughts?

[00:50:30.697] Mike Salmon: I guess my final thought is if you have tried VRChat in the past and had a bad experience because you have been at that bar at 3am and decided that you hate the country, I would definitely suggest come find us at the Metaverse crew. We've got a Discord that you can find and join us. Come say hi. We're a very open group of people. We love meeting new people and we love helping people with getting started with world building. So go back into the headset and give it another go.

[00:51:05.593] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, I've really enjoyed going through a lot of the different VRChat worlds. I actually did a little world hop just to get a little bit of the taste and, you know, there's a little bit of, I guess, the onboarding the newcomers that ends up taking, you know, 15 or 20 minutes to really get going and, you know, just to teach everybody. but there's a lot of education and teaching and showing people the potential and I think the end result was that I actually had some interactions with people in the world hop that would people that were actually here at the festival and then you know I actually able to meet and kind of like see other projects that they're working on so it actually can be a bit of a really nice icebreaker and ways of meeting people in a way that actually you have no idea who's behind the avatar a lot of times when you're in VR chat and so it's just kind of a democratizing level on that sense. And so yeah, I just had a lot of fun exploring the different worlds and the worlds and competition. And yeah, I feel like the sort of world building and the type of very limited resources and what people are able to pull off is really quite astonishing. And so highly recommend folks check out the selection of the different worlds and, you know, some of the different Worlds that were on competition may or may not be available after the festival So so you can check and see some of those decisions have yet to be made But yeah, just a lot of really amazing stuff that's happening in the in the community and thank you for helping to curate it and keep track of all the tabs and sifting through the diamonds and that discovery, you know Instead of finding records, you're finding VRChat worlds that you can help share here at Venice. And so I appreciate all the hard work it takes of finding what's new and different out there. And yeah, thanks for sitting down and helping share your story. And for people who have discounted VRChat because they had a bad experience in the bar once and to give it a shot. So anyway, thanks again for joining me on the podcast.

[00:52:48.762] Mike Salmon: Cheers. Thank you.

[00:52:50.432] Kent Bye: So that was Mike Salmon. He's been working as a producer with Venice Immersive to help facilitate all the different VRChat World events as well as to help curate the shortlist for all the different worlds that are being featured there at Venice Immersive. So, a few different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, it was great to be able to just sit down with Mike and get his own story and journey coming into VR. I've had a number of different encounters and interactions with Mike over the years, and actually was on the jury of Raindance in 2020. This was before there was a selection of VR chat worlds within the context of Venice. Maria from Raindance has a number of different VR chat worlds that she was highlighting, and I think after that, in 2021 and 2022 having this whole VRChat worlds gallery and some of the worlds that are actually from VRChat that are actually being featured within the competition from Gumball Dreams to Type Man to immersive theater pieces as well as these three other worlds from Nama Unki from Kevin Mac. Fins had both the Treasure Heist and they had a couple other experiences of Magic Heist as well as District Roboto as well as Uncanny Alley from Metarik. So lots of different great stuff that's happening in the VR chat scene and yeah Really happy to be able to sit down with Mike and to get a little bit more of that context that there's a whole other 30 VR chat worlds and if I were to make a recommendation, I really really enjoyed dr. Morrow's worlds and for both Olympian Knights as well as Organism. Just some mind-blowing world-building that's happening in both of those worlds. As well as Thins, I'll have a conversation with him to talk about both Treasure Heist, Magic Heist, and District Roboto. Lots of really solid work there. I've really enjoyed the Fractal Worlds and The light worlds, I think, were the other ones, where you're interacting with the light in a way. The shadow factory in Fins' study of District Roboto, and there's another museum of dinosaurs. There's some really dramatic lighting that happens there. I think the pieces that have really strong lighting give me at least this deep sense of immersion. I think there's a lot of environmental world building that's happening in the context of VRChat, lots of really amazing work, and I think over time I expect to see a lot more aspects of using the environment to be able to tell different stories. So, yeah, the Uncanny Alley, I think, is telling deeper stories of the metaverse and critiquing different dimensions of Facebook and meta and whatever they've been doing. What is it going to look like if we live in a metaverse that is only in the context of these corporate walled garden platforms. That's one of the other things that Mike was really struck by was that Uncanny Alley having the ability to be able to use things like WebXR to be able to have things outside of the normal Unity, Unreal Engine, and the existing walled gardens out there. So the open metaverse and where that is going. And so I think the Uncanny Alley was a piece that was highlighting that for Mike and just was a really striking thing for him to see immersive experiences that you can do in something like WebXR as well. So that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listen-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

More from this show