VRChat world builder Fins had 3 experiences in Venice Immersive 2022 with one in competition (Treasure Heist), and two in the Worlds Gallery (Magic Heist and District Roboto). Fins comes from an illustration and concept artist background, and so he’s been able to be quite prolific in make a variety of different types of worlds with each one doing different types of experimentations with including narrative. He said that he was able to put together Treasure Heist within just a couple of months, which is pretty incredible compared to the timelines of other projects take many times longer than that.
I get the story of Fins’ journey into VR, and then we walk through the progressive development of his worlds starting with Shark‘s Fin Cafe, Deep Blue, Pandora Night, Mine Heist, Magic Heist, District Roboto, & Aquarius.
Fins wasn’t able to complete all of Treasure Heist in time for Venice Immersive, and so he’s currently trying to wrap it up in time for the Raindance competition starting at the end of October. One of the challenges he faced was trying to balance the difficulty of the puzzles across two radically different demographics: the core VRChat/gamer community who usually think his puzzles are too easy vs the the more passive film festival attendees who usually think some of his puzzles are too difficult.
Fins also shared some of his inspirations of Avatar and Stray, and I get the sense that he’s slowly building up to a really epic narrative adventure world in the style of Pandora and Avatar. You can keep an eye on Fins latest worlds on social media via @VRCFins.
This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.
[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'm talking to someone who actually had three different pieces within Venice Immersive. Fins had a piece called Treasure Heist, which was in competition and Venice Immersive. And then there was two other pieces, Magic Heist and District Roboto, which were two other VRChat worlds that were being featured within the VRChat worlds gallery. So I had a chance to talk to Fins and talk about his journey within the context of VRChat and working on all these different VRChat Worlds. It's pretty amazing that a lot of these pieces and how fast he's able to put these worlds together. Just to talk about his own design process, coming from a background of illustration, painting and concept art, and translating those skills into world-building. Just this real focus specifically on trying to blend together different dimensions of immersive storytelling within the context of these worlds. Treasure Heist was showing the first draft. I think as Reindance is coming out, he's going to be coming out with the final version of Treasure Heist, which is like this puzzle game. Magic Heist is a world that was much more of a cinematic storytelling of taking this ride through the spatial context. It's kind of like a roller coaster mashup with a spatial story. give people who are sensitive to emotional sickness that it's not necessarily the most comfortable experience, but innovating and trying to find new ways of creating this kind of theme park ride and storytelling. And then District Roboto is very heavily inspired by Prey, which is an independent game that has a lot of focus on lighting. It's an exploration of lighting and also having different dimensions of environmental storytelling to be able to find different objects and unpack this deeper story that's happening in the context of District Roboto. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Fins happened on Friday, September 9th, 2022. And it was happening actually in VRChat. And there was some moments where his audio was dropping out. But hopefully, you'll be able to still hear all the gist of what he's saying. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:26.741] Fins: Hi. First of all, thank you so much for having me here. It's a pleasure. My name is Fins, and I'm a VR content creator in VRChat. mainly, and I've been creating content and world and experience for people in VRChat to enjoy in the past four years.
[00:02:41.568] Kent Bye: Great, maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into VR.
[00:02:47.319] Fins: Yeah, so I started out this whole thing as an illustrator about seven years ago. I was just starting getting into art more seriously. I got my mentorship for the first time. I was able to do and learn formally. So I started out drawing and just doing basically just art jobs for whatever company or people or even just individuals that need their art to be done. And that was me, up until around 2016, I started to divert more into the concept art stuff. Like video game, movie, and anything that needed concept art to be done, to get an idea and stuff. That would be me, that would be my jobs. And the company would contact me and be like, hey, I need a picture here and there for their movie or project, and I'll be their man. But yeah, that's me up until probably around late 2018. I joined VRChat for the first time and discovered that this is a place that you can create content and share with people. And it's a multiplayer experience where people can have custom user-created content. to play around with other and that was like one to me. VR has been on my radar for like a long time. I've never seen Oculus Rift, the first Oculus announced. I was like, I want to get into that, but I couldn't afford to. And this is the time also, you know, the whole concept of VR was very fresh. But making content, making stuff, playing around with game engines. I've grown up playing The Sims. I love making houses. And then when Minecraft came out, I make a bunch of like maps and stuff I share with people. And that was like my, I love doing that. So like making stuff and just sharing and letting people enjoy and experience them. That was like what I would love to do. And when VHS came out and I learned that I was able to do that, I jumped and started making my first swirl, probably around 2018.
[00:04:33.804] Kent Bye: And when was the first time that you came across VR itself? What was some of the first VR experiences that you had?
[00:04:39.575] Fins: I want to say probably around 2014. You know, I remember the Samsung Gear where you kind of attach your phone onto the headset and then get in like that. That was like some of my first VR experience. And at the time, it wasn't like ideal. It didn't have like six point, you know, tracking or anything like that. And you just kind of sit on a chair and rotate around. And it was great, but it was a decent introduction to VR. But I feel that it couldn't have been so much more. And as the year progressed and you get, you know, Oculus controller and everything, I wanted to dive more into it. It was a matter of financial problem that I didn't afford to do that until late 2019.
[00:05:21.060] Kent Bye: Okay, so how did you come across VRChat for the first time? Where did you hear about it and what were some of your first experiences within VRChat?
[00:05:28.560] Fins: It was funny, it was just like a Jameskii video on YouTube. Back in the day, there was like a bunch, you know that explosion of like the Uganda Knuckles meme and stuff and people started making a bunch of VHS videos on YouTube and so one day I just browsed around and I saw this Jameskii guy and it's like a VHS in a nutshell video and I was like, oh wow, what was that? And I watched it and I thought it was really fun where people were just having fun and just going around those virtual worlds in VR and just being whatever they can be, whatever they want. It was a good time, so I decided to download VRChat and give it a try. That was my first experience with VRChat, as far as... Yeah.
[00:06:07.812] Kent Bye: And how did you go from your first VRChat experiences to then eventually creating either avatars or worlds after that?
[00:06:15.203] Fins: Yeah, so at first, you know, just trying out the game and just kind of get acquainted with the control and how the whole thing works, how the community works, how the worlds work, how the system works. And after probably a couple of weeks, I was like, I want to start creating. At first, it was like just mostly avatars, just random avatar models and stuff I found online. I downloaded Unity for the first time. I played with other engines before, I played with CryEngine, I spent a lot of time on Unreal Engine, but Unity was like a fresh engine. I used to kind of disregard in a way in the past, because I didn't think it was powerful enough compared with other engines, but I downloaded Unity engine, got my first avatar in. Then a couple weeks later, I was like, alright, let's see what this whole world thing is, because this is the main reason I joined VRChat for. So yeah, I made my first world probably like two months later after I joined VRChat, and it was called Shark's Fin Cafe. It was like a little chill world with a bunch of like table and then you can open the fridge and you know get caffeine, get coffee and then play. Some people come there to roleplay as like waitress and stuff. It's a nice little cozy world. That was my first world.
[00:07:26.078] Kent Bye: And so you said that you come from an illustration background and that when you joined VRChat, you made your first world within the first two months. Were you already familiar with Blender before you got into VRChat or within those two months did getting into VRChat inspired you to learn all the tools that you needed in order to create your first world?
[00:07:44.353] Fins: Oh, no. I was a little, I wouldn't say that I am a modeler by any means, but I was acquaintance with how the software worked because before I, With CryEngine and doing Unreal Engine stuff, just for fun, personal projects, they do require you to kind of like need to understand, you know, the basic stuff and sometimes assets or models need to be taken out of the engine to be modified or changed in Blender and other 3D software. So I already kind of like made that acquaintance. So when I made Shark Fin Cafe, my first world, most of it was done in Blender. Most of it was like constructed and put together in Blender and then I exported it to Unity and then uploaded it to Viyasha.
[00:08:22.137] Kent Bye: And had you already been working on avatars, like the different body representations before you had created your first world? Or did you start working on avatars after you had launched your first world in VRChat?
[00:08:34.006] Fins: So avatar was a funny thing, because when we first joined, we actually didn't have an identity or a thing that represented ourselves. Especially in the early days with VRChat, a lot of meme avatar and whatever we can find in the public world on the pedestal avatars. And people who are already good at those things, we just kind of take whatever we can. find that we like to use and then we kind of change it up on every once in a while. So some of my first avatars like some random game object or even like furnitures. That's one of the things I like to do is like just be a furniture and sit in one of the public wards and see people talk and people don't even notice that I'm actually a person. They think I was like a proper object in the world. So that was fun. But no, I did not have any like decent representation of myself until after probably like my second world or third world where I actually have an avatar that I use for like consistently. But before that it was just random avatar every week or so.
[00:09:27.581] Kent Bye: Okay. And when did you get started to get plugged into different communities? Because I know there's like the prefabs communities and other world builder communities that are involved within VRChat. So after you'd created your first world, when did you start to connect to other world builders within VRChat?
[00:09:44.102] Fins: I wouldn't say much until later. So for the first three or four projects, it was all by myself. I didn't even know there was a community to begin with. I know there are people who make worlds and people who enjoy worlds, but I didn't know there was a community for content creation. So up until Moody was one of my biggest at the time, I think around 2019 or late 2018, there was a contest, a world creation contest that I decided to enter. I made it because I Sharpen Cafe, people, they want to join the stuff in the background because I tend to put extra effort into my background and the thing that you can't really actually go to but it will look nice since that's the backdrop. And Moody was the project where I want the environment to change. I want it to be custom, customizable. It's a world that people can customize. can change, can change the lighting, change the weather, change the scenery and then they can actually go to those scenery and you know chill around and do whatever they want. That was my biggest project and after that project I won I think I got the second place on the contest and got some money out of that and I was reached out by Fiona which I think a lot of community member knows because I used one of her prefabs in the world It's like the little cat that can walk around the world. And that's what's from her system. And I asked about her, like, how the system works and kind of stuff. And she reached out to me and she invited me to the prefab community. And that was my first exposure to the creator community. That's thanks to Fiona.
[00:11:14.768] Kent Bye: So you said you've been on VRChat for about four years now. And so we just had the Venice Immersive 2022, where you actually had three worlds that were showing there. Two of them were out of competition. One of them was in competition. And so what were some of the other big worlds that you had created between some of your first worlds and then up to what you just showed at Venice? What were some of the highlights of the different worlds that you've created over the years?
[00:11:38.204] Fins: Yeah, so just looking at my list here. Moody for the longest time was like my crown jewel if that makes sense. It got spotlighted, that was like my first spotlighted world, I believe. And we had like hundreds of people in that world for the longest time. And right now it's still one of my most visited world. It's got like I think around almost 2 million people visit the world since then. So I was very happy with it, I wanted to continue on creating. But at the same time, to me, it was like a learning experience. Moody was like one of the more advanced projects. As you make more and more projects along the way, you learn more tricks and skills that you want to implement on the next project. That's just like, the bar is just keeping up. And I experimented with a lot of projects along the way. Not even like chill world, I wanted to do like adventure world or horror world. Things you know, not just like a place where you can sit down and chill. So I guess my major project, I would say Deep Blue. One of the bigger one that people probably know where you can like swim and then go down underwater oceans. Aquarius, probably now the new crown jewel is one of my most high performance creation and still one of my favorite. The one we are in right now, right now, we're talking in here right now. Yeah, and Magic Haze, especially Magic Haze, which was in the competition last year at Raindance, and we won the Spirit of Raindance award for it. And that was one of my favorite hate and love relationship with it because it was extremely stressful of a project to meet the deadline. But at the same time, it's one of the most cinematic, immersive experiences I've made in the longest time. And people just love it. So those are some of my major projects. One of the fan favorites recently, I would say District Roboto, which is a work inspired by the recently released game Stray. Very popular game, and that's got a little bit of background and history to it. If you want me to go into that, just let me know.
[00:13:36.592] Kent Bye: Yeah, sure. There's, there's both the Magic Heist and the District Roboto were both in the VRChat World's Gallery at Venice Immersive. And I had a chance to actually saw the Magic Heist back at Raindance and I saw this District Roboto going through all the different worlds that were featured at Venice Immersive. So yeah, you said it was partially inspired by Stray. So maybe you could talk a bit about that video game Stray and also You have a little note in that world where you said that you're really doing an experiment on different lighting conditions and stuff. And so maybe you could go back into the story and the journey of creating that piece of the district rubato.
[00:14:09.137] Fins: Yeah, absolutely. So, Stray means a lot to me as a game and robot. Same with this robot. Around 2016, when I was doing my personal hobby project on Unreal Engine, I discovered a user named Kola. Hope I pronounced it correctly. His name is Kola, and he makes this amazing, amazing, amazing video and scene in Unreal Engine 4 at the time and it looked absolutely stunning. The lighting is insane and it's like some of the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. You couldn't tell from like a picture in an in-game engine screenshot. It's just so hard to tell, but it's just gorgeous and it inspired me at the time. It's just something is clicking me like this is what I want to do. I want to create a picture and an environment and experience so that people have the same feeling that I feel to those things that he created. Yeah, so since then, he's kind of like my spiritual mentor, in a way, somebody I look up to a lot. And along the years, I think around 2017, he announced the project HKDevlog, basically. So I think it stands for Hong Kong or something like that, similar. I think that was the style that Stray went for. It was kind of like somewhere in Hong Kong. So I follow the development of Stray ever since. And last year when the trailer came out and all the screenshots of how far that he has gotten, it just made me go crazy. I'm like, I wish I can experience this in VR. I want to see this level of fidelity, the level of immersive and lighting in VR. And I set out to use Stray as a study reference. And I go through the screenshot, I see how he constructs. And also all the past years, I'm familiar with his work and his style of lighting. I want to be able to mimic that in a way. And then so the Strix Roboto came to be, at first, it was not meant to be a release. It was just a study project I did and I all see it myself. If I'm happy with it, great. And then that's it. They would never see the light of day. But I posted it on my art account on Twitter and then people say, I want this. I want to see this. Please release it. And people went crazy for it. I'm like, all right, fine. I'll put my extra time onto it. Make it an experience that people can polish experience that's, you know, able to be public. So yeah, I'm so happy when Stray actually released and just to see the success of Stray and how far it got in the media and the gaming culture and how much it's inspired people and people like myself. That is something I hope to be able to achieve someday. So I'm incredibly happy for Kahala and I can't wait to see what else he has in store for the foreseeable futures.
[00:16:45.811] Kent Bye: So you, in that piece, there's a lot of different types of lighting and lighting conditions. And so is that something that you were looking to stray as like design inspiration or did there other types of lighting conditions that you were able to figure out or reverse engineer in some ways in that piece? Cause as I walk around it, I think that's the thing that's the most striking to me is just the variety of different types of lights and yeah, the immersive quality of light. I think when there's good lighting conditions, it just makes me feel so much more present and immersed within a world.
[00:17:15.750] Fins: Exactly, exactly what you say. In real life, when we study about a lot of things in real life and how the lighting works in real life, when you look close to how the sun shines through your windows and casts an indirect light, into the walls and even the neon the lcd light on your phone like it affect the world around so much and that goes the same for virtual world and one of the thing that sadly get overlooked a lot of time when it comes to virtual experience the lighting When human is kind of a unit uncanny valley of human faces We are very good at recognizing when something doesn't look right or off with the human face and that also applies somewhat to lighting and real life and that's just why lighting is just a technology that company puts like billion billion dollars into you know developing and researching as the time goes on as people want real-time accurate lighting real-time global illumination and all that kind of stuff and that is such the important part when it comes to creating a district robot. A lot of it you know was referenced also from the screenshot and what Kola already done in Stray and what he was providing but I was also able to kind of like get a clue of like how He used, it's funny because it's a bit ironic because we want to emulate the light as realistically as possible. But with the technology constraint, our engines and the power, computing power of the computers and that kind of stuff, and also VR headset, we have to do a lot of smoke and mirrors. to get what we want, which goes against the law of how light would operate in real life. But by doing that, we can get the result that mimics actually in real life in a way that people and players wouldn't see. So sometimes when you look into the editors and the engine and see that the light is set up, it makes absolutely no sense. But after you make it, it makes a lot of sense for some reason to us. And that's the magic behind a lot of the lighting. Also mood and context. Realism is one thing but you also get a good amount of artistic liberty as you creating a universe and a world where you know this world happened to be inhabited by a robot with this crazy amount of like LED and neon light and then how can you make and translate that to the mood and the drama and the story behind those place in the town and the city in the world that you create. So I have like place where it's all lit up with all the neon signs, all the market and all that stuff. And people can look at that and tell right away, oh, this is the place where people have the most activity and the most present, the most lively, most people, place where people do their stuff. And then you have the place where it's all dark and grungy and dirty. And then people look at that and right away, they can kind of guess and tell what kind of story and what kind of emotion they invoke in the players. And in a way, lighting is a balance in art between realism, storytelling, and all of that.
[00:20:13.651] Kent Bye: When you say the smoke and mirrors tricks, I know that it's difficult to have a lot of dynamic lights, especially in VR. And so you end up having to take and bake the lights into the textures of the walls. And so is that what you mean in terms of like setting up the different light probes and ways of projecting light onto the space in a way that wouldn't make sense if it was more of a dynamic light? Or maybe you could explain a bit about what you mean with the types of smoke and mirror tricks you have to do in order to get the effects of lighting that you were going for in a piece like District Roboto.
[00:20:43.455] Fins: Yeah, absolutely. By spot mirrors, I mean light, things that you wouldn't normally see in the runtime. This is only in editors and in baking. Basically, we have three types of light. And we have the directional light, and then the field light, and then the rim light. So sometimes I wouldn't place light that wouldn't be cast by any object in the world, but it wouldn't help with the visuals. And the people wouldn't kind of know. I'm not sure how to... It is a very technical light. Trick light you wouldn't have light and basically invisible plane of light that casting light after baking But that actually doesn't exist in the world and there's no object actually casting that light in the world But it helped with increasing the contrast and bringing up the object to the player views and that necessarily it might work out like that in real life But in the game it helped with the storytelling and the help with bringing out certain light area and object or character that you want to highlight and to human brain, it completely makes sense and we just don't question it as much. So it really depends on also the setting and what the expectation you want to set. For like a magic haze, like a project that's all magical, people are not going to question if there's a sun outside, under, inside a building because it's magic. But then if you do like a realism realistic world or project that involved in the real life in the real world that we live in it had to abide by the law of what makes sense because there's a suspension of belief and that's also translate to lighting as well so the smoke and mirrors is like just a hundred type of tricks to light probe reflection probe light plans and placement and custom manually placing a light that might not exist, placing a reflection probe that might not be where it's supposed to be, just so that it delivers a narrative and immersive visual to the players to see. And they don't necessarily need to know that. As long as it works for them, we are happy as a dev.
[00:22:41.665] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I'd say the end product is that there is a quality of light in your pieces that I think definitely stands out as I go through all the different worlds that you've created. So yeah, it's interesting to hear a little bit of that. It sounds like that to go further, you probably need to like a breakdown video or something just to kind of. more detailed than actually see what you're doing. But you've mentioned the story a bit at times, especially when it comes to like a piece like District Roboto. When I go to that piece, there's robots that are sitting around and there's also these little, you know, small little bunny rabbits that you can collect and, you know, I've seen them in other LACUSA based worlds where you collect each of the different items. But was there an explicit story that you were trying to tell within a piece like District Roboto?
[00:23:20.374] Fins: So yes, yes and no. So at first Roboto was just a lighting experience. I didn't mean for it to have any kind of narrative experience, but as I created content in the past couple years, I more and more tend to like to put a narrative and story background because it helps with the players because environment is one thing. Telling story and character with the environment is one thing, but actually having a story and a lore behind it help you as a creator a lot to bring that to life. You can't make something without some sort of narrative behind it. I mean, yes, you can in a way, but it helps a ton to have the context and everything. I think a lot of creators, especially in the movie and in the more narrative-driven field can probably agree with me on this, is that for a world to become alive, and to be lively and realistic and, you know, I wouldn't say convincing as they are, you need them to have a life behind before they exist, if that makes sense. Like, it needs to have a story before it exists. So that's the same with Roboto. The robot, they all have like their own little quirk personality. They have their heads, they have the corner that they Hanging out in and I want to it's not a full-on, you know narrative driving and experience anything like that It's just a explorative world that you can roam around but I want people to feel like at least there's something behind Those characters that exist in those world. They all have their own Even if you don't see it, you can kind of guess like if they have a routine, what do they do in a day, what kind of personality do they have and what do they do as a job and that kind of stuff. Even just by a glance and by their appearance, their emotion, their movement and colors and all that kind of stuff. So one of the thing is you mentioned with all the tiny robots that you can collect. After you collect all the robot and then you go into one of the shop and then you pull the switch because the little cat is like a battery. So after you get like 20 of them, you can go into the shop and pull the lever and you get all the battery and then it will let you clone a bunch of robot in the world as we were like an avatars and on each of the pedestal that the robot can be cloned there's like a backstory and background to how those robot came to be and what how did they made and kind of give you also a little hint of like what happened to this world that we exist in that there seem to be like no human left in this robot and that kind of backdrop there's a little flavor that i think whoever care and the players that care for it will appreciate because it feels like a layer of depth to the world that you make, even if it's not entirely narrative-driven.
[00:25:58.215] Kent Bye: Okay, yeah, I didn't go through and collect all the things because I didn't know if there was going to be any sort of like payoff at the end or what the, you know, it's sort of unclear sometimes with those puzzle worlds because I've been in other Lucuza-based worlds where I collect everything and you get access to an avatar or something at the end, but it sounds like there's both access to the avatars but also a narrative at the end of that piece if you actually collect all the little hidden objects around the world. Yeah. So let's move on to the magic heist. Cause I know I saw this first at the rain dance and my recollection of it was that it was a little bit of a, you know, kind of a theme park inspired ride where you're taking like on a cart going through all these different worlds. And there's a little bit of like a boss fight at the end to some degree. I don't remember if there's any choices I was making. I think I kind of did a number of different rounds. There may be some things you actually have to engage with and actually to finish that. But I think for the most part, my experience of that was that it was a bit of a more of a passive cinematic experience where you're in the cart and maybe you're moving left and right and collecting different coins and whatnot. More or less, we've created a number of different of these heists, the mine heist and the magic heist, now the treasure heist. But maybe you could speak a little bit about the magic heist as an experience, because it seems like you're experimenting a little bit more with trying to tell stories within the context of moving characters through a space. And how do you move a character through a space and still overlay different dimensions of a story on top of that?
[00:27:20.480] Fins: Oh yeah, for sure, absolutely. That's today. So, it has a little bit of history. When I first joined VRChat, one of the projects I wanted to create, it was related to avatars. You know, the movie Avatar by James Cameron. The blue people, not the anime one. Basically, Avatar was like one of those moments in my life when I was a little kid. When I first saw Avatar in IMAX 3D with my dad. I think around my high school times and it blew me away, it blew me away. I wanted to be in that world, I want so bad to be in that universe, in that world, this amazing planet with like glowing bioluminescent planes and all this stuff and when VR came to be that was like one of my dreams, my bucket list, to able to recreate the feeling and the vibe and the that same feeling that I had in the theaters back then in high school. And that was one of the things I was set out to do, but I just did not have the experience and the technical know-how and even the resource to do that when I first started on VRChat. And that has been an ongoing thing that I've been doing for a really long time. The Project Lost World, right now it's the codename for it, Project Lost World, is a narrative, kind of like Magic Heist in a way. that would take you to the planet full of dinosaurs and bioluminescent life. And it's one of the most ambitious projects I've ever done so far. And it's been an ongoing process in the past two years or so, as I learn more and more. So Magic Heist and Mind Heist play into that a lot because Mind Heist in a way was like a prototype, a proof of concept, like putting players onto a vehicle and then let them ride to a determined path. and maybe events that happened on those particular parts of the world. It's just like how in real life, when I first came to America, I got taken to Universal Studios and Disneyland. And that was like crazy to me. I moved from, I got to America from Vietnam. We never had any of that. So when my aunt and my family took me to Disneyland, my job was like job, I love it, I love writing, I love everything about going to a write and experience like a short narrative piece of story and then able to be immersed in that as you go through the write and that is something I wanted to replicate in VR and in virtual because I feel like because in real life you are bound by budget and physics and you know reality of space and cost and stuff but in VR, in Unity, in the virtual world you're not bounded by that. Sure you can be bound by a certain technical limitation, but you're free to put people in whatever kind of world and narrative you want to be, what you want it to be. And so Mindhaze was when we first starting out, I started, it was a jam, it was a VHR official jam, it was a time jam. Yes, time jam. So basically the goal was to make like a high score, like some kind of like time trial where people can get like the highest score and that kind of stuff. So I collabed with Zion on that project where we made a system where the player can get into a rail, sit on the rail, and then it will start going to the rail, and the player can lean left or right, collect all the coins, dodge all the obstacles, and people love it. People thought it was such a new concept, at least in VRChat. It's like an interactive rollercoaster, in a way. But it came with a lot of growing pains and a lot of new gimmicks. We had to make sure that people don't turn up or barf during the experience. You know, VR and motion and roller coaster usually can be a bit extreme when it comes to like the comfort level of people. So we had to work that out a lot. We have to like do a lot of like smoothing, changing. We basically just ran into the entire thing time and time when we see where the turn is a little bit too tight or too sudden, we had to smooth that out. Saiyan had to do some crazy coding magic. I don't know how he does that. He's incredibly skilled at it, but he does some really awesome magic coding that he can let the card kind of smooth out and turn in a way that it won't be comfortable to people. But of course, that's not a cure-all. Everyone has a different level of tolerance and VR fit on how they can tolerate those experiences. We might not be able to make it friendly for everybody, but we want to make it at least for a good portion of the community that can still enjoy it. So that was Mindhaze. And then after that, Raindance came around. Mary reached out to me, like, you know, you want to participate for Raindance? I'm like, I would love to. Because I was in previous Raindance with one of my world, Pandora Knight. And now I want to follow up. Yeah, so Pandora Knight was in previous Raindance.
[00:32:07.220] Kent Bye: Yeah, that was a world that was very much inspired by one of those avatar type of worlds. It felt like a bioluminescence characters and everything. So yeah, it's a real sense of presence of transporting into me that kind of avatar type world.
[00:32:21.780] Fins: Yes. Yeah, they all connect. They all connect in a way. So Magic Heist was like the more serious purple concept. How do we take from Mind Heist where a very gamey, very quick in and out experience to like 20 minute narrative experience where we can tell people a short story and make them immersed in that story. an experience and that's how Magic Heist came to be. I talked with Mary I was like we had about two months since I talked with her basically the world didn't exist and then two months later we had it out for the jury to judge. Magic Heist was incredible in a lot of way and not in a good way as well we lose so much sleep There was like night where the entire team just staying up until the morning. You can see the sunrise up in May. I fall asleep on the table like a couple of times just trying to reach the deadline. It was an extremely stressful time. So at first it was mostly me doing the environment, setting out all the resource and doing the voice acting. and the asset. And then after that, Cyan came in and then modified the stuff that we had in Mindhaste. Take the same system, put in Magic Haste and then make it even better and then change it. Because we don't want it to be too much of the same. We wanted to also play with the new mechanic and stuff. Like one of the mechanic in Magic Haste, we had this was to look at like something like a curse on the wall. And then if you look the gaze at it, it would pop. And that's one of the new thing that we added into the system. But later on, Lacusa came in, he handled all the animations and all the quality of life work and that kind of stuff. So we had three promos, Fiona also, and Legend helped here and there as well and some other stuff. But yeah, we were very happy with how Magic Haste turned out. The feedback that we got from that was incredible. People thought it was a thing that they never thought to experience in VRChat in a way. Just being so immersed, in the experience, because it's on rail, it's linear experience, yet in a way people were so immersed by the visuals and the voice acting and the story that they just kind of forgot that they are still in VRChat. And we were very happy about that. We ended up winning the Spirit of Rain Dance award for the project, and that was like one of them, one of the key, one of the moment that we remember a lot. and going back on a lot. So now we have Treasure Heist at Venice. That's the follow-up.
[00:34:43.490] Kent Bye: Yeah. So yeah, I had a chance to just go through the treasure heist at Venice. I was actually in a world hop where you were in world and the world hops at Venice, I found that they ended up getting a lot of new people and onboarding and stuff. And so you end up having like a little bit of reduced time a lot of times. And so I was very anxious to, I wanted to see all the different narrative components that you had. Cause you know, I feel like there was a lot of interesting narrative innovations that you were doing with magic heist in terms of like, Taking this I don't know if in immersive theater world sometimes I call it like a dark ride but it's essentially like a theme park ride where you have the theme park ride trope that you're moving through and treasure heist it seems like it was a little bit more of a Puzzle escape room, but the world building that you have in there. I think is also the degree to which that you are using world building to build these vast worlds with really epic lighting, really transportive. The puzzles, I'd say the puzzles are probably like, if there was like three levels, there's like beginner, intermediate, and hard. I'd say the puzzles are probably more intermediate or hard level, which in a context of like a short 45 minutes to one hour, experience while you're trying to see all the worlds can be a little bit stressful so I appreciated you being there to help us get through each of the different puzzles because I think the puzzles once you get through the puzzles then you tend to have a little bit more of a cut scene or some sort of thing that's happening to push the overall narrative forward and so I was really interested to see where you were taking the narrative So yeah, I think there's different payoffs that you have after you figure out each of the different puzzles. But yeah, maybe you could jump in and talk about your own design process as you're both designing these epic worlds, but also doing the puzzle design, but also trying to come up with the overall narrative that you're having as you're going through each of these different phases and slowly doling out like a little bit of narrative components of this overall arc that you're taking the participants on, on this world called Treasure Heist in VRChat.
[00:36:37.338] Fins: Awesome, yeah, I would love to. So, yeah, Treasure Heist is what's meant to be a small project originally, what's meant to be a field project in between. Because one of the feedback that we get from Magic Heist is that while people love it by the most, I understand that it's not very accessible. It's accessible. At the same time, it's not accessible. Accessible is that you sit on it, you experience it, and that's it. You come out. You don't need to do anything. They do all the work for you, do all the narrative for you. But at the same time, you know, motion sickness and people who are just not a fan of Riot. We have that as well. People say, oh, I would just love to get out of the cauldron and then just walk around this amazing magical academy and just like see all the things and take my time to see it through that. And that was one of the feedback we get a lot from people, players, streamers, and all kind of people that went through the world. And that is something I wanted to play around with Treasure Heist. Treasure Heist is like a spin-off. So Magic Heist is like a world beyond, but Treasure Heist is a recurring, recurring spin-off where you have the same character, you have the same theme, where it's very, very much inspired by like my favorite classic stuff, like The Mummy, Indiana Jones, you know, all that shit, and even games like Uncharted, Tomb Raiders, you know, the whole exploring, hiding secrets, and finding treasures, and all that kind of exciting stuff. And to bring that kind of narrative and make a balance with story driving and then puzzle and gameplay is incredibly, incredibly hard. And I'm still kind of ironing out. I'm still figuring out as I go. One of the problem at the first very evidence with Venice and then VRChat is the cultures and the kind of people that goes into it, right? We have in Venice where people who don't ever play games before. or who are gamers and doesn't do much of an interactive experience. And we have VRChat players who play games a lot. They are typically a younger crowd who can zip through any kind of game with little ease. So I have a little bit of a confliction between the XR crowd where they think the puzzle is quite tough and then VHS player was like this is too easy so balancing that out was very very tough and I'm still trying I'm still working out on the project itself as we speak today to kind of like how do I make get the best of both world where I can make a puzzle that is satisfying to solve and not too easy not too hard but can be accessible by the range of players from extra from normal people to like gamers where they both can feel satisfied and feel like they have fun Because that's one of the things, making the puzzles is one thing, you have to kind of like predict how people's mindsets work and how the trend of thought might form for other people. And it may look obvious to you, but it might not be obvious at all or outright impossible to some people. And that is one of the challenges when creating puzzles. I'm still working on it, but at the same time, able to add in a narrative experience, a narrative story to that whole thing is tough. I wouldn't say it's like you're trying to, you have a bowl of Skittle with different type of colors, and then somehow you have to kind of sort them by colors. And that is how I usually see making this kind of thing. You have an idea, a rough idea of a story, you have a rough idea of the mechanic, you have a rough idea of how the character, how the players, And then you have to like short it out, as time goes on, the more hours you put onto it, the more you can like organize and work out how things should flow for the players and how mechanic and how things should be and how the story should be driven. Because doing this by myself is terrifying, it's like a solo project. you have to wear a ton of hats. You have to be the QA, the quality assurance, you have to be the dev, the modelers, the sound guide. Basically every step of the development, you have to be that guy and it's only you. So it gets overwhelming quite a lot. What you experience at Venice with Treasure Hunt is not a complete product. Treasure Hunt is a mix between puzzle, interactive, and also a ride segment, which is supposed to come later at the full release. so the right segment come later on i'm still working on it but that's the thing that's my compromise to see like letting people Being in the world of Tekken 10, seeing the NPC solving the puzzle and being immersed in the world, and then Tekken also offers a second portion of the world where they can be on the linear, more rail-driven narrative where the story is fed onto them instead of them doing the manual work. So it's a bit of both. I don't know how it will work out, but so far the feedback I've gotten from the community for the puzzle portion is that they love it. Maybe not the puzzle so much, some people are confused, some people think it was too easy, but so far the general feedback is that they love the wall building, they feel it's very transportive, they feel like they're actually being in Egypt, you know, ancient Egypt, in those tombs. One of the biggest popular thing that people feedback was that when you see Anubis kind of turn around and greet you, and his voice kind of like came and tell you what to do, it was like a moment for a lot of people, they think, they feel like they are in a movie, like an epic movie. And I'm very happy with how the feedback are so far. So I'm very looking forward to complete the project and see how the community will react to the second half of the experience.
[00:41:50.103] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's definitely different crowds of people that are either coming from more of the film, cinematic, passive realm, or the more interactive gaming realm. And I'd say the people that are in VRChat have probably got a deeper background in interactive gaming world. But on top of that, when you have only, say, 45 minutes or an hour to really see the entire world, and it may take anywhere from an hour or two or three hours, I don't mind if I'm on my own time going through a puzzle world and trying to figure stuff out. It's just when you're in a limited time slot and that's your only shot to see it, and it's like, ah, I wanna be able to get through the, I wanna see all the stuff that there is to be seen. So yeah, there's a little bit of a time pressure there for a place like Venice, which is not my preference. I don't like doing a lot of escape room type of games on a, on a limited time, especially if the expected time for a piece is longer than the time that you have allotted. So yeah, it's definitely a lot of things, a lot of things to kind of balance there, but it sounds like that you are going to be adding another similar to the magic heist was the entire experience more or less was a ride. That's kind of like the payoff at the end of getting to the end. Then you get to go take this ride to go on another kind of spatial journey above and beyond. After you kind of get to that final spot with all the treasures, you kind of go off into the next phase. Yes. And, uh, okay. Well, I'll look forward to, uh, completing it again and going through it, probably going through it without the, uh, the rushed nature of it. But, you know, when it, one of the other things I noticed as a conceit within a lot of escape rooms is that, you know, you have things that are baked objects that you look around the room and you can tell what you can and cannot pick up. But I don't know if this was something that you did in your room, what the very first scene in a treasure heist, which was that, uh, It was difficult to know what you, what the objects you were supposed to pick up. There was a lot of objects that you could pick up, but that you weren't going to use, but also the stuff that you were expected to pick up was kind of blending in with the other objects. So you end up having to spam around the room and pick up objects. I don't know if that was a choice that you made and to make it a little bit more, more difficult than say, change the lighting to make it extra clear of what you could or could not pick up or what the objects that you were supposed to pick up in order to solve the puzzle of that very first scene of Treasure Heist.
[00:44:01.100] Fins: Yeah, for sure. That's one of the things I did notice a lot. So for more seasonal people who play a lot of games that play, the one of the things you notice a lot during the whole world was like the sparkly, you know, sparkly effect. Then that was, to me, a universal language to apply, at least for games, just to, you know, hey, this thing can be picked up. Throughout gaming, all my youth, I play Warcraft, I play other MMO, I play other games where things that tend to be like pick up a ball, they have a little special particle effect that it can pick up. But even then, I found that it wasn't clear enough, especially in the films and cinema people. So that's something I do like to change on release, to convey that message a lot clearer. And even some gamers people are having a problem with that. So that's probably the learning growing pain, like it may be obvious to you, but it's not going to be obvious to the rest of the players or other kind of people with different backgrounds. And yeah, the balancing art as a game dev is to translate and to convey telling people direction without telling them explicitly, but only through visuals. So yeah, I thought that was the friction. That was not like an intended design choice, but it's a friction, and I was glad I got the feedback that people have given, and also to Vinny's that that's something I need to improve on or change upon release. So that, you know, the book, like, people will look at that and be like, oh yeah, this one is to pick up, and no, this one probably can't be picked up. Yeah, it's tough, but yeah.
[00:45:27.642] Kent Bye: Yeah. I mean, it's one of those things where there's a kind of a language of people that have played a lot of the games and it's, it's a deviation, which makes it harder, but then it can also be frustrating if it's the very first, you know, scene as you're about to go on this journey. Cause you know, the world building that you're doing in this, I just want to take a moment and have you reflect on your process of like, when you're building up this vast world, that's transporting people to another. space and time. In this case, it's like kind of these ancient Egypt, these tombs in these different places. So what's your process of trying to both look at design inspirations from lots of other media, but also have any degree of authenticity of making sure that it's accurately representing a space or, yeah, just love to hear a bit of your process for as you're building out these worlds, how you go about transporting people into another realm like you're experiencing in Treasure Heist.
[00:46:18.017] Fins: Yeah, absolutely. That's the thing with writing a story or a universe or... I'm by no means any kind of a good writer. I just have things that I wish to do and world I wish to make. But I wouldn't say I'm an experienced writer by any means. I even have so much grammar errors and everything throughout the world and I have people proof-checking my script and story. But I wouldn't say that research and research and research and reference and research... is such a paramount thing and somehow that is left out a lot when people building work and experience just doing a lot of research. For a thing like Magic Heist, you're free to create your own expectation and create a sense of a suspension of belief because like I said earlier, if it's set place to a real world, if it's set place in a magical universe, if it's set place in the history or in the future, that is placed so much onto what kind of suspension of belief people willing to to hold and what kind of expectation people are gonna have for the world so for cherry haze it's more into like ancient egyptian so i had to be careful not to do something that you know possibly can be offensive to someone even if i don't know you have to take all the steps to make sure that you're not creating something potentially upset somebody or that so i look up all the the lore i have a video while i was working on the environment i had like a couple hours long video of like ancient egyptian culture and how they worship a god and then the history of how the background of the god like Anubis or Horus and how they are important to the Egyptian culture and ancient civilizations and I goes by that both as insurance to make sure that I'm not doing something offensive or at the same time as a material to learn and build onto the narrative and story that I have built because honestly there's a lot of things I don't know. Sure I want to make a cool Egyptian but to to make a bunch of random Egypt team asset into like war and then to make something out of that I feel like that's maybe a bit like a disservice to what the team and the kind of even the culture that you are doing and I feel like doing your due diligence to research and make sure that even in the fantasy realms and even in the mythical dream of what you're doing it still makes sense and it's still respectful to the culture and the team that you're doing is very important So I might not be able to get everything. One of the things people point out is that I have Greek symbols on some of the Egyptian tombs. That's something I want to change. That was one of the mistakes I overlooked. You pick out here and there and people give feedback. That's also an important part of the whole thing. People who know about the subject more or better than you, they're going to feel like, hey, this should be like this. And then you come back and kind of change it in a way that's appropriate. So it is a learning process, but at the very least, I would say, yeah, do your research, do your due diligence, make sure that you're not doing something potentially offensive, and be respectful to the source and the culture that you are basing your project on.
[00:49:23.335] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could talk a bit about your process of building a world like this, because you have the puzzle elements, you have the world building and you have the narrative components. Do you start with building out the world and then start to think about how to add the puzzles? Or do you think about the puzzles first? Or maybe talk a bit about your iterative process of how you build out a world like this and where do you start with making a piece like Treasure Heist?
[00:49:45.914] Fins: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So, like a lot of world, especially in the narrative driving one with the gameplay element, I wouldn't say you have like a very fuzzy, at first you have like a rough idea of like, hey, I want something like Indiana Jones going through Egyptian tomb and then you find something treasure and you win. That's like a very vague idea to start with concept, but then as you sort out, as you spend more and more time onto it, it gets clearer piece by piece. It's kind of like fog of war. The more you start in one spot where you have a clear understanding of what theme and stuff you want to do, but then what surrounds you is like cloud and fog, and you don't know what you're doing exactly. And as more as you plan, as more as you explore around your technical difficulty, as you explore more on the theme and the puzzle and the design, you open up more path where you can divert and maybe make creative or technical change that will affect the final products. I would say, at first, generally, I write down what I want. So I want a script, I want a character, what kind of name he would have, what kind of personality he would have, and then how he interacts with the players, and what kind of emotion and tone and that kind of stuff. Then that allows me to write a script for him. and then the script reflects on what kind of personality he has and then they can just translate to the voice actor and that's like one piece of the dev cycle that we able to clear out like now we have a good character, a good main character, a good script and good personality and then we build on to that and how he interacts with the players like One of the things that we would like to point out a lot is how he's just sit there and somehow he's the first one to run if something happened and that was a part of the personality that he has and how that affect into the gameplay that you have because he's not going to be like the hero who come in shooting and save the day like that and that affect the narrative in the story and the flow of the final product. So that's just on character and story. For the visuals side of things, I tend to block out concept art or thumbnails and then I look at the reference. I have a lot of reference from all the pop culture media and stuff. It's like a little bit of thing you can pick the ideas from. Maybe, you know, don't just outright copy something, but find inspiration and you can pick a piece, a part of it, and then put it in your own little mix of your own style that fits your narrative and fits what you're looking for. So I want to have like a visual understanding of what I want to have. I set out, I find the resource and assets and model and all the stuff that I need. So these are the thing that I can start with and build on to. And then once, if I need something else along the way, I will look for it. But I need like a certain amount of resource and stuff to start out and build the world, build the feeling, you know, just getting started to how you want this to feel as you explore and clear everything.
[00:52:38.008] Kent Bye: And so when you have the concept art and you have an idea of both the characters and the kind of narrative parts, but as you're laying out this space, are you drawing like a 2D architectural blueprint, which is just like the mapping of how things are laid out? Or do you actually gray box it out with like a simple architecture within Blender and then jump into VR? and overlay the different concept art or how do you get a sense of the spatial flow of a piece if you're mapping it out in 2D first or if you kind of iteratively build out within VR and be immersed into the spatial experience and then start to kind of like sketch out the overall map before you start to do a fine tuning of all the different textures and the mapping and placing of all the objects.
[00:53:21.661] Fins: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, so for me, it's really up to people. For me, as a solo project, I tend to build as I go. I do block out like structure and getting a sense of scale, making sure that scale is not too big, not too small. Is it all right? And what kind of flow and how the scale and the mood of the lighting of the world feel. And a lot of that can be done in the thumbnail. The thumbnail is when you're making the lighting and where you can level stuff, a lot of it is shape language. you know the shape build out a lot of you if you have a world you have a room with like a lot of blocky shape a lot of pointy shape you give out a different feeling when you have a more rounded a more soft shape this give people a different vibe and feeling and that is something in the beginning state you want this room to feel in a certain way and you kind of block it out a little bit and then you experiment with all the lighting. None of the lighting is final. Sure, in big studio they have, you know, the people who are taking care of that process, usually the concept artists or illustrator who, you know, suggested or level builder that that is the final. That shouldn't be how the lighting should be. I think that's what the best was for me solo by myself. i had to figure that out at the time because otherwise it would take too long as a dev cycle just to go through it so i'm playing with all the lighting maybe this lighting doesn't work maybe this texture doesn't work so this is kind of like building as and experimenting as you go it's a learning process along the way as well you may be surprised by how this unconventional texture and material placing on this thing work perfectly and amazingly even though you didn't expect it to and you can be surprised along the way of how well or how bad thing can goes depend on how your level design is but in the end the end product is that with enough time and trial and experimenting you can get what you're looking for. And that's also coming from the art that you do, the reference that you pick from. So it's been working out for me. At least that's my personal workflow. But in the team environment, in the more collaborative environment, you probably need to be way more ahead of time. You probably need to have your art and lighting at least visualized in the beginning stage. So you, your colleagues can kind of like work with it because people can remind, people can, you know, try to guess what you want. So that's the difference I would say between Magic Haze and Treasure Haze. Working with the team and working by yourself can change your workflow a lot.
[00:55:46.151] Kent Bye: There's a term that's referred to as gray boxing, which is just like these gray shapes, but it sounds like if you're doing lighting that you need to at least put some textures on there, like to have some reflection of those lights. And so do you put like, just like in this case, you're going into ancient Egypt. And so you have a lot of like sand or yellow or orange like tones. And so do you put rather than gray box, do you create a lot of these like yellow or orange boxes and then put the lighting just to make sure that the lighting is all working out?
[00:56:17.119] Fins: Yeah, so with square boxing and stuff, you tend to still want the shape to reflect the final asset, the final 3D material and stuff. So in a way that you can actually visualize. A lot of it is already visualized through the 2D art, but once you get in 3D, you want that to be a bit more accurate. I would say that for me, the lighting, usually one of the last part, more of the later part. I want to say that one of the first part. The first part is me translating the shape and the flow of the players, making sure that this is a pad max and it's not too big and not too small. But then after that, I play with the material, lighting, and then even after the lighting, I make constant mini adjustment to like how the shader should work or should behave in the different lighting condition and that kind of stuff. So yeah, it depends. I wouldn't say greyboxing is a very industrial standard thing to do in a big studio, but for me, I usually do it as like a flow, a player flow, and then a shape language less than lighting. Lighting is more later on.
[00:57:12.278] Kent Bye: And in this piece, you have the flow of where people are going that is in some ways dynamic based upon the different puzzles that people are solving. You have different areas that are opening up, so to speak. And so is that another thing that you're doing very early on is creating what that flow is without the puzzles and then adding puzzle triggers later that open up that space just to make sure that the way in which they're going through the space makes sense.
[00:57:36.608] Fins: Yeah, yeah, for sure, yeah, and pretty much what you say. Just having the flow first. You have a rough idea of what kind of puzzle you want. Rough, you don't need to have exact, but then you kind of calculate, okay, if I need, you know, this small puzzle, you know, like the coffin puzzle that we did in there, this only requires a small space. And that's how I block out early on. I know that this space only needs this certain amount of space and room. And people can also, you know, like, have people around the coffin. Showing each other the hat they have. Oh hey, maybe that goes in here, maybe that goes in here. The smaller space works better for that kind of like puzzle. And then the other swing with the branching bunch of different rooms where it encourages people to kind of split up and then, you know, report back. And then kind of like have a little central area where people can like meet up and then like discuss what they found and the thing that they see in those puzzle area like it plays in the in the early as long as you have a rough idea of what you want to do and how they shouldn't affect the flow of the players and the size of the room in the world then you are good and that's just something I do early on and then after that you know if I need more space if I need more rooms and stuff that is something can be easily added on because now that I have everything else to build on onto
[00:58:50.710] Kent Bye: And how long did it take you to build Treasure Heist? When did you start on it?
[00:58:55.432] Fins: So the project started, I would say, around the beginning of July, like July 2, July 3. A lot of the time, I was like job hunting at the time. And I was like, I need, I have a month to finish this because I have to do interview, I have to do resume and all that kind of stuff. And at the same time, we just moved to a new house. We bought a house and we moved to a new house. I had to take care of the house, do financial paperwork and all that kind of stuff. I had to balance in real life. and that kind of stuff. So Treasure Hunt started around July, I had the basic concept, I had the basic idea, and then throughout July was just mostly licensing the music, finding the voice after writing the script, sending them the script, and then getting the script back, finding all the resources and assets and stuff that would fit onto what I need and what I want for the project. So that's basically July, it's doing the logistic work and the preparation. along the way and then august was entirely just basically now you have all the material and everything to work it you put it together you have a huge box of lego with like hundreds of thousands of objects and now you just grind away at it and you know doing all that so i will say roughly in the two and a half month i hope it conclude before the end of september preferably missed in september so yeah it's from july to here probably two and a half months i would say yes
[01:00:10.691] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think Mike Salmon said like a month, month and a half. But I think, you know, if it's two months, you know, relative to all the other projects that were at Venice, you know, I think that that's a really aggressive timeline for any sort of immersive project. So yeah, it's really impressive that as a solar project that you were able to pull that off. One of the things that Mike Salmon said is that if YouTube if the independent distribution of YouTube to the film industry, then VRChat is kind of like the YouTube of the VR industry of being able to quickly distribute these different types of projects or these solo projects. So yeah, really quite impressive that you were able to even pull that off, especially likely making changes up to the very last moment leading up to the beginning of the festival on September 1st. So yeah, it sounds like you've had a busy couple of months leading up to this.
[01:01:00.218] Fins: It was extremely stressful. The whole job stuff was honestly unanticipated. So I had to balance out a lot of time frame. And also, you know, besides the hobby work and this project, I had to taking care of, you know, the house, paperwork, taking care of my parents, and actually, you know, spending time with my girlfriends. people who I care for and that kind of stuff. And sometimes sleep is not an equation when you try to fit everything into the box. So sleep is kind of like that. So they have like two hours of sleep and then I come right back into the project just feeling terrible. And that was like, that's been the theme for the last couple of weeks. Leading up to Vinny's is rushing out and trying to get things done in a fashionable time, but without, you know, compromise on the quality. So I'm very happy with what I have right now. It definitely can lead to time to polishing and running out of bugs and things that you can't possibly predict, you know, bugs and stuff like you can't get until you have the example body of tester and people finding the edge case and things that you wouldn't think that were possible to break, but it breaks anyway. That's just the life of developing this kind of stuff. I would say one of the hardest part is compared with Magic Heist. Magic Heist is a solo, non-sync group experience. So in Magic Heist, anybody can join at any time, can go to the ride, and they will see the different thing at a different time. But for Treasure Heist, where this is a group experience, where everyone needs to be together and seeing the same thing will happen. The difficulty of the development is increased by four or fivefold. Networking, I would say, is one of the toughest things to do in VRChat, or at least in game dev in general. Making sure that everything syncs with everyone from different regions of the world with different ping and different internet speed, and making sure the story, the characters, the triggers, the things that happen make sense. actually, you know, meant for a multiplayer experience is incredibly, incredibly, incredibly tough. And it's almost scared me to create more projects like that. But it's something that I really want to do from now on. Treasure Heist is one of the learning, learning pain that I needed to create an immersive group experience for everyone together at the same time. Because VRChat is a social experience. people will do things together and they have friends and stuff, they'll do things together. And I feel like it makes sense to have an explorative adventure that people can experience at the same time.
[01:03:35.904] Kent Bye: Was there any other VRChat worlds that provide an inspiration to your work, especially like the latest of Treasure Heist?
[01:03:45.572] Fins: I wouldn't say the biggest one would be Pop Escape.
[01:03:49.305] Kent Bye: Oh, okay, I haven't played that.
[01:03:50.306] Fins: Pop Escape, okay. Yeah, so it was in Raindance last year. It was one of the selection in Raindance last year. Oh, that's right, that's right. Yeah, so it was along North and Olympia, right? I think so. Also, I think one of the legends, Spooky Town. But yeah, a lot of, because Puppetscape was like an escape room puzzle driving also narrative experience. I absolutely love it. I love it. It was one of the best world I get to play in VR. I really enjoyed the whole experience and I'm nowhere near the level of the, able to make like the puzzle that exists in that world, but it was fun. the goal to remember like, oh, what did they do for? And how can I use that? And so I'm making my own version of the puzzle or my own puzzle ideas. So yeah, I would say that's one of my inspiration.
[01:04:44.734] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and world building and immersive storytelling might be and what it might be able to enable?
[01:04:59.993] Fins: VR is so powerful and I can't even imagine how 5 or 10 years down the line how this will change society and how it will change the way that we live and communicate and experience things. For now, even after 5, 6, 7 years, it's still out there. It's almost mainstream but I feel like we have a long way to go to convince the public and convince people how this is potentially the next big internet thing. how it will incorporate into our daily life, how entertain, how our politics, our education will play a role in society. And I'm happy to be a part of it. I want to steer it better in a positive way by showing people how visuals, how storytelling, narrative, how immersive the space can be because frankly a lot of first-hand experience a lot of you know things like meta and that kind of stuff may not shed too much of a positive light on how VR and AR and XR in general can be a positive impact to the the world even projects like you know like Aquarius here where I wanted it to be an educational learning experience where we can have like fish, we can enjoy, appreciate fish, whales, sharks in a virtual environment without putting them in a sea world, you know, a captive environment, not natural for them. And how this still can serve the low cost immersive and educational and fun experience for people to enjoy. And growing up, I'm a visual learner less than a number or a text learner. But for me, I was able to tell and give people the visual fidelity and wonders that drive the education on driving to the space. I have many people see Aquarius and they see how the things that they never thought they'd learn about, they never knew about, you know, the fish, how the manta ray, how long did they live, or something, the fish here, the endangers, like, it brings discussion, it brings, you know, curiosity, and that is something that I want to keep doing in this space, and I feel like me and many other content creators and devs in the industry, we will continue refining, learning, and improving the space as the years go by. So I'm very excited on what to come, and I can't wait to see what we have in the future. And I'm very grateful to be a part of it. And all the people that have supported me, and all the audience, and everyone that have seen and enjoy and be a part of it, I'm extremely grateful.
[01:07:41.762] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader Immersive community?
[01:07:47.037] Fins: I would say keep on creating. This is a place where people's voice and people's imaginations and creativity are powerful. And I feel like this has so much potential and untold story and untold adventures and things that we can't even ever imagine are possible. So keep on creating, keep on contributing, and let's make this a better space for everyone and everyone to enjoy.
[01:08:14.662] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Vince, congratulations for having three of your different projects being featured at the Venice Immersive 2022. And yeah, very much enjoyed visiting each of your worlds and learning a bit more about your own creative process. And yeah, as we sit here in this beautiful world of Aquarius, as I look up and see all these different fish flying around us, and it's quite a magical space. And yeah, thanks again for taking the time to break down your process and your story. So thank you.
[01:08:41.416] Fins: Thank you so much, Ken, for having me and for your time today. It's been a pleasure. And I hope you and everyone have a wonderful day.
[01:08:48.881] Kent Bye: So that was Fens. He's the creator of Treasure Heist, which was in competition at Venice Immersive 2022, as well as Magic Heist and Disic Roboto, which were featured within the VRChat World's Gallery at Venice Immersive 2022. So if you want more context for the wrap-ups, then I'd recommend checking out the episode 1121, where I talk about all the 30 pieces in competition. And in episode 1144, there's an immersive panel that I did at Venice with some other immersive critics talking about the art of reviewing immersive art and immersive entertainment. I recommend checking that out in order to dig into a little bit of my own process of what I'm trying to do with these larger series and trying to unpack and discuss the art and science of immersive storytelling with a lot of these different pieces that we're showing at Venice Immersive 2022. 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 listener-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 Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.