#633: Julie Heyde on Using VR for Consensual Trolling & Personal Pain Management

julie-heydeThe VR Unicorns use a rapid iteration, game jamming approach to VR development, and co-founder Julie Heyde does daily playtesting and quality assurance gathering feedback and guidance for the development team. Heyde has also been experiencing a number of different health issues that has driven her to use virtual reality as a form of pain management, but also as a way to hang out with her friends. Heyde is describes herself as a bit of a bully who likes to playfully mess her friends in VR, but she found that the other social VR experiences were lacking in their ability to do what could be described as “consensual trolling.” She wanted a social VR experience that allowed her to throw objects at other people and to have it stick to their bodies, change scales to intimidate people, and generally push the boundaries of high expressions of agency with embodied characters in VR.

As you could imagine, creating a consensual trolling environment for social VR could go horribly wrong, but Heyde was inspired by this idea of contrasting utopian and dystopian environments in VR. VR Unicorns is planning on juxtaposing this experience of a troll-fueled, dystopian, open world environment, but then change the rules and create a much more harmonious utopian experience that’s more collaborative than competitive.

The VR Unicorns showed a 3-week old prototype of #Utopia at GDC 2017, and it was still in the early phases of development and has likely vastly evolved over the past year. While the project is titled #Utopia, they were only showing the first phases of their initial dystopian environment. I had a chance to chat with Heyde about their #Utopia demo, this concept of consensual trolling, how she uses VR for pain management, escapism vs flow states, and how she’s personally been in an immersive dialogue with her developers through their surprising additions to #SelfieTennis, http://www.vrunicorns.com/archery/, and upcoming release of #SkiJump.


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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So, Ready Player One is coming out in just a couple of weeks, on March 29th, and it's set in a dystopian future in 2045, and the main character goes into virtual reality to escape the destitute, dystopian real world, and has all these crazy adventures where he's able to essentially turn his life into a video game. And so last year at the GDC, I had a chance to try out Utopia, which was done by the VR Unicorns, Julie Hyde and a number of different developers. And Julie had been going through a number of different health issues, and she just had this vision of wanting to create this dichotomy between a utopian and a dystopian world so that you have to spend time in a dystopian world, and then you eventually go into that utopian world. And it was from that pain that she was experiencing that she wanted to have these various different experiences. And I think within the VR world, I think we're going to see a lot more of this process by which people are imagining these different worlds they want to experience, and then they go out and actually create the worlds and then see what it's like to experience them. So the VR unicorns, they did the selfie tennis as well as archery, and they tend to do game jamming. So they're doing these rapid prototyping, and Julie talks about the process and evolution of how they were starting to do this really serious, dramatic, mythological story, and then they just found that the unique affordances of VR wanted it such that you have these crazy, high-agency experiences that you can do, and they just started rapidly prototyping all these various kind of minigames of anywhere from archery and ski jump, I think is the next one that they're working on that's going to be coming out soon, as well as the selfie tennis. And so I had a chance to sit down with Julia to talk about how she uses virtual reality for pain management, the philosophy of game jamming and what is it like for her as a QA tester to be able to actually gather all the feedback, as well as creating a social VR experience that allows her to do some consensual trolling with her friends. So, that's what we'll be covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So, this interview with Julie happened on Thursday, March 2nd, 2017, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California. So, with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:29.331] Julie Heyde: I am Julie from VR Unicorns, and we're the crazy, crazy, crazy game jammers working on Self-Humanist, Archery, and Utopia. And the last time we did this podcast together, a couple of years ago, I also had no voice. It seems to be like... It's a tradition. Yeah, that's what we do.

[00:02:47.603] Kent Bye: Great. So yeah, the thing that was really striking to me, because I first saw the Selfie Tennis back in February of 2016. That was at the Unity Vision Summit. And so it seems like you were taking this ethic of rapid iterations and game jamming, which is this kind of minimum viable product, and just make it fun. And so you did an early release with Selfie Tennis. And it seems like you've got the same aesthetic that is going throughout into these next iterations. Maybe you could talk about the evolution from where you started with selfie tennis and how that kind of morphed into what is now archery and then utopia.

[00:03:23.564] Julie Heyde: Yeah, and actually then we'll go like way before we started with Salsa Tennis. So Horatio is the main developer of Salsa Tennis. So Salsa Tennis were a bunch of people who had worked on ads and freelancers and like it was Horatio, Milo and I who started it. We're actually working on another game called Ragnarok and we've been game jammers for years. So like met each other at game jams, jamming crazy weird mechanics and I remember when we first got the Vive. Which is how many years ago? Oh my gosh, I'm losing track. First got the Vive, we just started game jamming again and we were already working on a game that we were told, like there's a reason we got the Vive, we were told Valve, yeah we're gonna ship it with the Vive, yeah right. And then we got the Vive, but our game was like sort of hashtag deep, hashtag dark, horror and very stealth, whereas when we got the Vive, like you've seen me jumping around, very physical and very sort of hyperactive. And it was just so much fun, just like making crazy sort of one day jams in the office of weird sports games, just throwing balls high up in the air, hitting each other with sticks and like all kinds of things. And we would do so much sort of local multiplayer with the Vive. And actually, one of the mechanics that's in Utopia, we made back then, and like Horatio hacked it together. And like for ours, the giant mode, where like you have this scale thing, and we used that for like emotions. So we did a racing game where you would like literally slide across the floor. jump up against like the wall at the chaperone but wall in our office which is super tiny and then jump back and then slide again and we call the race to the east because Horatio is from Romania which is like east so it's easier compared to us working in Copenhagen And all these crazy things we were just working on. We did a dodgeball game in one day. We did a ski jump game in one day. And while we were working on Ragnarok, we were like having this long-term project that was really hashtag deep and like a real game or whatnot. And then one day, we were having pizzas and Milan suggested like, hey, what about selfie tennis? You play with yourself. And then the next day, we were all sitting and working on Ragnarok, except for Horatio. He was making a tennis game. And I was looking over at his screen, I'm like, OK, yeah, that's cool. Looks legit. Like, we were sitting like, we're going to do completely different. And in the evening he's like, Julie, you want to play with yourself? I'm like, I'm ready. And then we did self-attainment, and then I think after a week, we just made a decision, like, let's just focus on crazy sports games. Because we had so many of them from what we do, which is game jamming, where you just get a crazy idea, and you just iterate very, very fast. And then you just start, like, it takes form, it takes shape. And then we pick the best of those, and then we turn that into a real game. And that's actually the same thing with archery. Max and I from Team Archery, Jacob and Max mainly and Horatio and I are also chipping in. We did a Vive Jam together in Stockholm and I met Jacob there for the first time and then I did a Vive Jam in Copenhagen and Max brought Jacob over and they made the first level of archery. which was the pizzeria scene. Like put on the ingredients on your order and you make a pizza with them and so on. And I'm like, oh, this is so amazing. It was my favorite game at the jam. And then we met up at like at a Unite in Amsterdam and the guys were asking me for like advice and like, what should we do now? Like, how should we get it out and stuff? I'm like, oh, I'll just like connect you to a few people and you need to do this and this and this. And then they were like, can't we just become unicorns? Sure, because then you can do that part and then we just focus on making the game and then we'll figure it out. And then I spoke to Rachel about it and we're like, hey, these guys want to be unicorns too. And we are unicorns technically just a bunch of game jammers. And then we have like, right now we sort of have three and a half games in development, depending on which day you're talking with us. And then we have Utopia, which is like our brand new, crazy, weird-ass multiplayer game where you just, like, so, like, the build we have here at GDC is fairly limited compared to what we have home, because we needed to make sure, okay, we can actually play it in a contained environment, because we're right now sitting in Valve's booth, and I promise that we're not going to smash any equipment.

[00:07:16.081] Kent Bye: Because that's been known to happen, right?

[00:07:17.822] Julie Heyde: Yeah, we've smashed so much and we've stolen so much too. And I promised not to steal, not to smash. Like it was several emails where they told me off in advance, just being like, please don't steal, please don't smash any equipment, Julie. So I actually had to take some of the craziest mechanics out just so we could play it here. Because you saw when we were setting up three people in one booth, right? Yeah.

[00:07:38.532] Kent Bye: I think, well, you're really pushing the limits in terms of the mechanics of what's fun. I think the thing that I find really interesting about your approach is that you are doing these rapid iterations, but you're also taking them out and showing them to people and taking feedback and then feeding it back to the developers. As I was talking to the two developers of Archery, they were like, yeah, Julie just goes out and shows it to people, and she sort of gives back all the different ideas, and then they just make it happen. So you've got this whole, like, innovation pipeline down, and you kind of come here with it's, like, crazy, chaotic, like, just at the 11th hour, just getting things, just, you know, working with, you know, some bugs, but still, it's just, like, it's fun, and it's new and different and innovative, and I think that's what I... really respect about what you're doing is because it's actually like pushing forward this expression of high agency, interactivity, and, you know, expressing your will into the experience where you're able to, in a job simulator inspired fashion, you know, take things and just interact and see and you may have a prediction as to what might happen if I shoot this arrow at the pot that's sitting there, you know, and then you make it happen.

[00:08:43.443] Julie Heyde: And also, like, as Job Simulator is a great example, they are also just a bunch of game jammers who, like, jam this up. And I think the way, when you are a game jammer, you're so used to doing these, like, in other industries, you call it rapid prototyping, which is called jamming, right? Just iterate, or just go fast, and you figure out on the spot, is this fun or not? Like, we never overthink things. And also, that's not how we work. And we've tried sometimes to, like, throughout the years, especially with Raytia, I worked together, like, making development plans, which just gave up every time, like, fuck this shit. Literally, what we do is like, oh, we have an event. And Rachel laughs at me all the time. Because I say, yeah, I don't think we should show at that event. It's too much work. And we're always running ourselves so hard. And then suddenly, I've just booked three events in one week. And he's like, you did it again, Julie? Yeah, yeah, but we only need deadlines, right?

[00:09:27.656] Kent Bye: But also, it's a time to show it and get the live user feedback. Because I found it, when I was playing, I was like, this is what I want to do. I want to do this. I want this to change. I want this world to challenge me in this way.

[00:09:38.383] Julie Heyde: And I was writing down everything when you were giving us feedback. And that's the thing, because I do respect people who want to be sort of like garage developer, basement developer, and whatnot. But we're just like, we make something. we show it instantly like it's very rare that we don't show things on the spot like and also we share an office with with my brother's team and they get to play everything and I have a lot of kids in the family so they get to play but we constantly have people over and I think it's very important to to get the feedback and get like Brady what we sometimes call me the idea guy not that I'm the one coming up with the games But I believe very much in inherited ideas Like I get inspired from seeing what my teammates have been working on and then I'm like, hey What if we do exactly that but with a twist and then they're like, ah You're brilliant!" Right? They say that all the time, that I'm brilliant. I think they're just trying to make me happy. But then we just kind of put ideas on top and I think that the whole sort of way we work in VR Unicorns is that because we all touch upon all the games, so we also take ideas and mechanics from the various games and put it into the other games. We go, oh, this one works really well. This is my favorite. I'm often the one saying, can I please have this and this one? because they don't allow me to touch code anymore. I made some mistakes. So I'm not allowed to code at all anymore. So I really have to beg the guys. They're like, can I have this in the other game as well? Please, please, please.

[00:11:01.122] Kent Bye: You're like the product manager, the person who's giving the feedback and giving it to them, right?

[00:11:05.243] Julie Heyde: Yeah, a lot, a lot. But I'm also a QA, which means I'm just our main play tester. And I would say, I'm playing all our games every day, and I'm in pretty good shape after that.

[00:11:17.535] Kent Bye: Well, I think that the Utopia is sort of like this open world where you have four people in a multiplayer. And you're the same kind of unicorns that you are in selfie tennis.

[00:11:28.863] Julie Heyde: Actually, you can be as many as you want. But we just did the four player. We're doing a six player now. We're setting up one more setup for that. Oh, wow. You can be as many as you want. It's just because we only had two booths where we could have it running. But now we've got one more booth.

[00:11:40.877] Kent Bye: So you're jamming. So the thing with the Vive is that as long as you have different computers there, the Lighthouse, you can set up two or three. So we're here at GDC, and there's usually one demo in a booth with one person. But here you have jammed in two or three people now in one booth trying to do these multiplayer.

[00:11:56.408] Julie Heyde: Yeah, but one of them was close, so Valve didn't notice it. But then suddenly they saw it, and now I'm just jamming in more and more, because we brought our own equipment as well for this. And they're looking at me. I love the guys. They apparently let me do it. Let's see when we get kicked out.

[00:12:10.942] Kent Bye: Well, it's innovative. It's different. It's new. And the thing I really appreciated is that when I was in Utopia, Horatio was in there with us. And I think it made a huge difference, because here's somebody who knows this world, and he can kind of guide us through this experience. And he can say, OK, guys, we're going to. try to throw a javelin into the cactus, or we're going to fly around and see if you can, like, throw a bomb over here and hit it with a spear with a, you know, a bow and arrow. So you have all these mechanics in there, but you have this sort of guided tour, but without that guided tour, there's a bit of, like, either you build that into the game, you know, in the environment so it's clear that people could do that, or you have these characters and roles who give these guided tours of these experiences.

[00:12:51.058] Julie Heyde: So this is where I would really love your feedback, again, because I always love your feedback. But we made this build specifically for me and Horatio being in the game at the same time, or either of us being there. And you can see, like, sometimes some of the people have played it before, just like in the same day. And we ask them, can you stick around? Because now you already know it. So please teach the next player, because you have so many going through the booth. So we made it specifically for here that Horatio and I will be there, because there is no explanation. You just show up, you just land, and you're actually in Dystopia right now. So the game is called Utopia, but you start out in Dystopia and you have to reach Utopia.

[00:13:23.621] Kent Bye: So I only saw one scene, is there a progression of scenes?

[00:13:27.999] Julie Heyde: Yeah, yeah, but it's not in this build. So this is specifically made for, okay, we're just showing off what we can do in Mechanics, because it's super early. I think we worked on this for three weeks. So it's, yeah, literally, as you know, Kent, I'm on steroids, and I've been really sick for a long time, and this is what came up to me when I started being back on steroids.

[00:13:48.233] Kent Bye: So maybe you could go into that a little bit. So you're coming into the office sort of in this altered state of consciousness, and then what happens?

[00:13:55.495] Julie Heyde: Well, so I've been sitting I've been working from bed because I got back on steroids I've been going for a lot of hospital stuff I had to be off steroids and I got back on steroids slowly got back into work and I've been sitting with this side project because like I'm a game developer but I also do all the business stuff and then I was very sick and then I could like barely write an email a day and life was just tough in general. I was getting quite depressed. I have an autoimmune disease called stachydosis and it's in my lungs so it was like great and You know, I'm usually hyperactive and I was just so tired all the time, just out of the press. And I started just building up. So if you've seen any of the marketing sort of assets from Via Unicorn, it's like our swag art, I call it. Some of it is like building this utopian world. You're in dystopia, but you can see the little bubbles of utopia. So I just started dreaming myself into that world. I'm like, I just want to be a unicorn and make video games and I don't want to deal with my own body. And then I started cranking out some levels in Unity and just started working on them. And then one day I got into the office and I was looking at some of the guys. So we share an office with my brother's team and they've been helping us out as well. And I just looked at them and Horatio and I said, guys, I have an idea. What about we just drop everything we're doing? we started working on Julie's crazy steroid game. Because it's going to be really fun, because I said, it's really fun in my head when I think about it. And I think the guys were just so happy to have me back. So they looked at me like, sure, Julie, we'll do that. I'm like, really? What is it going to be about, they asked. I'm like, I don't know. But we'll have all the crazy mechanics, and we'll be like this and this. And then you have to go to Utopia. And also one of our teammates in Portugal, Mauro, was also going through some tough times. So it was him and I. scheming about this together, like idea-guying on each other, and then we convinced the others and they bought it. And now we're breaking a utopia as well, as Archery and Self-Insight is and everything else. So it came from this place, and like, so I've been treating my symptoms with going in the water, in the sea, back home in Denmark, super cold, in my kayak surf, and I see these power plants. I kayak surf in a bay and I see these power plants on each side, so that's why we have power plants in Dystopia. It's like, I want to, like, this bad world with power plants and smoke, I want to get rid of it, I want to go to Utopia. And also, when I go in just before sunset or just in the sunset, the sky actually turns pink. Like, it's back home in Denmark. So, like, just the right time it turns pink. So that's very much the utopian feel I get when I'm there. And honestly, I often go sunset, and then I come into the office late in the evening, and my steroids really kick in in the evening, so I'm just high as a kite when I finally, like, so late afternoon, well, evening, late afternoon, the sunsets are far back home right now. So I come into the office, I'm high as a kite, and then I start just, like, telling everyone about the crazy ideas, and they're just like, OK, Julie, yeah, yeah, sounds great. You said GDC, we have to be ready. Yeah, it makes perfect sense. We're not supposed to show Utopia here. They gave us an extra booth, so I'm just like, we show Utopia. And the guys are looking at me like, you know, it's three weeks away, right? I'm like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, we got this.

[00:16:56.628] Kent Bye: Yeah, so I think that you know the the thing that I see there's a lot of different elements of that I think are interesting of what you're doing there and so I sort of break it down as I try to Categorize my experience and then see what's there and what's missing so for utopia what I'd say is really interesting Well, first of all, you're embodied in a unicorn and you can have different embodiments. So you change into a flying unicorn you change into like a giant unicorn so you like a bend over and you grow into this giant. So just to be able to be in a social space with other people and be able to change your scale with other people was something that, you know, I haven't really done before and it's like really kind of fun to play with in different ways.

[00:17:33.727] Julie Heyde: And intimidating, right? Like I really, and I'm such a bully, I know, and I probably shouldn't say this, but I really love intimidating people in VR. So one of the day was earlier and I was just like becoming a giant and everyone was like, Like, yeah, I can watch you from above. But actually, so the thing is with the giant mode, maybe we should explain how it works. Because it's actually like, so the closer you are to the ground, the bigger you are and the other way around. So it's kind of like reverse giant mode in a sense. So it means like, when you're really exhausted when playing Utopia, like I often lie down on the floor and then I'm a giant and I see all the other ones like still being super hyperactive, flying around as flies, because that's really exhausting to be a fly. And I'll just be a giant just observing. So it's kind of like, God mode or giant mode and I really it's very sad to be in that one But it's funny because that was the mechanic that we actually made to make a racing game Which like right now when people are playing utopia, they're not racing like we did when we made it for another game And it's interesting to see how these various mechanics can have different meanings or sort of different setups in the other games than we actually made them for originally. And that's, yeah, that's really, really nice that we can sort of reuse the same mechanic, but people treat it differently. And that's for me as a developer super interesting to see right how it depends on like the world we set them in and the setup and also who they're playing with because now like we did a lot of these mechanics for local multiplayer so like we would take turns on the same Vive but now we're actually playing together in online multiplayer so we're not taking turns so it's a whole nother gameplay and and I think also coming from the the game jamming scene where a Lot of people are doing a lot of sort of off-screen like away from the screen games or experiences We're so used to like using a full room even when we weren't doing five games So the whole interaction with people in the room but now we can actually have that with our friends online instead of having everyone in our office and and just opens up with so much more gameplay and I get so inspired when I watch people play and especially like the directions they move in and how the format like the now with the setup we had where you were two in each booth and at one point three in one of them but the interaction in the room versus the people who are playing next door and Yeah, it's amazing to see. And I think that's one of the reasons we really love traveling and showing our games at all events, is that we get to see people play them. So we get to see their completely honest expression and reactions. And we get to see them laugh and cry and whatnot, right? And it's really interesting. And you have so many various different people coming in. So some will speak a lot, be very loud, and some won't say anything. But then you can see their body language, how they react to different things. And that's interesting. And I guess that's also why I have the role as playtester, QA, observant, idea guy, or whatever it is. Because I love that part of it.

[00:20:25.213] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that, you know, looking at the lessons from selfie tennis is that you started to just interact with the environment around you and then start to create like little mini games around that so that you could start to give that feedback and tell the story of what you could do and you sort of, you know, people want to try to achieve that because sometimes it can be very difficult to do some of those things if you want to hit a ball into one of those giant tennis ball funny looking people. But when I look at Utopia and I think that the things that are the biggest that are missing is a couple of things one is the Overall sense of like goals or achievements, you know Yeah, I know it's sort of open it's an open-ended sandbox So the challenge there is I think if you get a bunch of people that haven't done it and don't know what to do Then they have to create their own goals, which is a social construction with its own you played with the dumpster in there, right?

[00:21:15.335] Julie Heyde: Oh

[00:21:15.737] Kent Bye: No, we didn't get to there.

[00:21:17.798] Julie Heyde: Oh, wow. Because that's what actually when Horatio and I, we play, we always hide in the dumpster. Then we jump up and scare each other and shoot each other. Because Horatio and I, and that's like, we're just harassing each other all the time. Because when we're playing, which we are all the time, because we're sitting and working on it, right? And it's like, we always tell each other, please don't shoot me in the face with the spear. It's super annoying because it's like in your vision all the time, right? And we always agree that we're not just gonna end up, as we always do, just standing and shooting each other. Like, we have the bow and then the spear, and that's very powerful and it's very fun. But we're like, remember what we're playtesting? And each time we play for five minutes, we just end up standing and shooting each other in the face for five minutes. And we're like, no, no, no, we were supposed to playtest that thing over there, remember?

[00:21:57.417] Kent Bye: So that's the thing that I was standing there, and Horatio was, he threw about four or five different axes in my face, and I thought it was actually the other person, but it was actually Horatio. And I was like, can you please stop that? And Horatio said, oh, I'm sorry. And I was like, oh, wait, that was the game developer. So I feel like in social VR, there's a certain amount of etiquette, where you don't get into other people's personal spaces. But in this, this is actually a social experience designed to really mess with each other.

[00:22:24.467] Julie Heyde: Yes, but it's also, again, we're the Union Chords, but I'm such a bully, so I wanted that to be a part I could do, and Horatio actually, he was very unhappy with me kind of forcing that in at one point, because he said, but the problem is when we playtest it ourselves, we keep doing it, but look what he has turned into. He's a good guy, and now he's also, it's the first thing we do.

[00:22:45.320] Kent Bye: Well, the thing is that I've played other social experiences. I just remember at GDC last year, Sony had an experience. And I started to do that a little bit of picking up a ball. It's like a ball, right? And I have a ball, and I threw it at the guy. And he reaches up his hand, and he catches it, right? And so the thing that was really fascinating about that moment was that I threw it, and I didn't know what to expect. And he caught it, and I didn't know he could catch it. And he caught it. And I was like, whoa, that was really cool. Well in this experience you're shooting spears and stuff and they don't just like bounce off of you go through that they like stick in you and like you can like It's so that you're playing with physics in a way where you're like, oh, that's what happens and it's weird and funny And so it ended up like everybody was shooting each other yourself Like so if someone shoots a spirit you you can just take it yourself and then put it out and you can throw it back At them.

[00:23:32.729] Julie Heyde: Did you try that?

[00:23:33.690] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, I had axes in my face and I just started to have to take them out and throw them.

[00:23:38.131] Julie Heyde: And then the funny thing also, so we also put like the bomb, I think was the last thing we put in, because we needed to actually clear up the level with the server and we were running it locally here. And then, but now we started helping out each other with like clearing up each other. So instead of actually having to pull all the axes and like the spears out, we just throw bombs at each other to clear it up.

[00:23:55.516] Kent Bye: I see. The bomb is actually very useful in that way because the thing that actually happened is that we crashed the server because we had too many physics objects there. We were having so many things thrown that we had that actually crashed the server.

[00:24:06.560] Julie Heyde: Yeah, because we just run it locally here. So we're running on one of the machines that's also running the game at the same time. So we have to be a bit careful.

[00:24:15.192] Kent Bye: So there's a lot of different things where it's a little bit of like, this is an environment where you can just really kind of mess with each other, it sounds like. And people kind of, as long as people there have that collective agreement, that's fine. This is an environment that does that. So the other element that I would say, and I think it sounds like it's coming in terms of the, you know, from Dystopia to Utopia, where there's a bit of, you know, right now the level is very flat. And you said that you were on the river and you saw these, you know, big architecture of these...

[00:24:48.466] Julie Heyde: the sea but yeah you just see these two because it's a bay so in each side of the bay like there's a power plant so it's like the water there's completely flat except when there are waves but they just see the horizon and then two of these power plants and actually so the level sort of design so to speak it is like a very simple level but the level design is kind of based on for instance for you Americans if anyone has ever driven towards Las Vegas you see this desert island I was about to say with desert city rising So a few of us who've been traveling quite a lot in the Middle East and a city like Dubai City, when you just drive towards it from the desert, you also just see this thing rising up in the desert, like you come closer and closer. And that was the feel that I wanted in Utopia, that you feel that like there's the nothingness, there's the complete nothingness, and then you just have this like area where you can like mess around. And then we honestly didn't have time to make more.

[00:25:43.387] Kent Bye: Well, I think that's the thing is that when I go into VR, I want to be transported to another world. And when the world is completely flat, I don't necessarily know that I want to be in a desert. However, you know, there could be different things. But I feel like the next phase, if there's a thing that we're actually kind of going through together to explore as, you know, as a tribe, and you kind of transform into from dystopia to utopia.

[00:26:05.017] Julie Heyde: One of our dreams is to have all of this procedurally running. So we're a very small development team. So we're constantly short on time and resources and whatnot. So we're like, we have all these dreams, and then we figure out what is actually achievable. Yeah, because what we've been sort of dreaming about is that we can make everything procedural, and actually sort of make it persistent as well. So we can create, we also have some building tools that are not in this demo build. We're building tools as well, so we can actually build, and then you can go back in there. But build is fun and interesting, but it's like for some player types, then there are people like me who just really want to destroy. So what I want to do is, I want to create this parallel universe. So you actually have like, you build it up in Dystopia, and then you go into Utopia, and then you can play all the fun stuff. Dystopia has to be sad, right? And sort of a little bit crazy and whatnot. Whereas Utopia would be this like complete haven where you're just gonna hang out, there are butterflies, we already have some of those levels like butterflies, nice music, just chilling and so on. But you have to go through all sort of the tough life in Dystopia in order to get there. And I actually want you to sort of have to pay to get there and sense of like you have to collect... I don't know if you know how the energy system works in the Nordics. So we actually burn trash. Sweden is right now out of trash. They're buying trash from Norway because they burn trash to create energy. And I want you to walk around the level and get trash, put it in the power plant, get money out so you have money to go to Utopia because Utopia is like your holiday place. We have to just work really hard for it. So for that, I'm dreaming. And I want it to be procedurally generated parts of it. I want you to build part of it. But I want to create this big, massive world. I honestly don't know where this game is going to end up because it's so new and it's like so dependent on how many steroids I'm on.

[00:27:50.570] Kent Bye: It's also very emergent where you're iterating and at any moment you could pivot and to take any one little mechanic and turn it into a game within itself. And the thing I'm really curious about is that you've done so many just like prototypes and experiences within VR and everything from ski jumping to you know these extreme sports. I'm just curious if you have any personal favorite memories or stories of being in VR.

[00:28:13.521] Julie Heyde: Oh, wow. So, again, this is like my parallel life, in a way. This is my universe. So, I play our games every day, all the time. Like, the day that Jacob, he put the level of the Toy Factory level into Archery, and I could just stand and shoot these, like, unicorns that I have dreamt of, and then I think I just cried a little, because I'm like, oh, he did it for me. like the archery guys there so they're sitting and working remote in Sweden and every day I'm just gonna pull the build and bitbucket and then like into unity make a build and then like start playing and I see all these small surprises. I think like I still play self attendance every day and we actually we did an update last week and um Whenever I'm really sort of sad, well not necessarily sad, when I'm more aggressive I would say, but I've had a bad day or something and people are just like annoying me, then I boot up self-defense and then I just spank the hell out of everyone on the court. We got even more weapons in there now. We also have a hard gun so you can like make a heart and then shoot it and like I think the day Horatio put that in and then he hears me screaming out when I'm play-testing is like, I made a heart and then I shot it with a bow and arrow. I just killed And he was just hitting and tweeting what I said, like so many random things. So I'm like, I'm having, like we're making, I think we're making the games that I really, really, really want to play, that everyone from the team really want to play. So I have these like moments several times a day where I'm just like so happy that we make VR because it makes my whole life so much better. Especially with like going through all this shit with psychosis and just like, okay, I can just, I think a lot of, Other people than me. I can only speak my personal experiences, but I use VR to have this like Second universe that I could go into if real life gets too tough and and that's when I have these really good experiences for instance when I'm out of my kayak or out my like I have my horse and going horseback riding is That that's where I want to be. That's where I'm happy and then like real life is so far away and And I want to have that in VR as well, especially at the time where I was pretty immobile, like I couldn't move around much because I had a lot of symptoms, then at least I can escape into VR. Like you know our games are very physical, but Archery can actually do some, because it's 360, so like it doesn't have to be played room scale. So some extent I could when I couldn't walk because the symptoms were in my feet I could actually still play archery So it's the only game I could play for like a couple of months but I would like and that's especially where the guys they would just like update every day with something that would make me happy and Yeah, so those moments like when I get these surprises because often the guys don't tell me what they put in they just like just play it like both Both Horatio and Jacob and Max are working like that. It's just like, they're telling me, but I just see whenever they update. And then I pull it, and then I play, and then I get these happy surprises. I think they like me when I'm high as a kite.

[00:31:11.273] Kent Bye: Well, it sounds like, you know, you're a QA tester, but you're also, you know, it's surprising to me that you play it every day, you know, that you still find ways of exploring and really using it as a therapy to really work out and to, you know, in some ways, I see VR as a way to cultivate the sense of presence and that the more that you can cultivate that presence in VR, the more that you can actually be present. To your life, and I know that you're obviously going through a lot of hard physical things so it in some ways could be like this pain distraction therapy in some ways

[00:31:45.847] Julie Heyde: Definitely and also I would say if I wasn't a game developer right now we're probably, because I have so much pain in my own body, I would probably be researching like pain versus VR and like how you can actually use VR as pain medication actually. I'm on steroids but it's a hormone but I'm not happy with like taking pain medication so I refused that. I was supposed to take some really heavy nerve medication but I asked the hospital, it's a sad I was not gonna do it pretty much and But actually, the main reason we started to experiment with multiplayer was that I had a very dear friend who's suffering greatly from depressions. And at one point, a while ago, we tried... I can't remember which one it was, if it was Altspace or VRChat, and he lives in the UK, and we hocked in VR, and then I started harassing him. but he laughed and I could hear him laughing and then I was just like okay I want to be able to create this experience like where I actually do that with my friends and I know I'm not necessarily a super like nice person when I harass my friends but at least I make them laugh and he kind of laughed at least for a little while and told me afterwards he felt better even though I was actually harassing him. So that's kind of I think what we've been able to sort of put into Utopia is that you can also be nice, but it very much depends on your personality, right? You can kind of choose to be who you want to be.

[00:33:08.895] Kent Bye: Yeah, this whole thing about harassing and bullying is interesting to me, because I know it's a widely discussed topic within the budget.

[00:33:16.599] Julie Heyde: And especially in social VR, right? And it was like, how can you actually safeguard yourself? And in the beginning, so we're kind of working on that you can actually only play with your friends, because then you can choose whether you want to play with your friends or you want to play with random strangers. So personally, I myself, I feel uncomfortable playing with random strangers. I need to know who they are. But then I'm like, if I know who they are, I feel super comfortable harassing them.

[00:33:37.674] Kent Bye: Well, I think the important distinction here is consent and so that you have a consensual agreement with people that you know and your friends and Going in and bullying and harassing total strangers is another thing but when you're in there with your friends and you have a bit of a collective agreement to do that then you're kind of pushing the bounds of what kind of expression of agency that you could have because I think the thing is is that On online forums like Twitter, for example, I see harassment as an expression of agency without empathy. Such that you start to turn other people's emotions into a game. And I feel like that is non-consensual. Other people playing a game, but it's without empathy.

[00:34:20.827] Julie Heyde: Yeah, it's not comfortable and it's also interesting when I see my friends getting caught up in and yeah Especially Twitter and reddit could also be very hateful but get caught up in some of these fights And I'm always like remember like these people are actually just playing you like step out of it You don't have to reply but because people they feel they like have to because this person saying like remember like they are just bad people and like you're still a good person and you don't have to be part of this and it's interesting because it's so easy to like get angry by someone who said something about you or whatnot right. It's kind of but it just feels like being in kindergarten all over again and I think like I learned in kindergarten because my dear childhood friend was bullied and I was her protector and I really learned to fight back then because I would like fight off her bullies and I was just like go away and I would be four years old and I'll be go away or I'll punch you. And that has also made me sort of, to some extent, I have a bad temper, I know that, but to some extent when it comes to stuff like internet anger and whatnot, if you kind of laugh it off a little bit, if you show that you still kind of have the upper hand, like I've had some people trying to attack me on Reddit where I'm just like, dude like chill take a chill pill like you'll be fine and like i know that life is tough on you but if you smile a little then maybe life is easier so you have that approach to people then they like suddenly back off because as i guess most internet trolls are still like people who might not be so happy with real life, or therefore it's just easier to get your questions out on the internet, right? Because it's easy, like I should say, you don't have to have empathy, like you don't, there's nothing stopping you, you can just do it and just be angry, and especially if you're not using your own name, right? And it's interesting when bringing that into a physical space, like VR is to me at least, right? Because suddenly having people really close to you, but if I know you, it's okay, but I tried like the VRChat and AllSpaceVR, interesting, but when there was someone there with us and we didn't know who it was, then it felt weird. So that's actually one of the things that we have built into our current setup with Utopia is that actually only play if you know each other. And that's also why we don't know the scope of where it's just going to be massively multiplayer or whatnot, because I kind of want people who... I want people to create their own experience in that sense. Like, we give them the tools, we give them this and so on, and it will be a goal, but It has to be for everyone, right? And you should be able to escape if it's not comfortable. And how we're going to solve that, I'm not certain yet. But I have a vision for how I want things to be, right? And then we'll just have to figure it out.

[00:36:56.428] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality, and what it might be able to enable?

[00:37:03.791] Julie Heyde: Ultimate? I'm a Viking, which means I believe in Norse and I believe in doomsday. And I think it will eventually happen and we'll probably all just be in virtual reality. So I want to be one of the first ones to make sure that we can be in a happy space in virtual reality. So that's probably where I'm at. We either have to get off this planet in a few years or we'll just all be in virtual reality. Like I hope that's not how it's gonna end out, but I fear that it is and that's why So now we're getting hashtag deep, but that's why I'm involved in utopia because as I keep telling ratio We're saying did you know we hashtag everything says hashtag utopia and he's like Julie that many people hashtag in utopia so like should we be utopia game or should we be like Utopia is something else. And I'm like, no, no, no. Because everyone will know what Utopia is in a few years. Because we're going to create the alternate universe for people to escape into when life gets too sour on Earth. So that's just my big plans. I'm scheming here. I'm in God mode.

[00:38:05.180] Kent Bye: Well, I would say that that's one potential future, and that is a little bit of a dystopian future, and that's one possibility. But I'd also say that it's possible, it's quite possible that we could go into VR and be more connected to ourselves, to each other, and to the Earth, because I feel like a lot of things that we're doing right now is not necessarily done in a sustainable fashion. And so there's a lot of decisions that are being made such that we are headed towards that doomsday trajectory. That is, you know, many different stories that you can look at from global warming to what's happening to the coral reefs to any number of things that you could trace down these dystopian futures, you know, the sci-fi and movie Hollywood experiences have really fleshed that out, but I feel like there's this vision where we could actually become more connected in a way, and that we could use VR as a tool to not just completely escape, but to, like your own experience has been, is to get some healing and then come back and have a better life and day-to-day living.

[00:39:05.612] Julie Heyde: Yeah, especially. And also, as you say, with connecting, especially now, so I don't travel as much as I used to because I got sick, which means that if I want to see my friends, I kind of have to see them in virtual reality, right? It's either a Skype call or a Facebook chat or I'll jump in the Vive and play with them. I'm like, hey, we're working on this new game. You want to hang? Want to hang? Because it feels, because you're this chubby unicorn, it kind of feels that the other person is there. And because, like, yeah, it's just, it feels real, even though I know it's fake, it feels real, which means that you feel that presence, that when you're hanging out with good friends and you haven't seen them for a long time, it's really nice to be in the same room, right? And you can actually trick your brain into like, oh, but we are, he's just a pink unicorn right now.

[00:39:47.431] Kent Bye: Awesome, well, it sounds like a good place to stop, so. Awesome, well, thank you so much.

[00:39:58.167] Julie Heyde: Thanks a lot.

[00:39:59.488] Kent Bye: So that was Julie Hyde of VR Unicorns. And she was talking about the VR experiences of selfie tennis, archery and utopia. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, so I really see that in the future, we're going to have a lot more people like Julie who are having these imaginations of like, hey, wouldn't it be amazing if I were able to actually have this type of experience. And right now the tools within virtual reality are such that they actually have to create a lot of underlying engines to be able to do these types of mechanics that they want to do in these types of experiences. And so that's actually what the VR Unicorns has been working on, is kind of like this consistent engine to be able to bring all these various different mechanics from game to game, such that if they wanted to take a feature from one game and they could bring it over into the other games. And the other thing that was really striking to me is just how Julie was using virtual reality as pain management and how she had this dialogue with her developers such that they would be sending her new builds all the time with new features that were able to surprise and delight her. And I think that's a key part of virtual reality is that you're able to have these experiences that just transcend your expectations. When I did an interview with G. Barnett back in 2016, one of the things he said, like why he thinks that physics is so compelling within virtual reality and gaming in general, is that our mind is constantly making predictions about what we expect is going to happen. And whenever you're in a virtual reality world, you're kind of playing with those expectations of doing an action and then seeing what happens and then whether or not it matches your expectations or not. If it doesn't match your expectations, then it can actually be very novel and surprising and it can just create this funny interactive moment. And I think that the thing that I also found really interesting about this interview was this process by which Julie was trying to hang out with her friends within virtual reality and to kind of troll them and just to play with them in that way. But it's in a context that's very consensual. It's not like you're going up to random strangers and messing with them. It's they're trying to create an environment where everybody that is participating in this environment agrees that they're going to just mess with each other. And I think that was what was so surprising to me when I tried Utopia was that one of the lead developers was just throwing axes in my face. And usually within the context of any other social VR experience, that would have been very trolling behavior. I thought it was some other person going through the VR experience with me that was like just messing with me and being a troll. But I didn't realize that their entire experience was kind of created to do this kind of consensual trolling with each other and how fun and satisfying it can be if you get a collective agreement and to be able to throw things at people and just have things kind of stick in their body in ways that go beyond what you can normally experience in real life. And I think that is another thing that I felt was a theme throughout this conversation was that virtual reality is able to give you this symbolic or an archetypal experience that ends up being close enough to being the real thing. Julie was talking a lot about hanging out with her friends in virtual reality and how she just felt like at a certain point she just forgot that it was being mediated by the technology and she just felt like that she was hanging out with her friends and that She found that trolling or messing with some of her friends in some of these different situations actually made their mood feel better and that they're able to come out of these various different depressions. And so I think generally virtual reality as a pain management technique is something that is kind of proven within the medical field is that it can actually have just as an impact on reducing pain by giving a visual distraction. And so our visual senses dominate so much. So if you're able to give some stimulus to your visual stimulation, that's able to actually take your focus off something that may be otherwise super painful. And so I think as we are in the midst of this opioid crisis within the United States, that virtual reality could actually provide an antidote to some of these opiate medications that are designed for reducing pain, but they can also be very addictive. So I expect that there's going to be much more ways that virtual reality is going to be specifically used for reducing pain. And finally, just a few words about the game jamming ethic of the VR Unicorns is that they came to GDC last year in 2017 and they had two booths. And usually you would have like one person in the booth at the same time, but they had anywhere from up to like four to six people in these social VR experiences all at the same time. And they're just like really pushing the edge in terms of experimenting with what types of social experiences were even possible. As I was going through all the various experiences, I was giving various different feedback and Julie was there just recording it and then feeding it back into the developers. So you have this rapid iteration where they're trying to really hone in into whatever mechanics are just really super satisfying within virtual reality. in that there is this sense of using virtual reality to be able to not only just escape the conditions of your real life, I think that, you know, in Julie's case, she's got a very real physical condition, and she's not able to do a lot of the other physical things that she used to be able to do. And so virtual reality is, in a lot of ways, allowing her to have access to all these different ranges of experiences that she just wouldn't have otherwise. But that She said just like when she would go kayaking or on her horse, she's in this state, this flow state where she's not thinking about all these other things about her life and that she sees that virtual reality is able to give her that as well, is that it's able to get her into these deep flow states of deep presence where she's not thinking about all these other things and she's just in the moment and being able to just enjoy herself either having this moment of calm or to be able to be connected with her friends. So that's all that I have for today, and I want to just thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And I'm going to be at the Game Developers Conference next week, so I'll be there trying out all the various new demos that people have, as well as hanging out at the Virtual Reality Developers Conference, the VRDC, as well as checking out all the different VR that's on the expo floor there. So if you see me roaming around, track me down and say hey, ping me on Twitter, and yeah, I'd love to catch up and see what you're working on. But, yeah, just thank you for listening to the podcast, and if you enjoyed the podcast, then be sure to just spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member to the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So, you can sign up and become a member today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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