#948: Exquisite Worldbuilding in “Gnomes & Goblins” & Design Challenges of Onboarding New Users & Satisfying Hardcore VR Gamers

The full release of Gnomes & Goblins was released on September 23, 2020, and it has some of the most sophisticated worldbuilding that I’ve seen in VR so far. Hollywood director Jon Favreau started to collaborate with Wevr’s Jake Rowell and Neville Spiteri after seeing their The Blue experience over five years ago.

Neville-SpiteriGnomes & Goblins has a 45 to 60-minute linear narrative, onboarding and prologue experience, and then a 5 to 18-hour open world exploration phase called “Goblin Life” where you can explore, craft, and collect objects within this world. The narrative portion is a great introductory experience for new and first time users, but it’s also something that the most seasoned VR enthusiasts should enjoy.

I talked with Wevr’s Rowell & Spiteri on the day of their release to discuss their design intentions as well as challenges for how to best serve the brand-new VR users (much as they did with The Blue), as well as create a satisfying VR exploration game for the hardcore VR gamers. The open-world portion of the experience doesn’t give a lot of hints or clues for what to do or how to do it, and so it actually requires either a different mindset or some patience for either figuring stuff out on your own or reaching out to community resources for clues. Some of Favreau’s most favorite gaming experiences is when he’s had to go out of game and search for answers, and so the open world portion definitely embodies this philosophy of needing to talk with other people to fully figure out some things. If you need some tips on how to explore, craft, and collect, then be sure to check out their post called “Clues for your adventure” with more some tips that I certainly found helpful.

Animal Crossing was also a huge inspiration to Favreau, and so team members like former Call of Duty developer Rowell had to figure out how to approach that type of game with the right mindset beyond what he calls his “Call of Duty” mindset that’s very goal-oriented to check all of the explicit boxes. Rowell said that they found that people without any expectations of what a VR game should be could actually get farther in the game and have a better time as they often approach it with a more chill and meditative mindset, which they wanted to emphasize as we’re all in the midst of this pandemic.

I did find that my wife was able to discover things within the experience that I had missed on my first play through, and she inspired me to go back in with a different mindset to discover even more things. After talking with Rowell and Spiteri, I went in for another 10 hours exploring around the world through their explore, craft, and collect core gameplay mechanic. I personally didn’t find the collection mechanic on it’s own to be a compelling enough reason to sustain extended play times, but my motivation instead came from wanting to more fully explore this beautiful world that they’ve created, and to start to unpack more of the narrative clues that are embedded throughout this world. I’ll actually have a follow-up conversation with my wife to talk about her experience with Gnomes & Goblins as she’s completely fallen in love with the piece, and we’ll talk more about both what she loves and what more she wants from a fantasy VR adventure experience like this.

There is a lot that is new about this experience, and it’s definitely trying to push the VR medium towards a mode of “being” rather than a mode of “doing.” It’s certainly got some things exactly right, and there are some other aspects of how to more fully onboard & guide users, or to generally help to cultivate the types of experiences that a range of people would find interesting and compelling. It’s an ambitious world with a lot of deep mythology and other stories ready to be told, and so I hope Gnomes & Goblins can find it’s audience so that they can continue to keep iterating and pushing the medium forward as they’ve done here in this experience.


Here’s the trailer for Gnomes & Goblins

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So Gnomes and Goblins has the most in-depth world building that I've seen in any VR experience up to this point. And it's also probably one of the first Hollywood-esque blockbuster type of experiences. Jon Favreau is a pretty famous Hollywood director. He's worked on Iron Man and He does Mandalorian, Lion King, Jungle Book. I mean, he's in Hollywood and he's an actor. And so he's bringing all these different aspects of world-building and the craft of the cinematic storytelling language of film. And then he's been working with Weaver and Jake Rowell and Neville Spiteri. They had early access to HTC Vive. They created The Blue, which was one of the premier demos that showed at GDC 2015. So, Jon Favreau saw the Blue experience and just got really inspired of what you could start to do with VR. And he had this idea of Gnomes and Goblins, and they went and been spending the last five years creating this epic world. And the challenging thing is that they're trying to blend all these different mediums together. So, the cinematic storytelling aspects of film, but also the open world exploration of video games. And they're kind of finding a bifurcated approach where you have a prologue and then you have this open world exploration and trying to explain to people what they need to know and leave it kind of open and for people to discover. They've had some different design issues with trying to make it clear for what you actually do when you get into this open world. And so it's something that they're trying to cultivate this very specific mode of being. But in some ways, the game mechanics that they have can sometimes be in conflict with that type of experience that they're actually trying to cultivate. So I feel like it's an amazing experience that is being somewhat misunderstood in terms of the larger community, both from how they're receiving it and how to even approach it. So in talking to the creators, I think I got a lot better idea of their intentions and the evolution and maybe sort of a state of mind and mode of being that would be helpful for approaching a game like Gnomes and Goblins because I think it's probably one of the most innovative experiences that are out there today because they are trying to do something new but because it is something new it's something that is not familiar and we don't exactly know how to relate to it yet and so Hopefully through this conversation and the follow up conversation that I have with my wife who really took to this game and actually discovered things that I wasn't able to discover on my first go around and seeing what she was able to experience actually inspired me to go in and to change my mindset for how I was approaching this experience. And so. I'll be diving into that as a follow up conversation where we kind of break apart the actual experience of it. But for here, we're just kind of getting the backstory and some of the design challenges and issues of trying to match these different audiences of the first time user, as well as like the hardcore VR gamer. Those are like the opposite ends of the spectrum. And how do you actually serve both of those audiences, which is actually what they're trying to do in Gnomes and Goblins. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Jake and Neville happened on Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:03:16.048] Jake Rowell: Jake Rowell, I'm the director and executive producer on Gnomes and Goblins. I was also the director and producer on the Blue series in VR since Blue Season 1 and then Blue Deep Rescue with Dreamscape. I've been working with Weaver and a partner at Weaver for the last five years and prior to that worked in video games, Call of Duty, Final Fantasy, worked in feature animation at DreamWorks and various places, Sony, visual effects. And I've known Neville for almost 20 years now. We met back in Hawaii at Square. So we've been a long time colleagues.

[00:03:52.027] Neville Spiteri: Hey, and I'm Neville Spiteri. I'm the co-founder and CEO at Weaver. I was also an executive producer on Gnomes and Goblins and also an executive producer on The Blue. I've been on this VR journey from the very beginning. Kent, I remember we, I think we spoke probably five years ago. I think it was around 2015, very early days. And yeah, excited to have an opportunity to speak with you again and talk about G&G.

[00:04:17.065] Kent Bye: Yeah. So I've had a chance to play the blue when it first came out and then Gnomes and Goblins was just released. So maybe you could give a bit more context as Weaver's journey into the VR space and how this specific project of Gnomes and Goblins came about.

[00:04:32.879] Jake Rowell: For me, and I think this is a two-part answer, I'll start, Nev, and hand you the baton, but for me, I started with Neville giving me a call in 2014, and I was just coming off of five years of Call of Duty, and he had one of the 3D printed vibes. in his hands. I think there's like seven of them in the world. And he put me inside it and I was kind of in my native space. After 20 plus years of working in 3D, I was in my native environment. I felt very comfortable. And he and I talked about doing something with Valve and HTC because they were announcing at that next GDC. He and I sat down, I talked about the blue whale encounter. We went off and we made that. Then we were on this journey of the blue Making that, John, through a colleague of ours, Andy Jones, brought John Favreau in. He saw the blue. He came back a few weeks later and wanted to embark on this journey of gnomes and goblins where you're the giant and you're engaging with these little beautiful creatures. And it really was at the heart of the product, an experiment in VR development. It was so new, it was so young, still is in my opinion, that you have to go into it with a kind of entrepreneurial spirit. You know, like you're going on a vessel to find a new land. And that's really what we did. I think the preview was a little vertical slice. We call it a little taster spoon of ice cream. And then I think this product here is a larger endeavor towards some of those ideas and experiments. And I think every single one of the products that we've done have led up to the learnings to this one and beyond. You know, so if you look at it for me, it's been five years and six products. So I'm real excited about that for the team and for the company. And I know that's kind of the product answer. And I think that there's also a company answer in terms of VR. So over in there.

[00:06:18.693] Neville Spiteri: Yeah, I mean, the only thing I would add was that, you know, from a studio perspective, I mean, we're an indie company and team and, you know, have had over the years the good fortune to work on, you know, sort of high quality experience that we get to put a lot of tender and love and care in. But from an evolution perspective, to get to your question, there were some early learnings with the blue in terms of that we felt fans really responded well to in an experience. elements of accessibility, making sure it's easy for people to come in and have an early introduction to the experience. And kind of taking that forward with the GNG, you know, over the years, it became clearer and clearer in the community and with the VR fan base that, you know, sort of deeper levels of agency and affordance and interactivity and kind of really leaning into more of the gameplay aspect of things became increasingly important to us. So with G&G, the evolution from the blue is that, A, we wanted to continue to have an experience in G&G that is accessible to newcomers to VR, and we hope will continue to be an example that people will show their families and friends, hey, come check this out. But also, if you choose to go deeper, there is a challenging scavenger-like collection crafting experience that you can dive deep into. So that was important for us on this experience.

[00:07:34.632] Jake Rowell: One of the links to, to bring it up is when the whale looks at you, there's a connection. And we did that with the other creatures in the blue that came out and checked you out, even if there wasn't a direct eye. And then having those little creatures all look at you with their little eyes and the goblins. It's a common link of presence in VR that it's very easy to say and very hard to do so.

[00:08:01.090] Kent Bye: Yeah, we mentioned john Fabro and I know that he's in one of the co creators and he's a co director as well. But I know there was a little video that you just released with the last couple of days that showed some charcoal drawings that he had made. And you said that he saw the blue. I know since then, over the last four or five years, there's been the Lion King, which I know that he was involved with using a lot of virtual reality in terms of virtual production. The Mandalorian is doing lots of different stuff with virtual production as well that he's been involved with. But maybe just give a little bit more context as to Jon Favreau, who he is, and how he was a part of Gnomes and Goblins here.

[00:08:38.297] Jake Rowell: Well, when John came back, he's been playing around with the gnomes and goblins idea for a while, even when he was thinking about maybe doing it as a film. He did a lot of drawings and sketches with the idea of the IP before seeing the blue and before really getting deep into what VR could be or what we could push it to become. And I think when he saw the blue, I think that IP landed with him because he was very small versus this giant whale. And he felt that presence, wow, I'm just so little, but what if you reverse it? And so that's where he went back to some of his early ideas, pulled out the charcoal sketches again and brought them in and he was showing us. And we had like two or three of them that he showed us, but even in his early pitch was more about that connection to the characters and about building relationships with them. And I think John had a strong interest in exploring that version of VR. But I think he also had a strong interest in learning about how VR can then help his, you know, like his day job, as he calls it, about filmmaking. About how do you take something that they were doing on Jungle Book, which is a lot more linked to stuff they were doing on Avatar, and how do you bring it into Lion King where you start doing things where you're actually doing virtual set. exploration and shot development. And I do think that the lessons learned with us applied over to his productions and then vice versa. The things that he was learning on those productions were coming back into what we call our garage, our little band of misfits making our indie VR product. But we were getting lessons on both sides. And I think that also applied directly to The Mandalorian and some of his virtual productions and how being here applies to the stage and how he thinks about the world and real-time development. So what I really like about working with him on that level is just his engagement in that technology. A lot of times there's not a lot of interest in that sometimes, and he has a lot of interest in pushing that, learning it. If anything, I know if he was here, he would say he wish he had more time to offer more VR development. You know, I think he learned a lot while going through this. So he's a busy guy, obviously. And so we take what we can get of his time. But it's definitely was a back and forth, back and forth, collaborative effort. He definitely was, you know, we met with him every month, we were in the headset all the time, talking. And for me personally, I think he's helped push our learnings in VR, just from a different perspective and a different perspective from the film side coming back.

[00:11:01.687] Neville Spiteri: The only thing I would add to that is that John specifically mentioned to us that in the exploration of Buddy the character, and starting with his sketch, which then Jake created into this 3D character, that some of the learnings around the eyes, the ears, the shaping, the movement of Buddy the goblin informed some of his thinking about the Baby Yoda character, the child character in The Mandalorian. And in fact, in the making of a behind-the-scenes documentary, The Gallery, which is on Disney+, in episode five, John references the fact that some of the ideas of the Baby Yoda design came from the work that he did with us.

[00:11:42.703] Jake Rowell: Yeah, we did that work in 2015, 2016. So I'm real proud of that link as a team.

[00:11:50.270] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, there is this demo that you put out. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that initial demo, which is kind of like a short proof of concept of some of these ideas that you explore more in depth with the full version of Gnomes and Goblins. But maybe you could talk about this early prototype demo and then what got put into place to eventually have the release that happened.

[00:12:10.512] Jake Rowell: Yeah, the early demo, again, to reference John and something that he would say a lot to us is he always called it the Baskin and Robbins little flavor of ice cream spoon, you know, like you go in there, you get to test out different flavors. And I think the preview was us testing out a lot of ideas. Testing out being a giant. Testing out interacting with the little character and his eye connectivity. How much are you reading from his movement being that size to your movement? The back and forth, the dance as we call it. The ear reads and that kind of ties back to being a pet owner or if you had a dog or if you had a parakeet. A lot of times you don't actually see their emotion. You project your emotion onto them. And so we spent a lot of time exploring that space on a single character and a single room scale. We didn't try to go to the rest of the forest. We didn't try to do a society of goblins. We didn't try to do the gnomes. We didn't try to do a lot of scavenger hunt mechanics or collectible mechanics. We just let it be about you and your relationship with this character to ultimately know where we were going for the full release, which was he was going to become your guide into this world, and this world is big, and we're setting up the IP almost like a franchise, where there's the Goblin Forest, but then there's the Gnome Hills that you haven't gone to yet, there's the Misty Mountains, and then there's the cliffs over here, and there's an island, and there's all these different places to go, and all that stuff we've talked about, but this very first thing was, let's see if we can make a good relationship with you and a character, and then apply that relationship to a society of goblins and apply that to a world instead of a single room scale that you can navigate and you can shrink and you can explore and then start layering in more traditional game mechanics that people can go into the world scavenger hunt, which turns into a crafty mechanic, which turns into a collectible mechanic. And I still feel like we're just getting into the water with it. So.

[00:14:02.185] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of my experiences of going through this piece was that it feels like it's almost like two separate pieces where there's like the 11 different chapters that you go through. And then there's kind of more of the open world exploration that becomes more of the game mechanics where you're scavenging and crafting and farming, building out your home. So maybe you could talk about that, because it feels like the narrative portion, that it leans more towards the constrainment of not having so much agency as to have more control over that narrative tension. You don't have a lot of options. It's pretty on rails and you're able to look around a little bit, but you get cut off pretty quickly as to what you can go explore, which eventually you open that world up for us to explore. But you have all of those narrative components really tied in and really locked down, almost like it was an interactive cinematic experience. So maybe you could talk about that balance of that structure that you chose to do that front-loaded narrative and then this more open-ended exploration at the end.

[00:15:03.262] Jake Rowell: I think that there's two parts of it that's important to describe. The first part, we call it kind of our story mode and player onboarding. And we wanted to make sure that we made a product that you could put anybody in. If you've never played any VR or you're an experienced VR player or gamer, you could come in and get passively onboarded and entertained in this world. And I think that that directly applies to John's knowledge of filmmaking and what's that line between purely narrative, purely watching it unfold like a movie versus finding that sweet spot where you still do have some agency. You are on rails a little bit, but you're getting onboarded and learning the rules of the world. And then we kind of set you free into the world to explore. And that really becomes our Disneyland mentality or our amusement park mentality. We also referenced Westworld, the TV show, which was kind of interesting, like thinking about it from the user's perspective. You come into the world and there's these very simple things that onboard people into it, but the deeper you go, the more you're kind of let go. And to figure it out on your own, we referenced Myst, we referenced some of the classic, I love Shadow of Colossus products, where you're kind of let loose in this open world and you have to ICO. is another one. And we wanted to try to have both pieces in the product and something that John talked a lot about and how can we marry the two and apply to a wide audience. And I think that's what Disneyland does a little bit. Disneyland is a guided experience if you wanted it to be, but you also can kind of open it up and run it the way you want. And the deeper you go, the more you realize there's a lot of layers to that cake. It's one of those things where Again, early days VR, not having the playbooks that the 40 years of video game development allows, you have to go into it with some experimentation. And I think that's what we tried to do here. We tried to say, hey, let's go at it with this experimentation on this side of it, our story onboarding, and then our open world goblin life, what I call, you know, explore, craft, collect portion. And ultimately, the most important thing for everybody on this call, including John, if he was here, is then we get user feedback. We get user feedback of what people like, what people respond to, what do people unpack, and then how can we as good software developers and product makers adjust the software to accommodate what people really love. And that's early days VR. We still don't know exactly what type of VR people really gravitate towards with this type of experiential product. So we want to find that information out and we want to help take the product that way.

[00:17:35.833] Neville Spiteri: The only one I would add to that is structurally, it was also a debate. Do you keep these two pieces somewhat separated sequentially? Do you try to layer them over on top of each other so that you have story beats go deeper, story beats go deeper? Or do you have a sequence of story beats and then go deeper afterwards? This was a very ongoing intentional design discussion. And we felt that there is no formula. We're still in the early days of VR. And one of the things that really resonated with us as a team is that, you know, you're setting up a world, you're setting up characters and the whole space. And if you only have one through line, then fans that fall in love with that world want to have the opportunity to go in and go deeper, right? And so we ended up with sort of this format of like taking the learnings from, you know, more story-driven VR experiences, knowing ultimately we really wanted to appeal to the core VR fan that really wants to go deeper in the world, and that's where we landed in this particular case.

[00:18:34.946] Jake Rowell: There were different cuts, too, when we were working on it, where it was more of a layered cake. And the more we realized that, and I think you always have to go back to the way we treat John, is John's the creator. You know, John's the creator of the IP, it's his IP, and where does he feel comfortable? Does he feel more comfortable in that cake being layered? Or does he like having that onboarding that then opens up too? And that was something that we were very aware of. And again, I think with where we landed, what I love about it is it's going to create a lot of user feedback for us to be able to respond. And ultimately, for the future versions of the product, go deeper in that direction, as well as update our current software.

[00:19:16.825] Kent Bye: Yeah, I asked just because I think that the narrative part was amazing in terms of having all the different interactions with the character. And there was a part of me that was like, I want to be able to explore this part. I did see the abbreviated version that was at Venice. And so I was almost kind of like sad that I had seen that just because it did feel like I would have preferred to see the whole thing without seeing a segment of it. But my experience of the last part of going into the second part was I probably spent like a half hour, 45 minutes exploring around, but then I was a little lost and confused. And then I read Ben Lang's Road to VR article, sort of detailing different stuff. And he's talked about like, that there is an inventory system. I was like, Oh, there's an inventory system. Like I didn't realize that. And then I actually had my wife play and she actually figured out way more stuff than I did around what you can do and changing your size and scale and you know, there was certain things that were kind of left really ambiguous. And I probably spent another two and a half, maybe three hours doing the open world exploration, but then was like, okay, I don't know how much more I have to go to achieve these broad goals of crafting or farming. It felt like this tension between having too much handholding as you move around or not enough in terms of, okay, where's this going? And part of it I think is typically when I would achieve something, then you have some sort of reward. And a typical word is some sort of narrative piece that you would get. That would be like an argument for that layered approach. I can see why you wouldn't necessarily want to prevent someone who's not interested in that scavenging hut within VR to be taken away from that narrative component. But it does make me wonder the deeper motivation for how much time is it going to take for me to find all these objects to be able to do the next thing, or to not even know if I already have enough objects to be able to do that thing. So it's sort of like that feeling of feeling like somewhat lost and needing a little bit more, okay, now what? Or, yeah, it seems like all those trade-offs that you're talking about here, the experience on my end was a little bit of that kind of confusion.

[00:21:22.878] Jake Rowell: You know, we talked a lot about it on our side, and one of the things that we, and I'm a gamer, right? And in games, you are given quite a bit of informational hints to tell the player. We're used to it. We're used to those type of systems. And one of the things that John brought was, what if we didn't do that for Blue Path? You know, what if we didn't have to have all of this information in the world to save to do this? And what's interesting is through our user testing is the people that don't play as many games invoke their imagination quicker and they start poking at the world because they don't play games. They're not looking for the traditional information. I know and I played, you know, hundreds of games and this is usually what the game does. at this point. People that don't play those that go into the blue path, they just start ringing the bell and shrinking and crawling and grabbing stuff. And oh, that's a recipe. And I got a book and they start going through their stuff. And it's amazing because it brings you back to kind of the imagination of youth. And that's another thing that we were experimenting on. which is, can we get people to be a younger version of themselves in this product? Can we get them back to what I remember about playing video games early on in my life, where this information wasn't given to you as freely, or you didn't understand the information that was being given to you to fully unpack it, so you had to unpack it a little bit, and you had a bunch of, oh, aha moments. And that's something that John, I think, challenged us with. Like we purposely went down that road with it. Did we find a sweet spot? You know, I think that there's ways to communicate to the player that you could add little hints and little things to the world, but at the same time, what's the balance of not letting the pendulum swing so far back the other way that you lose the immersion. You lose, because when you get caught up in it the right way, you just are in that world, living in that world. You're not trying to figure out what boxes to check or what kind of adrenaline rush to get. It's a very different type of product. And you just get caught up in living the life and seeing the responses of these characters. And the checkboxes become more of a, I've progressed. like you do in life. You don't think about these things in life. You just think about building relationships and getting yourself better as a person. And that's a line that we tried to walk. And I still think that there's a lot of lessons here. And I think that there's going to be a lot of user feedback that we're going to get on where that line is. Because from even our internal hundreds and hundreds of people testing, we've gotten a lot of positive to keep us on that road. And we've gotten somewhere like, oh, maybe there needs to be a little bit more. and I think it all comes down to where your head is. I've also noticed that when you go into the product like Blue or G&G and you're going into it a bit more not in a chill state, you tend to kind of like, okay, Okay, I get it, you know, but when you go into it to more of a meditative state that you just want to go and be immersed in another world or you're going on a hike up a mountain, it's a completely different mindset. And I find that if I can get a user to go into that mindset, they tend to accept the world and they tend to want to poke through the paper and see what's on the other side and they start asking the question. So the fact that you said your wife did that, which is exactly our user profiles that we've gotten. We've seen that so many times, but it also made us stay the course, you know? I think it's an important thing. I do think that there's some learnings though. That's my personal view.

[00:24:41.450] Neville Spiteri: Yeah, one thing which I'll add to that, Kent, is that obviously we're trying to experiment with the medium, learn, have some intentionality about our design choices, but we also need to survive as a company, as a team, and live to fight another day. In other words, we also have to figure out a way to make, create a product that fans are willing to pay for and buy, right? And so we're going to have to really gauge, like we might have to lean in more as we get more feedback into making the player communication more explicit because otherwise maybe we're losing too many traditional gamers or folks that have a certain expectation of what the product needs to deliver, which we're going to have to be open to because we also want to make sure that we're landing this with a crowd that is a tribe that's going to grow over time.

[00:25:24.777] Jake Rowell: And we have another, you know, we purposely structured this release with the version that's going to land on the PlayStation. And there's a time gap between those. And what we were hoping is that we would learn something from the user feedback, they'll apply it to the PC version update, like a point release updates, and have that be ready for the PlayStation version. So therefore we're, again, to me as a consumer, when I see that the developer listens to the consumer, I just get more wanting to support that developer. I love when I give feedback and they're actually responding to it in some capacity.

[00:25:59.588] Kent Bye: You know my experience was that once I got back to like the home area there's a bell and a little portal thing that you can get back to and I don't know if I didn't pick it up or I certainly didn't notice that I had that there and so then I spent about a half hour exploring the entire world and I couldn't figure out how to do anything but that was because I didn't know how to like shrink myself So I had stopped. But then my wife, who's not a gamer, and just fell in love with the world and really loved it. And she took that more meditative, chill approach, which was she was just kind of experimenting around. And she discovered so many things that I hadn't even discovered. And after she had spent like five or six hours in there, and she got so much further than I did, I was like, okay, I have to go back in. Last night, I had an opportunity to spend a few more hours exploring around a little bit more. But I do think that there is that, you know, you want to achieve the goal and do the mission and solve the puzzle, do the game versus this other aspect, which is more of this meditative state of being where you're really present to the world and paying attention and maybe trying to create a connection with the characters, even though it's very limited in terms of What the AI of those characters are, but sometimes you get like little surprises of what kind of interactions, you can see. So there's like that. But there's also just being present to the world and being immersed in it. and just really savoring being able to go around and see these different places. And there is the conceit of gathering these recipes and whatnot that is a driver for exploration, because you're saying, hey, there's these places that are being unlocked. So I'm sure when I did my first one half hour look around, I tried to get to everything I could, and not realizing that as time goes on, there's areas that get unlocked, and then there's places I couldn't go, but I could go to later. So I think there's things that are built in there that if you have the patience to do that, I guess, not knowing that offhand and not knowing what to do and not figuring out a core mechanic like how to shrink myself was that frustration. But I imagine that this might be the type of experience where you have other people that have an amazing experience, and they tell their friends, oh, well, maybe you didn't give it enough chance, or maybe you need to figure out how to do this. So yeah, at least I found that for myself, where I was somewhat impatient with it at first. But then when I went back with a little bit more patience and a different mindset, then I had a different experience of it.

[00:28:18.504] Jake Rowell: I think this year, COVID and what's happened influenced us to stay in that patient meditative space. Like we have to bring a product to the world that's good for the world today, that helps kind of reinforce a world to go to and be in and be comfortable and be safe, be in a safe environment. And I think that because of our interactions this year as a team, and just talking collectively, we made that choice to stay on that path. And it really is a completely, even as me, as a developer, there's days where I'm running around and I'm jumping, jumping, jumping through hoops, and I have to stop myself and put myself in that mindset of what this product is. Because if I go into it from my call of duty mind, as I like to call it, it's not a product that I can easily direct, let alone sit down and enjoy with a group of people to make. It really is a different mindset. And I still think that there's little tweaks that we can do. I think there's little things that we can do where we engage you to get into that meditative space. That's really what the onboarding was meant to do a little bit. And how do you then maybe not be so much of a switch from the story onboarding to the open world? Maybe there's a little bit of a transition period there that engages the user to continue that meditative space. But again, lessons learned. But I do know that COVID in the year that we are in 2020 influenced that a lot.

[00:29:49.632] Kent Bye: Yeah, and just curious, what's the projected average run times if people were to want to complete all the different things? How long would it take someone to run through both the narrative and the larger scavenger hunt and collection?

[00:30:03.884] Jake Rowell: I can share our internal team development and QA process. We have a cool collectible, like the final collectible in the product. It means you collected every single thing and you got the final collectible. It's like this trophy. Internally on the team, if you do everything right and you don't miss a beat, it's taken us a little over four hours to do. And that's if you just hit. You know where everything is, you know exactly how to do it, and you just don't miss a beat. That's the fastest I've seen anybody on the team do it. me personally based on knowing where everything is and knowing it takes that long you could easily double or triple it if you're not you know and it gets harder the deeper you go into the world to find the various things to unpack this or get that trophy another thing that we reference to just touch on this is that If you look at your player treehouse, your player treehouse is full of a bunch of collectibles. And those collectibles are really trinkets of your journey into the world. They're little trinkets of the things that you see and you do with these characters. And we reference that back to traveling. VR reminds me a lot of taking trips to places. I think of VR products that I've played more like memories on trips that I've done. So whenever you go on a trip, you always want to trinket. You always want to know that I've been to the Eiffel Tower. I've been to the White Cliffs of Dover. I love the White Cliffs of Dover. And so there's these little things. So what we try to do in this world is we try to give you those trophies. And so to go through all of those, and again, with no missing the checkboxes, it's hours, workhorse hours.

[00:31:29.446] Neville Spiteri: One thing I'll add too, and the initial experience, the story mode is typically somewhere between 45, 50 up to an hour, 50. An hour and a half, yeah. An hour and a half. But because it is more of a guided experience, there's less variance there from play session to play session. It kind of tends to average pretty consistently around an hour. And that was also factored in a little bit to our thinking in terms of providing value ultimately to it. a fan or a player or anyone who wants to basically pay for this product, that there's a few hours of gameplay that you can come away feeling like, wow, that was really money well spent and time well spent.

[00:32:04.277] Jake Rowell: and you can share it with people. That's another part of the product that we wanted to do. Like in your gameplay session, you can save different sessions, but once you reach Goblin Life, you can go back and replay any bit. So if you ever wanted to share that with somebody that comes in, oh, you have to see this moment, you have to be on the paddle board, or you have to save buddy, you know, you could share that with somebody without them having to engage in the entire timeline of it all. that's something we learned from the blue, that these little snippets of great VR, early submersive VR, is very palpable and people like jumping into it, just having that 5, 15, 20 minute moment. So back to Neville, it's like, I think it's like an hour average for the story onboarding part and player onboarding, and there's about three hours plus of what we call our open world.

[00:32:52.659] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the things that I experienced was that during the initial onboarding, we're learning a lot of basic mechanics, Because it is so on rails, there were certain parts that I didn't necessarily get the first time around. Like, say, the hint fairy is a good example, where I didn't really ever use the hint fairy for anything because it was like I didn't need those hints. But it turns out that the hint fairy is actually almost crucial to really making your life a lot easier, at least. Because the hint fairy in the second part, when you're in your home, you can see all the objects that you don't have yet that gives you the sense of what you're actually looking for. That was something that I wasn't clear the first time when I just went through. And then when you're out and about, you can use the hint fairy to see anything that you can actually interact with. Except for when you're small, you can't use the hint fairy. So you have to like sometimes go around and start spamming everything because the baked lighting is so similar to the existing lighting. Most VR games in the past have been very obvious what you can and cannot interact with, but in this game, it's not obvious at all, which has this other side effect of kind of spamming every object to see if you can interact with it, which is another type of behavior that, you know, if you're big and you can, like, use the hint fairy, you can see that, but if not, then you end up kind of having that spamming behavior. So anyway, that was just some of my own experience of like how crucial that hint fairy was and the degree to which you can allow people the freedom to use it or not use it. But if you don't use it and you don't know what you're doing, you can get pretty lost without that hint fairy.

[00:34:22.668] Jake Rowell: In the story mode portion, the hint fairy does present itself to you after a certain amount of time. Most players, especially people that are avid VR players or gamers, never touch that hint fairy. And we've seen that just your playthrough same way. It doesn't even touch it during story mode. But the players that are not used to necessarily, they need it. They're like, okay, do I follow you? I'm going to grab it. I'm going to shake it. There's a little trail. It pops up and says, yeah, go follow buddy. Shows you where buddy is. It'll show you your little objective markers. It will let you know what the objectives are so you can help bring the player in. And usually what we found in our play test too, after you really two sessions with the hit fairy, you're kind of on your path. You kind of figure it out and you're like, okay, I kind of got the basic gist of this and they don't need it anymore, but it's a comfort to have it. And we talked a lot about that during development, that having that comfort And the people that use it more, actually use it more in blue. The ones that don't really use it in green, they kind of forget about it for a second. They have to rediscover that they have this thing and they have this map. They have this world that kind of tells you where things are a little bit and where to go. And yeah, when we were doing the world, most products that I've been a part of, even when you bake the lighting versus the interactive object, they're very different. And therefore, you get used to that information. Oh, that's something I can interact with. But we purposely wanted to not let that immersion break happen. And the byproduct of that is that you've got to go into a discovery mode. You have to go into kind of like, guess what? You're small. You're in goblin scale. You've got to unpack the world at another level. But most people that figure this out, they figure out that they can also use the bell when they're big to see all the things that they can interact with. You can poke your head in the trees, ring the bell, and you'll see your goods. A lot of little things that people find. And that's something that John talked about, to reference John back. As a gamer, he talked about how some of the favorite parts of gaming was things that he didn't know, that he had to go and find out through, you know, back then, different means. Now you can just go online and find it. But he loves the idea of people talking about it and unpacking it in Reddit communities and saying, hey, how did you get this? How did you get that one collectible? oh, I did this, this, this, and this. And the people love that. And he's a big fan of that as well, which I think also influenced some of our decision making, obviously.

[00:36:38.763] Kent Bye: Yeah, having early access to it without those external resources, then you can get stuck. And if you get stuck, you get stuck. So I think that as people have that discourse, because I actually do think it is a very compelling world. And I think that it's going to hit a very specific audience, especially people who really like to get transported into these fantasy worlds, and especially kids. So I don't know if it's explicitly trying to target a certain kid demographic. I know VR and kids under 13 can be a little questionable in terms of, you know, how long you can spend in there and whatnot. And there's debates around that. But, you know, is this something that you were making for the hardcore gamer, VR gamer, for the non-gamer, for people who are kids?

[00:37:19.772] Jake Rowell: I would say we aimed for pretty much everybody. That's what our goal was, much like Disneyland tries to do. There's something there for everyone. I will say for the, whether you're a gamer, you know, a hardcore gamer is hard because hardcore gamer has certain expectations, right? Just like the person that's never touched VR is hard. The two extremes are always difficult. But we were trying to look at those two different extremes and say, how do we make a product that can engage someone who's never touched VR in their life and they walk away with this happy moment and they become a younger version of themselves? How do we find the hardcore gamer that's used to certain checkboxes and they can kind of let go of some of those things and be engaged into a world and go through that kind of a transition? And it's a challenge, but that was something that John wanted from the beginning. It's what we wanted from the beginning. And To me, I think, again, it goes back to that mindset. If you can go into it a certain way, you have a certain experience. I'll give you an example for me personally as a gamer. John was a big fan of Animal Crossing, and I have never played Animal Crossing before working on Gnomes and Goblins. I picked up Animal Crossing and it was just not for me. I just was like, I don't understand this thing. It's complicated in weird ways and it's not, but my brain was wrong. You know, like I had to figure out like, okay, I need to change the way I'm thinking about interacting with this product. And I needed to, cause I needed to understand the reference from John to our product. And so once I understood the core mechanic and I kind of changed my thinking on it, Animal Crossing became extremely enjoyable. Like I found I went from absolutely not being a fan of that product to being a huge fan of that product just simply for going through the journey of self-discovery and allowing myself to be a different type of interactive software user. And that's something that we talked a lot about on this project is to encourage that level of growth from both sides to see if we can. The middle user is always easier. It's always the extreme sides that are harder. But if we can make a product that engages you that way enough, and I believe that the more time you spend in Gnomes and Goblins, the more you get pulled towards that gravity well. And that's how I feel about it with Animal Crossing as well. I don't know, Nav, if you feel the same.

[00:39:30.144] Neville Spiteri: Yeah, I would add a couple of things. I mean, this was super challenging, right? It's like to your point of finding your audience. And we do have to appeal. The VR audience is already small. So you start to segment that up and you end up with a pretty small tribe to entertain. We felt like, OK, we have to create something that's appealing to the core gamer, but we're not going to give you a gun and go shoot things. I mean, there are many ways, but the classic reference is like, OK, the sort of the first person shooter is the sort of the stereotypical sort of core gaming, right? Here we started out with the vision being these very cute, young little goblins in this fantasy forest that by its very nature skews young, right? And so, okay, we want a core game that's appealing to the core gamer. We also have our working with sort of our canvas, which is inherently young-ish. And then we have this age factor that we have to address that, you know, VR for kids less than 13, you have to really think about that. So, ultimately, I would say it was a very difficult challenge to begin with. And we were inspired, as Jake said, by kind of, you know, Walt Disney's quote is a famous one that, you know, you want to sort of appeal to the child in all of us as opposed to children. That's right. And that was a core inspiration for what we're trying to do here.

[00:40:47.872] Jake Rowell: We talked about Journey. Journey kind of does that. Ico does that for sure. I'm a big fan of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Different types of products, but they do appeal to a younger version of yourself. I think Disneyland does that. I think classic Disney does that. I think a lot of John's views of filmmaking tries to fit into the same bucket. I think Zathura, Lion King, Jungle Book, even Iron Man, the way he handled that property was a really interesting mix of you get the young audience, you get the older audience, you get the hardcore comic book audience. Like me, I'm a hardcore comic book guy. But yet you could get people that's never even read any of the Iron Man books and have a good time. And it's very difficult to do, but I think well worth the discovery. And when you're trying to make an IP from nothing, this is your first kind of rev of that IP, you know, again, I go back to the learnings. Like we have a good intent, but how can we then learn from the feedback we're getting?

[00:41:48.571] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm wondering if you could expand a bit on the interactions with the goblin characters with the main protagonists that you going through this experience, because that seems to be a key component of you being able to have these different interactions. There are certain pre-stock behaviors, like if you do something and you trigger some animation and reaction, and that if you wait for long enough, then you might have to have like the idling animations and then sometimes So you have like these different ways in which that you're kind of almost building trust and rapport with the character that's gated in some ways, like conditionally, like if you have to either do specific actions or wait long enough. But maybe talk about that in terms of the character design and the AI, animating it and trying to figure out how do you cultivate relationships with these goblin characters, with you, the audience member, and all the things you had to do to negotiate this direct relationship with the characters.

[00:42:41.945] Jake Rowell: One of the hardest things, I think, in VR, in anything is AI interaction, but I think with VR in particular, I think it's going to be the area with some of the most growth over the next X number of years. Essentially, what you're trying to do is have a character have a decision tree, a basic decision tree. In our case, it's not very complicated on paper, but it's extremely complicated in interaction. And you're reading the player's movement, you're reading the player's sight lines, you're reading the player's hands, what they're doing, what they're grabbing, and you're trying to give a response mechanism back to the player or the user that gives indications of happiness or sadness. And we talk about the pendulum swing. We kind of have a curious state for the goblins that they're constantly curious and they always want to become your friend and they want to befriend you. But then the things you do, you can swing them towards happy and very happy. You can swing them towards sad and maybe even angry at times, but the angry and sad, they're always pendulum swinging back to this curious creature that is essentially a mirror for you. to almost project your own personal emotional state in it. So if you're going through that product and you're angry that day, you're going to do things and you're going to see those goblins and you think they're angry, but they're not. But the way they're responding to your actions, you create this mirror. And that's something that we spent a lot of time on. And then over the course of Buddy being your main connection, the main goblin, but then the society, you have citizenship. And so the things that you're doing in this world also apply to kind of a citizenship growth that happens naturally over time. We talked about this with Animal Crossing as well, where they start building things for you. They start doing things for you. What are you doing other than just spending time with them? But really, isn't that friendship? Like if you and I started spending more time around one another, we would just build natural links to one another and you start doing stuff for each other. Even if it's something as simple as, hey, I found this book and, you know, I saw that book on your shelf and you should pick up this book. You know, little things which is based on citizenship, based on connectivity. And human connection, again, in today's world is an important one. And that's something that we really wanted you to feel. You wanted to feel that the longer you spent in this world, the more these characters are going to come back to you. But that AI line is a difficult one. And I feel like we're just honestly scratching the surface of what's possible with it. And for me, I look forward to the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years of development in this space with something like AI and the early learnings of what we've gathered through these basic little emotional states. And I do reference it back to our young childhood in some ways that sometimes when you interact with people when you're younger, it really is that pure. It's not complicated. When you interact with pets, it's really not that complicated and dogs. And then how can you then start layering in the emotional states to go deeper? So it was definitely a five-year journey on that. And I still feel like we're just scratching it. We're just touching it, but you do feel it. in the product? Do you do feel some of those character connection moments and those aha moments where you do something and you see the character like perk up his ears? Is that responding to your actions? Yes, but you catching that moment and then projecting your own personal happiness of seeing that moment makes it that much more delightful.

[00:46:02.753] Kent Bye: Yeah and the world building in this experience I think is also some of the most sophisticated world building that I've seen just in terms of cultivating an entire culture of this group, both with cultural artifacts, their art, their music that they're singing, their language. I mean, you have so many different levels that this feels like one of the most in-depth worlds that I've been in in terms of that world building. So I'm just curious if you could expand a little bit on that world building process of like how you cultivate this sense of being in a place, but that place having some actual like rituals and traditions and heroes and all that stuff that you're kind of tapping into this deeper culture of the goblins.

[00:46:46.832] Jake Rowell: For me, my background is production design and art direction. So that's something that I've spent most of my career doing. It hasn't been until the last 10 years or so that I started doing cinematic directing and directing in VR. So my background really is world building. And if you've come up through feature animation, like I did, and learned through the Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar model, you realize that that world building is everything about culture. You have to build every single thing from shape language, And it all goes back to early drawings with John and early developments with John that we apply to the whole world. And then once you start getting that structure in place, you start realizing that these characters have jobs within their areas. Like there's a job for the builders and there's a space for them. There's a job for the farmers and there's a space for them. There's a job for the brewers and there's a space for them. There's tinkerers and they have a job. And once you start unpacking those jobs in their personal homes, you start adding little stories to them. And you start applying those stories, which become rituals. And those rituals become historical. And the historical nature of it, you don't need to know it just like any really good history book. If you go someplace and you don't understand some of the symbols you're seeing, it doesn't matter as long as you can feel that there's culture there, that there was some type of a reason for what they did. There's these little runes out in the world. There's this bridge. It's there. You don't know why. It's good because it shows that there's a lot more story going on that you as the person in that world hasn't unpacked yet. They know it. They've lived it. It's their culture. But I think this goes back to great stories of the past. I think you see this in Star Wars with the various characters that you see in Star Wars being introduced to you. You don't need to know the whole story, but you see that there's a reason behind that. I think about the Ewoks a lot for this reference. And it's something that we spent a lot of time talking about with John, is understanding that hero's journey and understanding that's a personal one, but also understanding the world that we get put into. If we can put little clues and little hints that there's a lot more depth here, a lot more culture going on with these goblins, the player will start to fill in the gaps. They'll start making up their own stories. of what they think it is, just like we do in real life. And that's something we've spent, I can tell you, countless, countless hours on. And a lot of enjoyment, too. A lot of enjoyment to try to figure out, like, how did the goblins figure out how to make gears, you know? Where did they learn that? Where do they learn how to, in this case, make little lanterns that float in the air? There's a spiritual nature at the core of every one of these decisions. I think the product has a spiritual core. The goblins have a spiritual core. The other part of this product that you guys aren't seeing is we know what's over the hill. We know it's over in the Gnome Hills as developers. We haven't made it yet. But there's a whole subculture over there. And how are those two subcultures mixed and why? All of that has been put in the, I think, early production design. One that I'm very proud of as a teen, and I think John is as well. I'll share one little anecdotal story when we were working on the irrigation systems of the forest. You know, how the water works around the forest. John called me. He was coming back from a trip in Hawaii. And there was this whole story in Hawaii about the people that, these little creatures that built the irrigation systems in the Hawaiian culture. And he was sharing this little story that, and he's like, it's so much like what we're doing. And all you have is these little teeny hints. but it's enough to make a little sub story and people start filling in the gaps. And that was a great little moment for us to apply to our goblins. So I could talk about this for hours. I won't, but.

[00:50:27.847] Neville Spiteri: The one thing which I'll add to that is that it took some time to get this product out and a big internal debate is like, Oh, a lot of players aren't going to care about this. They're just going to blaze right through the world and not care. They're just going to want to go from one thing to the next. Why are we, But why are we doing this? And why are we taking the time? Because ultimately, I think it will come across. And with enough space, it will translate to the player. And as this unfolds more and we do more, all of these interconnections will become apparent. And it will pay off. But it's not an obvious upfront, you know, the ROI isn't clear when you're going into this. You have to think a bit long term. But you do feel it.

[00:51:04.835] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah, I definitely felt it. One quick question before I sort of start to wrap up here is, There is this conceit that I'm going into these goblin tomes and I'm basically stealing and taking their objects. Is that built into the culture or what's the conceit there that you've thought about? Why is it okay for me to just go around and just take all these objects?

[00:51:24.945] Jake Rowell: That's a good question. We look at it as And it's an interesting point of view because we don't want it to be so explicit that there's only one answer. We purposely tried to give it where it's a mirror. Are you here for the first time and they've never seen anybody like you before, but yet they're responding to you? Well, you go down to the cave and there's a figure down there. Was there someone in here before you that maybe kicked this whole thing off? Are these things there for you in human artifacts, like bells and magic eyes and buckets, that were there for you, that you unpack, and therefore these things are actually open for you to engage in the world? Or are they making them for you, to let you engage in the world? I think it becomes, again, just like any good spiritual question, it's inside. Are you the first person doing this? Or are you following somebody that's done it before and you're picking up where they left off? That's a very personal question. And we tried to find that sweet spot where you answer. Like for me, my answer when I have played it a thousand times is that there was somebody there before me, just like in real life. Let's kick this whole thing off. and that I'm there and they're familiar with me. Do they think that I'm that person coming back? I don't know. Do they think that I'm there to help them? Definitely. And therefore these artifacts and these little things that I get to pluck out of the world is there for me to help them. And that's how I engage it. But I've had other people on the team and outside the team see it from the other perspective that they're first one there and the goblins are putting these things out in the world for them to discover. So it's very personal.

[00:53:04.782] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just say that there's a risk there of kind of like reinforcing a colonial narrative of just going in and being able to kind of seize what you want. Versus, you know, there's no consent explicit consent in the absence of that consent, then it could potentially be reinforcing these colonial narratives.

[00:53:21.156] Jake Rowell: We, we, we talked about that quite a bit and our internal dialogue on that was if you're collecting recipes and you're helping them in their world, and then they're building things for you like your player treehouse, it become a relationship. You know, it becomes an okay relationship because you're doing for them, they're doing for you. And without them doing things for you, then it becomes a potential thing that you're saying, but we kept going back to, but they're doing things back for me. And so, it becomes a reciprocal relationship. And so, therefore, we were willing to kind of walk that line because of that.

[00:53:59.978] Kent Bye: Okay. I haven't done anything for them yet. So, maybe that's part of the reason. And finally, just to kind of wrap things here, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling and what it might be able to enable?

[00:54:16.740] Jake Rowell: Let me ask you this. Subconsciously, you save their farm by putting the fire out. You save Buddy from being taken from the gnomes. You brought him back to his civilization. You then engaged out into the world. And even if you're just walking around and you're watching them, you've done a lot for them before you've even walked into that world more than you probably are aware of. And that's what's interesting about it. So going back to your question for this, what do I see is we've always called this a very deep well of learning. And if you go back to the whale encounter and the eye looking at you and very basic AI fish that's kind of fight or flight mentality and you apply that to a goblin that you're building a relationship with and you could really feel like there's a bond there. You miss him sometimes when you haven't seen him or you're happy to see him again and you apply that to a society and you start realizing that you can do these things to help this group of society and they're doing things back for you. it reinforces what I think is a very deep well of learning of VR that is around creating immersive memories. And you walk away feeling like you went to this land, you engage with these creatures, they've engaged with you. And whether you take that lesson and apply it to a whole different IP, I think that there's something fundamental about that for VR that only VR delivers right now. You know, movies are very powerful from watching outside. Video games are very powerful to say you played them. VR is something that you do. It's like a memory. And I think the more we can continue to have an entrepreneurial spirit of exploration and not being worried about failing, to try new things, to see what kind of user feedback we get in this new space, the more we're going to learn from and the more better product makers we're going to be and better ultimately world builders we're going to be. And we're going to give people things that they could never possibly imagine three, four, five years earlier. And the only way you get there is to go into it with this. I have an idea or a group of people have an idea, we're going to try it and we're going to see what we get back. And we're going to see what kind of positives and negatives and that's life. And I, for me personally, I get very excited about thinking about the next, you know, 20 years, if I have 20 years left in me of making stuff, I think I hope I do, about that journey. Because it's so fundamental to human interaction. And it's all the things that I love about life. So, how do you take all of that and keep learning from it and applying it to an interactive, immersive experience where you allow agency and discovery and where is that line? So, I think when you look back on certain things, like I just mentioned to you, you've actually done a lot for them. and therefore they're thankful. And it doesn't take a lot to do things for people, for people to be thankful and remember. I always think it's the little things. It's the little things of, little acts of love, you know, that people remember. That's what this product's about. So that's my answer. I don't know, Nav, if you have a different one, but.

[00:57:20.495] Neville Spiteri: Well, I mean, I don't know if you were asking about VR more broadly than just the project, like what is VR and where is it going? But one thing which I will add, which is along these lines, in the spirit of this product, You know, I think VR is really kind of the medium that is showing us like we can really be in the worlds that we're making. And in that respect, if you take that, if you consider things like mirror world and you consider all of these influences and the world is clearly tilting more virtual. and humans are spending more and more time engaged in digital spaces, it becomes increasingly an important medium for us to understand how to think through these affordances and interactions because it's going to be how more and more people will interact in the future.

[00:58:03.739] Jake Rowell: Digital avatars it's another area for me because you're talking about the future and never and I've spent a lot of time talking about this as well Did you get a chance to do deep rescue at all the blue deep rescue at dreamscape? No, no, I haven't we did full-body avatars in VR And so what's weird about the way we did it is that I can tell nevel versus me based on our body posture And we're just two divers, but you can take that simple learning and apply that to your avatar in a world. Like, what do you look like? What represents you? What, what are the different things that you want to apply to yourself, to community? And that's early days, but I find that to be extremely exciting as well for horizon line, taking some of those learnings I was saying earlier, but apply it to a digital avatar.

[00:58:50.099] Kent Bye: Great. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader Immersive community?

[00:58:55.461] Jake Rowell: You know, just thanks for all the support over the last five years of VR development for Weaver in general. I think from Blue, Season 1, G&G Preview, Blue Deep Rescue, some of the other products that Weaver's been a part of in the VR space and their experimentation, now G&G 2.0. Thank you to the entire community and buyers and users of VR, because it's going to take that kind of a spirit to try products and kind of be open-minded. I think in the end, I hope people walk away from their experience with all of those products, but especially G&G 2.0, and they can see the entrepreneurial experiential experiment that we wanted to try to do in the space to try to push it forward through learning. And not all those learnings are home runs. Some of those learnings are actually things that we can take back from the users and say, wow, we really love this part. Can you apply this part? And keep pushing the bar forward. And that's something that I have always a couple of things as a developer that I want people to be on the development side, but also on the user side. On the development side, I want people to be very proud that their name's attached to the product. In the end, at the one year or five years that they spend on it, they're proud that their name's on it. On the other side, I want people to kind of walk away and go, you know, that group of people helped move it forward a little bit. You know, there's learnings here as other developers look at our products, we can take the stuff that they've done, and we're going to push it forward. And then we get to learn from them, we get to push it forward. And I think that that's something that's been going on for a long time in film and games. And I hope that this product helped push that a little bit forward for other developers and users. So.

[01:00:36.023] Neville Spiteri: to that end, please check out GNG and if you love it, tell your friends and we'll commit that we'll listen and we'll keep moving it forward.

[01:00:46.947] Kent Bye: I really enjoyed my time in Gnomes and Goblins and I think that I did feel this enchanted sense of wonder and exploration. And I think there's also just a whole lot of innovations, especially when it comes to a lot of the interactions with the characters and how do you start to build these different connections if there's kind of like add on to that in terms of that you know exchange and if this is kind of a gifting economy then what is the dance of consent that comes from a character and at this point I don't think that's necessarily clear that there's a dance of consent that's happening and so like what would that look like to have those different interactions of like a back and forth exchange of Is this okay type of thing. So that's a design challenge. I think we're you're already kind of like iterating and building forward like what's it mean to have like AI characters. This is like at the stage of having AI pets. When AI was first developed, you have these virtual pets that you have. So we're still at the virtual pet phase of AI. We're not at full-fledged artificial general intelligence that you can have actual conversations with these virtual beings quite yet, but it's on the road path there. And I think what you're doing here at Gnomes and Goblins is that it's one incremental step towards this much larger vision. And taking all these lessons from the theme park and experiential design and, you know, world building, you know, just a lot of advancement of just even cinematic storytelling embedded in here as well. So I highly recommend it for people to check it out. And yeah, just thanks for your time today for sitting down and helping to unpack it a little bit more. So thank you. Oh, thank you. Thank you very much. That was good. So that was Jake Rall. He's a director and executive producer of Gnomes and Goblins and also producer on The Blue and been at Weaver for five years, as well as Neville Spiteri. He's the co-founder and CEO of Weaver and executive producer on Gnomes and Goblins. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, first off, this is probably one of the most in-depth world building that I've seen in any VR experience. And it's just an amazing world to be in. My wife and I have been talking about this experience pretty nonstop for the last five days. And I'll give you a bit of a taste of that conversation that we've been having and some of what she loves about it and what some of the issues she has with the basic narrative conceit of the collection mechanic. And so we're diving into that in the next conversation, but. Gnomes and Goblins is trying stuff that is new in terms of how do you blend together the cinematic storytelling of film with the different aspects of open world exploration and gaming, but also like what's cool and interesting to do in VR. And the challenging thing is that they've been able to successfully create a one hour experience that could help onboard people on to seeing VR for the very first time. And the blue that they created also did that. It really explored scale in a very specific way. In the blue, you were small, and the whale was huge. And when John Favreau saw that, he's like, what if you inverse it? What if you're big, and what if all the creatures in this world are small? Because VR does give you that sense of scale. So they're exploring that in a very specific way. And to be able to change scale within this world is also really amazing, to be able to go from being big to being small, and to be able to get a new perspective on this world that they've created. There's a whole open world exploration and my experience as I went through it is I completely missed it. In part because one of the things they said is that the new users as they go through that first onboarding experience, they end up having to use the hint fairy a lot more just to be able to get through that narrative part. But for anybody who is a seasoned gamer won't need that hint fairy to know what to do. They'll just kind of figure it out just because the mechanics are a lot more intuitive to them. But If you don't realize that you can take the bell and put it in your inventory belt at the very beginning, as well as the portal, then you may miss of how to even turn small throughout this open world exploration. If you don't know how to do that, then you're basically locked out from being able to figure out so much of how to interact with this open world. Now, when you get into the open world exploration, this is where it's actually pushing the traditional hardcore VR gamer to expand their language of how to actually interact with a world like this. There's this fundamental tension that comes up with the doing mindset versus the being mindset and how to really cultivate that type of being mindset within the experience. Because this was a COVID inspired experience where they really wanted to focus on that being rather than doing. This dialectic between having like a very specific goal oriented mind that when you go in there, you want to achieve the thing and check off all the boxes. I think that's the mindset that a lot of hardcore VR gamers can default into. And so when they approach a game like this, I think there's a bit of a temperamental mismatch for the mode of being that they really need to be in, which is much more meditative, chill, and just exploring and serendipitously discovering things. And that's the approach that my wife has been able to take. And what was interesting is that she was able to objectively figure out more stuff about the experience and have more patience with it than I was, because she was just relating to it in a completely different way. And so I'm going to be diving into a conversation that I had with her to kind of explore those different aspects of that different mode of being. And Jake Rowell calls it his call of duty mindset. You go in there with that first person shooter and that really like young, expressive, you know, you're going to go conquer and achieve the goal. And this is not an experience where you're conquering or achieving those goals. It's more about you being present and immersed within this world and kind of exploring around and then seeing what you discover. And so rather than making it an explicit scavenger hunt, the scavenger hunt, just to explain, when you're in your treehouse and you ring your hint fairy, you can see a ghost of the objects that you can go out and collect. and so when you get stuck you can go back to your treehouse and like ring your bell and see if there's other objects that you may go try to figure out where either to find that object or to be this cue as you're exploring around this world this pattern recognition to see like there's something that you could potentially interact with to be able to unlock an object that you can collect. And so there's this fundamental mechanic of explore, craft, and collect. And so the explorer is being catalyzed by the scavenger hunt. So there's a scavenger hunt, the puzzle that you're trying to solve, the spatial puzzle of seeing what the object is. You're exploring around and locomoting around the world trying to find these objects. And hopefully at that point, it doesn't become just about finding that object but you're open enough to see is there something interesting and different that's going on in this moment and you're able to kind of recognize those things where okay this is different and there may be something that you can interact with. You can use the hint fairy at any moment and you like ring the hint fairy and you can see that there are different objects that you could potentially interact with and so you can go around just spamming the hint fairy all the different places to try to figure it out but sometimes There's things that you can only interact with when you're small and it doesn't always catch the things that you can interact with and do. And so sometimes you actually have to get small and really just kind of be present and explore the world in different ways there as well. And then eventually there's the crafting mechanic, which, you know, by the time I did this interview, I wasn't able to figure it out. I was able to figure it out. And then the result of that crafting mechanic becomes more of a collecting of an item in your treehouse rather than building some sort of relational dynamic within the world. And I think that's probably one of the biggest critiques that I have in terms of, you know, focusing on the objects rather than focusing on becoming a part of this world and feeling a part of the community and a part of the rituals, feeling like you're able to create something that's being dynamically received in the moment and feeling that you really have that reciprocal relationship building aspect. And I think being able to go in and have these different interactions and you end up with a collectible, for me, that's not enough a motivating factor to be able to go in and find every single collectible, because I'm not as interested in finding the objects. I'm more interested in having these novel unique experiences and relationship to not only the world, but also to these beings that are in this world. And this is something that my wife and I will dive into a little bit more in our discussion about it as well, because there's different issues in terms of like how to make it a little bit more clear, more explicit. And there's this tension between wanting to have people have that feeling of being able to discover. And then as soon as you make all these different hints, then it can sort of ruin that process of discovery. But then at the same time, it's so arcane that it's difficult to even feel like you're having progress at all or you feel lost or confused. That's also an issue. And so how can you give a little bit of a lifeline to folks? some of the VR experiences that are out there, puzzle games, they have like a little question mark that you can boil down and it gives you a little hint or a clue and stuff like that where you could have an additional layer of like a hint fairy that maybe gives another meta hint that shows you where to go on the map as an example, you know, but that's sort of like a whole other design issue for how to actually do that and user testing. And if it's a point release of trying to fix it, then I think there may be deeper structural issues with the existing infrastructure that they have to be able to make it more clear. I don't know if there's like a layer of user interface that's going to make that easier because it may actually make it easier to collect the objects, but it may also be getting away from the deeper intention of really just being in this world rather than trying to do explicit things. But you want to create the things that you can do to be able to inform people of what they can potentially experience. So it's a little bit of a chicken and egg problem where those two goals can be in contradiction to each other, the doing and the being aspect. But I think it's part of the tension that makes it interesting. And I think they're exploring it in a very unique way. And it's definitely worth experiencing to see like how your own experience of that plays out and what you would do to potentially be an experiential design fix to be able to make it a little bit more clear for a broad range of users, given the target audience that they're going for, which I think is another potential issue here of having the polar extremes of like the new beginner who's never done VR before, as well as like the hardcore gamer who has a lot of very specific things that they want to experience within a VR experience. given what they expect within what they know VR to be. And I think they find that people who don't have any of those expectations actually have a more immersive, better experience because they're just engaging with things as they go along without having all these preconceived notions of what this type of experience should be. And sort of having that mismatch between what it should be and what it actually is, is something that they kind of have to grapple with. But anytime you try to deal with serving that full spectrum of people to be an experience for everybody, it's going to potentially mean that there's certain trade-offs that are mutually exclusive that you're going to be potentially not serving either extreme to the fullest extent that you can. Now the first hour I think does do that pretty well. I think it does serve the first-time user and the hardcore gamer. it just is the hardcore gamer going to be willing to have the patience and to have that mode of being mindset that they're trying to really cultivate in that second part. Because this is getting a lot of good reviews, some medium reviews, and from a review perspective it's not getting universal critical praise because I think in part they're trying to do stuff that's new that people haven't necessarily fully figured out. Or if they have, maybe there's still issues that they have that they're still trying to do. There were some performance issues that I think were specific to the Oculus Rift that I think they just actually pushed out a point release this morning on October 1st, 2020. So there are some potential issues that they're trying to resolve there in terms of performance, because I mean, that's the other dynamic, which is that the minimum spec that they recommend is a 1080 Ti. So they're asking the minimum specifications for an experience like this to be a pretty hardcore gamer PC. So if they're really trying to get to this audience of people who are non-hardcore VR gamers, then it's going to end up probably being those hardcore gamers showing it to other people who don't actually own that hardware because it's not as likely that the people that they want to reach with this experience have not only the VR hardware that they need, but also the PC that is strong enough to actually run this certain frame rate. They're going to eventually be coming out with the PlayStation VR and they'll have to optimize it in all sorts of different ways. And so I think they're probably likely coming up with a lot of those optimizations to be able to potentially push out and make it so that they could either lower the minimum specifications or to just get the performance down so that it's actually performant on all the different platforms that are out there. So I know dealing with some of those performance issues and some of the feedback that they're getting. Then there's the other issue of dealing with how to describe this whole open world exploration and to invite people into this world in a way that they could have the right expectations and the right approach for them to really get it and to not be disappointed or confused. They actually released on the day of their release, a bunch of tips that they go through that describe ways to kind of help your open world journey in order to like give you a little leg up. If like, you know, these pieces of information, then you'll have a better time. So I recommend people to not, I mean, if you've already listened to this point, you've already got some of those little clues. But there's certain aspects of that. It's just confusing and not exactly clear how to relate to this open world exploration that I think it does merit this meta conversation that they want to have around the piece. Now, the challenge is, is that if that conversation doesn't happen, then people end up having a bad experience and giving all these bad reviews because they couldn't figure it out. And then they're expecting this open world exploration of this enchanted forest. And then they feel like they get like a one hour narrative experience. And then they feel robbed because they don't have the full thing of what they were promised in terms of being able to explore around this world. So I'll link to the different suggestions that they give just to give people a little bit more if you want to learn and see what some of those tips are. If you do get stuck in, you know, by the time you listen to this, they may have actually pushed out some other updates to try to like streamline some of these different issues that have been coming up from the feedback that they're getting. And that it is this like enchanted forest that is trying to appeal to the child in all of us. And yeah, like I said, I've been able to share this experience with my wife, and she's had just an amazing time diving into it. And we've had lots of discussions around it. And this next episode, we'll be diving into, you know, some of her impressions of it. and the things that she loves about it, and also some of the issues that she has with it as well, to kind of talk about more of the narrative construction of this world and some of the conceits of this explore, craft, and collect mechanic that, for her perspective, feels like it's a bit of a tension of the types of experiences that she wants to have in this world. 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.

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