I might be crazy. I have a tendency to obsess a bit and habitually switch hobbies, but I think I’m seeing the birth of a whole new hobby community. A community that creates environments for their own sake, not as part of a game.
The seeds of this hobby have been planted already. There is a thing called “speed level design”. That is where someone uses real-time engines like Unreal or Unity to create a game level that doesn’t necessarily have an associated game. These are done to test features, hone skills, test ideas, or show off. There are already people who I consider to be rock stars.
Here are 3 examples of the current rock stars of pointless places.
You’ve probably already seen Kooolala’s work. It is so stunning that it has captured the attention of many web sites. Kooolala has been making gorgeous environments, typically testing out unreleased features of the Unreal Editor. 3 examples are nowhere near enough, so you should probably go to the youtube channel for more.
This last video seems to include real-time recreations of parts of Alex Roman’s “The Third and the Seventh“. Alex’s work is beautiful, but not real-time so you’ll have to follow the link to go watch it. I’ll stick to real-time graphics here because they transfer more or less to VR directly.
Marick does some really impressive scenes in both Unreal Editor and Unity. Here are 3 examples of speed level design from his youtube channel.
This work is very painterly and beautiful. Though EvilMrFrank does actual level design for games, some of these seem to be purely for joy. Check out his youtube channel.
So this already exists. What’s new?
Previously these scenes had little value other than the amusement of watching them being made (which I personally find quite wonderful). They had no depth, as in there was no gameplay involved, only a small environment.
However, with things like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, GearVR, and even Google Cardbaord, these environments suddenly have new value. There are tons of people with this new immersive interface in their hands, that are yearning for exactly what these people are producing: beautiful environments. They want new places to see, new environments to immerse themselves in, with their brand new technology. This new technology has created an entire market for environments that exist on their own merit, without the entire “game” aspect. A level designer is no longer only a piece of the team, they can produce a product completely on their own.
Not only is there suddenly a new market for these environments, the past year or two have given us immensely powerful and easy tools to create them. You can now pretty much drag and drop an environment together using free tools and models, an environment that is gorgeous. Massively powerful tools like the Unreal Editor and Unity are both now completely free and Cryengine is nearly there with their recent announcement of pay-what-you-want.
As these tools get easier and easier, my prediction is that we’ll see an entire community grow that creates environments for other people to enjoy. This is a medium who’s barriers to entry have been dropping insanely fast and will continue to drop just as fast over the next few years. Absolute beginners will be creating environments and sharing them just like people currently share their digital paintings and artwork or music.
Where will this community live?
My first inclination is that these people will share their work online, on websites that are community driven. Look at something like Cgchannel.com or Indiedb.com. Looking at those sites though, I feel like there is something missing. Since these environments gain their value in VR, I wonder if VR centric sites like UploadVR.com will adopt these people and give them a platform on which to share their creations.
Why does it need to exist in a traditional online database though? If the value to these experiences is in VR, will this end up being in a VR only app-style store? Will we see a “community worlds” section in the oculus store?
Though I feel fairly confident this community will arrive and thrive, I’m not as solid in my views on how it will share. Will it simply integrate into existing game distribution platforms? Will it create its own gathering place online? I don’t know. I’m pretty eager to see what happens though.
If you would like to share some, come to the Reddit community Virtual Vistas and show us what you’ve got!