Google released Blocks, a 3D modeling application for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, in July 2017. It's a free piece of software aimed at developers and artists who want to quickly build custom objects. The app lets you insert, manipulate and color 3D shapes, or "blocks," to create something entirely new. Grab a cone and a few multicolored spheres, for instance, and you soon have an ice cream that's ready to be exported into a larger scene.
Naam had been toying with the idea of a virtual caravan for a few years. He decided to take a vacation and spent the time off modeling his dream camper in Blocks. The animator liked the tool because its angular, low-poly aesthetic fit with his own drawing style. "There was some magic click that I had with the app," he said. Sculpting in VR also made it easier to judge scale. With traditional 3D modeling software, you have to estimate size on-screen and then check if it feels right in VR. In Blocks and VR painting apps such as Tilt Brush and Quill, the process is simplified because you're already seeing the object from a first-person perspective.
"There's something fishy about the place, obviously."
From the outset, Naam was posting development teasers on Twitter. These videos quickly blew up, attracting hundreds — sometimes thousands — of retweets and questions. Naam was floored by the response and decided to release a version that anyone could play December 23rd, 2017. Again, the reaction was positive, and Naam was encouraged to continue the project. Over the next few months, he worked on various bug fixes and a wealth of new objects, including a lighter — which introduced fire to the experience — fireworks and a fridge. His most recent update added a typewriter, mail and plumbing.
A Piece of the Universe is, however, still a passion project. It's technically free to download — customers set their own price — and it's listed as a "prototype" on Naam's Itch.io page. Players know, therefore, that updates will be small and infrequent. "It's a very nice way of working," Naam said.
He's now exploring whether A Piece of the Universe should have its own story. As you walk around the caravan, it's natural to wonder who might have lived there before and, more important, what happened to them. "It's not developed so far that I can talk about it out loud," he said, "and I'm still discovering it myself." There are hints in the world, though. There are some old photographs, for instance, and cars toot loudly when they drive past. "There's something fishy about the place, obviously," he said.
The most intriguing part of the experience, though, starts when you don a pair of headphones in the caravan. You're suddenly transported to a bizarre, dreamlike version of reality with a purple sky and a giant "mudskipper" ship that rips through the campsite. Is it a dream, a vision or something else entirely? Naam is tight-lipped but hinted that he always wanted to have a game with "little outings into different planes of reality." How that will evolve, though, and fold into the larger story is unclear. Maybe the caravan is on a mystical burial site; perhaps these dimensions are the key to understanding the previous owner's disappearance.
"Maybe you can dive into the typewriter at certain moments, or into the little ditch behind the fence," Naam said. "I don't know! I can't make any promises. But that's next on the list. If all the basic details are more or less finished, I want to make little fantasy outings."
What's a holiday, after all, without a few memorable excursions?