GET PUNKED! Immersive VR Experience

Working with StoryFutures (led by Royal Holloway, University of London), we developed an immersive VR experience delving deep into the world of punk through the BFI and BBC archive. Access to such a wealth of archive enable us to build an interactive virtual reality experience that drops you into Alex’s teenage diary as she expresses her growing love for punk music and culture in the 1970s and 80s. GET PUNKED! was developed for StoryTrails as part of the Unboxed festival.

Through her teenage diary, we are transported to formative moments in her life including, ‘an incident that occurred in a 1977 conservative living room’ and the beginning of her photography career – in a 1984 punk dive bar.

Using key BFI and BBC archive, plus a mixture of 3D game engine and 360 filming techniques, users are encouraged to explore and interact with the environment, revealing key cultural moments while channelling their ‘inner punk.’

Split view of the 1970s livingroom and 1980 music venue with controllers in either side and a paper tare down the middle

Virtual Reality for the Meta Quest 2

Produced specifically for the Meta Quest 2, GET PUNKED! finds its environmental foundations within a 3D modelled world. Our first location, the 1979 family livingroom took inspiration from earlier period design and drew heavily from era specific housing design. The feel of the space was brought to life with smaller elements and nods that the user could discover.

In the 1984 music venue, we came to this with research of underground punk bars and venues where the stage and bar had been thrown together from old reused materials and equipment. The dingy feel should throw a user back to those smoke filled rooms.

The challenge faced with any experience delivered on mobile VR devices is the quality and detail that can be rendered on the device. Whereas PC VR setups can have high end graphic and CPU power behind them, mobile VR headsets such as the Meta Quest 2 are limited in their performance. Extra focus was needed through our whole development process to ensure we pushed the performance limitations right to the edge in order to get the best possible experience.

8-bit arcade machine demo loop

8-bit Get Punked! minigame where you punkify 'toffs'

Blending reality with the virtual

Whilst we produced the environments to feel life-like and lived in, we also brought in photo realistic elements to further blend between the real and the virtual. Some of the Points of Interest the user can interact with stem from real-world objects that we photo scanned to bring into the experience.

Photoscan of guitar mixed between 3d mesh and photoscan

Notable objects such as the red electric Guitar and mother’s favourite ashtray are digital reconstructions from real-world objects. Through the process known as photogrammetry, we captured hundreds of photographs of each of these objects from all possible angles and used Reality Capture to stitch them together. Within Reality Capture we converted these highly detailed 3D scans down to a reasonable size for the Quest 2 to be able to handle and render within our experience. Each of the objects retains its perceived detail and photo realistic textures, whilst also being as performant as possible.

As our narrative sees members of a punk band performing in our 1984 venue, we needed to include human characters within the scene. Our approach was always to distort these living characters (including the cat in the 1970’s livingroom if you spotted it) into glowing point cloud representations, as if they were blurred memories and shadows within Alex’s diary.

To achieve this creative style we photoscanned our band in various different key poses, in order to produce photo realistic statues of each character. Then within the experience, we quickly cycled through each pose, creating a stop-motion effect of our band performing their song within the venue.

Point cloud punk band playing their stop frame animation loop

Fictional band 'Sunday’s Gristle' performing as photo scanned point clouds

Narrative & Audience Consideration

It is important to remember that our complete experience was developed with the end audience in mind. StoryFutures will be touring our experience, along with 8 others, to various public libraries around the United Kingdom, with the primary focus of engaging communities that are disconnected from the cultural hubs in large cities. Our end users will therefore likely have never tried VR publicly before, and could have limited experience with how the technology of the Quest 2 works.

controller tracked UI prompt with slight follow delay and smoothing

Developing story and interaction for non VR-natives means extra consideration is needed to ensure all users come away with a valuable experience and are left satisfied. It was a key goal of ours to ensure every user could get through GET PUNKED! without interacting with anything, yet still experiencing the narrative. Using various finely tuned prompts, automation and controller universilisations, we are able to guide a user on that journey through our story, whilst also allowing space for people who want to push the boundaries to pick up objects to discover more.

If you want to try GET PUNKED! Then you can take visit one of the 15 locations across the UK showing the experience as part of StoryTrails, running 1 July 2022 – 18 September 2022. We would love to hear what you think!