Code Like a God in Virtual Reality Video Game ‘Loop’

All images courtesy the artist

Our increasingly digital lives, full of social media, games, films, and other web products, are mostly designed and controlled by others. But what if we could wrest some of that control back, giving users sovereignty instead of granting it to businesses?

That’s the idea behind Loop, a game-like experience where users explore and alter virtual worlds with code. Created by German interaction and motion designer Stefan Wagner as part of his master studies at the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg, Germany, Loop is an attempt to override the mental programming created by media consumption.

Using an Oculus Rift headset attached to a Leap Motion sensor and a mechanical treadmill, the Loop player walks through Wagner’s virtual worlds, where they are confronted with various scenes and surroundings that more or less reference real objects and scenery in the form of “system simulations.” By raising a hand and grabbing “code objects,” the user can interact with the virtual worlds, and in the process change the pieces of code upon which the simulations are built.

Wagner created Loop on Unity 3D, using the Oculus Rift and Leap Motion SDKs skeletal tracking throughout the development process. To generate the landscapes seen in the background, Wagner used Terragen by Planetside Software.

“I approached the design to be overall bright and positive, with many references to nature,” says Wagner, who was visually inspired by the “planet factory floor” scene in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “On the other hand, I wanted the world to be understood as something artificial, which is why landscapes and objects are often simplified or even transitioning between low-polygon style and ‘real-looking.’”

The colored polygon figures, which contain the pieces of code, add a touch of arcade games’ point-rewarding system into the mix. The interface that presents the code is more technical-looking, with Wagner saying that it mostly refers to hologram interfaces from recent science fiction artworks. The style is designed to create the impression of a device connected to the world surrounding the player—”a futuristic machine allowing the user to change the structure of space and time,” Wagner says.

Some might ask how, on a technical level, the user alters Loop’s code? Wagner explains that the underlying rule set, exposed through code (Javascript that Wagner learned via Processing), defines the structure and visual presence of the game world and its inhabitants’ behavior. The gameplay is designed to connect the audience of games to the “bare substance” of digital game design. The code, or "rule set," can be changed and therefore understood and deconstructed.

“The game, defined by its rules, can be transformed into something else—so, if you will, the goal of the gameplay is to change the gameplay,” Wagner says. “On the other hand, the concept raises questions as to what a game is in the first place—there is no defined target, no obstacles or enemies, and at the end of the game, you start right at the beginning of it.”

“I think it is important that people have a general understanding of how media is being created—how stuff ‘works,’” Wagner adds. “This way, they will hopefully develop some sort of [mature understanding] of these technologies.”

Loop from Stefan Wagner on Vimeo.

Click here to see more of Stefan Wagner’s work.


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