Get The Lowdown
- Game Jam: Games for Change's XR Brain Jam 2021 (36 hours)
- Roles: VR setup, shader creation, post processing
- Tools: Unity3D
Interested in trying Murmur Nation?
- Download from our Itch.io
- Please note: Murmur Nation is an Oculus Rift application
Let Me Tell You More
What is Murmur Nation exactly?
Murmur Nation is commentary on the current state of social media wrapped up in an Oculus Quest 2 VR minigame. Have you ever felt like you’re receiving too much information, so much there’s no point in trying to think about it or work through it, and yet you’re stuck with it? We tried to encapsulate that feeling here.
Tweets are randomly scraped from the internet, and it’s up to the user to determine what the overall nature of the message is as they sort information cubes in a desolate, compressed factory room. Is it news, or is it just attention-seeking spam? Is it intending to educate or mislead? Make your pick and toss the holographic tweet into the bin of your choice. But be warned: you need to decide quickly to avoid being engulfed in a neverending flood.
The Experience, My Thoughts
Working on Murmur Nation was definitely an interesting and thought-provoking experience. This was my first time working with subject matter experts, or SEMs; ours were from the University of Tennessee and Carnegie Mellon University focused on the study of language specifically. I was one of three developers working to make our team’s idea come to life.
We ended up going with the topic of information overload and how different cultures, upbringings, etc. can affect the understanding of a written message with no vocal tone. Each player can read and interpret a text differently, affecting their sorting speed when playing the game. On top of that, the rate at which the Tweets appear increases exponentially the more you stay in the game, an analogy of spending a lot of time on platforms with timelines like Twitter. Eventually the player will overload… as does the factory itself.
Usually I tend to work on the aesthetics of a project, but this time I acted as an auxiliary developer and contributed to multiple parts to keep the project going. Another first for me was working on a project where the core idea of the experience was fluid and constantly being reworked with critique from our SEMs: this is easy to handle for art projects, but definitely not for programming. I also put some stress on the team when I found out none of my computer setups were up to specs to work with the headset I had received a while ago, and I own up to not checking that sooner. Because of both of these factors, I wanted to contribute whatever needed attention the most to make sure the project was completed before the deadline.
I learned a lot about creating and testing VR environments through Murmur Nation. I don’t even own an Occulus Rift, yet I learned how to set up the controllers and bounding box area for the project. I also looked into post processing and shaders for the futuristic but recognizable, outdated but technological look. I learned how to write shaders during one of my favorite classes in the OSU post bacc program, but ended up using an open source base hologram shader from MinionsArt, a Unity artist and developer I admire. I used this to learn more about vertex displacement and also why emission doesn’t work on vertex shaders. Lastly, I did some post processing to make the scene have an old-timey film feel through the headset, but unfortunately we forgot to turn it back on when creating demo videos.
I really enjoyed making a commentary piece instead of a marketable product: it does speak more to my art roots. It was a nice change of pace from my other hackathon projects, so I think I may try working on something in a similar vein as Murmur Nation again in the future.