You’ve just been nominated for a Viveport Developer Award - how do you feel?
Mac Cauley, Borrowed Light Studios: It's an honor to be nominated for the Viveport Developer Awards with so much great content coming out every day that is pushing the boundaries of VR. I think VR as a medium has so much potential to open up new ways for people to express themselves and share ideas. I feel lucky to be a part of this discovery process and to be able to explore the possibilities that lie ahead.
Where did the idea for The Night Café come from?
I originally envisioned The Night Café as a narrative short film about a fictional painter inspired by Vincent van Gogh. I thought it would be interesting to see the world from the perspective of such a unique viewpoint, and in the film I imagined traveling into this character's mind to see these wonderful visions. At the same time I was developing the film idea, I was beginning to think more about VR and the opportunities it presented and I decided it would be an interesting experience to explore this painted world in a very interactive and immersive way. It became clear to me that I wanted to walk through one of Van Gogh's paintings myself and I imagined how that might feel.
How big is your team and how long did it take to develop?
I made The Night Café myself in my spare time. I probably put 6 months of work into it.
Tell us something about The Night Café that we wouldn’t know from just experiencing it on Viveport?
I actually put a lot of time into researching the paintings as well as Van Gogh's life and the time period he painted in. There were many details that I included that were not in the original paintings such as back rooms, the piano player, the style of lamps that were used, and many other small details. I tried to make sure everything felt unified with his paintings by choosing colors that would blend in with his. The experience is directly inspired by his work and I wanted to be respectful of that while allowing myself some creative freedom.
During the development process, did anything surprise you along the way you didn’t expect?
The Night Café was one of the first projects I made in VR and so I was constantly learning the development process as I went along. One of the things that I found interesting was just how important the scale of objects and characters were to creating an enjoyable experience. I often found myself creating models that were too big initially and had to scale them down a bit so their presence in the scene felt more natural and comfortable.
What do you hope people take away from The Night Café overall?
My primary goal for The Night Café was to create a space for people to enter that felt alive in some way, and kind of like a lost moment in time that they were able to step into and stay in, if only for a few minutes. I imagined Vincent van Gogh there in the cafe, pondering his life and the world around him. As I created the experience I had many moments of connecting with the paintings in new ways by spending time with each little detail and imagining what might have gone through his mind as he painted them.
Are you planning future updates and adding more features to The Night Cafe?
I am currently working on a new game that allows you to explore procedurarly generated haunted houses in VR and trap ghosts while searching for hidden artifacts. It's called Spectro and we will be releasing it next year for Vive and other headsets. Once that is done I would consider adding to The Night Café or creating a follow up to that type of experience if it seemed like it was something people wanted. I had so much fun creating the painterly world and I could easily imagine a much bigger space to explore with characters and environments inspired by a variety of well known painters.
What’s been the best reaction you’ve had to the experience?
I once received a letter from a Van Gogh historian who had tried VR for the first time after being quite skeptical of the medium. She told me her friend wanted to show her a variety of experiences and after trying The Night Café she lost track of time in the headset. At that point she realized all the possibilities the technology could offer for experiencing not just entertainment but art and education as well. It was a very encouraging note to get from an unexpected place and really reaffirmed for me just how powerful these experiences can be.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other developers?
With the medium in such an early stage of development there is so much to be explored and discovered. No one has all the answers yet and the standards are still being developed and refined every day. With that in mind, don't just listen to others - try out new ideas and see what works for you!
What is your favorite Van Gogh masterpiece?
That's a tough one! It really depends on my mood but I would say "Olive Trees in a Mountainous Landscape" (digitally viewable here) is definitely near the top of my list. His self portraits are also amazing and really give you a sense of who he was.
The Night Café is available on Viveport.