When the pandemic hit in 2020, our annual holiday party went virtual, giving us our first bite of the “VR party” apple. While the experience was an exciting dipping of our toes into the VR water, we had a yearning for an even bigger, better virtual holiday experience. So we knew in 2021, we would have to go big with a truly immersive VR extravaganza—something that pushed ourselves and the medium into an exciting new place.
The idea was to let go of reality and gently drift through a brain dreaming of Protopia—a place to proactively prototype hopeful futures based on our values of community and creativity. To help bring our Protopia to life, we sent out a questionnaire to staff that prompted them to think of dream-inspired themes, ideas, and moments.
They came back with an embarrassment of riches in the form of surreal imagery, engaging interactions, and hilarious scenarios—everything from levitating creme brûlée to a tennis grudge match with Nicki Minaj that substituted T-bone steaks for rackets.
Be in the Moment
The goal is to be taken along with the current—to ride the “stream of consciousness”—as opposed to trying to actively navigate or explore.
You could choose to do that as well, but the default mode is to go with the flow and take it as it comes. Sound design and curated playlists helped immerse the staff in the moment, in this strange and wonderful, communal experience.
The idea of creating multiple zones (or worlds) was hatched from a logistical concern. With 500 inner tubes on the river, we were worried about congestion and bottlenecking.
By breaking up the traffic into different explorable zones, we could provide a more enjoyable experience. In all, six zones made it into the finished experience: Theta Waves, Pawllywood, Cape Huggleton, The Lollipop, Gallery Bay, and BUCK FM.
Although conceptually different, all the zones needed to feel connected. This was achieved through the color palette and a general shape language as well as a few general guiding principles: the worlds should be open sky with wide rivers and sparsely populated land in order to not feel claustrophobic and give the whole experience a calming, meditative vibe.
A deeper dive into our Dream Stream zones.
Theta Waves - Relaxing, calming, minimal, and a bit magic. This is your brain just before it slips into dreamworld.
Pawllywood - An ode to the most loyal of slack channels, #pupperinos. This is where puppers and other four-legged friends go when they die...a heavenly dog park in the sky. Where dog meets dog spelled backwards.
Cape Huggleton - Welcome to Friendship Land, where all creatures, great and small, can be themselves, and be loved for it. The vibe is mid-tempo acid jazz. Feel that brand new heavy.
The Lollipop - Where childhood, creativity, and the inner mind meet. A colorful landscape of candy and drip castles laced with frosting and psychedelia.
Gallery Bay - A awe-inspiring art tunnel wallpapered with BUCK’s best work from the year. From client work to personal illustrations, this is where we fanned our feathers. Off the main gallery was a crowd favorite, a small alcove that offered 3D air drawing.
BUCK FM - A small grotto where the BUCK fam left wishes for the new year along with audio recordings. Follow the river, listen to the dreams.
Each zone had some low commitment activities like throwing beach balls or taking pictures for a scavenger hunt. We kept the controls for these simple and intuitive. The beach balls had an addicting “Jedi force” mechanic that gave the user the feeling of telekinesis.
The “Dimensional Doodling” alcove off the main gallery row quickly became a crowd favorite. There, you were able to grab colored makers and draw in the air—like that film of Picasso drawing on glass—but even better because you were not limited to drawing on a single plane.
Countless, ephemeral masterpieces were created by individual artists and in collaboration with each other in this popular hangout spot over the course of the experience.
This experience was built in Unity with our traditional modeling pipeline but tweaked to optimize for real time. It was built for Oculus Quest 2 with a desktop alternative for those not in VR. The music was streamed from cloud servers.
Each zone was imagined by a different creative director with over 113 people contributing in some form or fashion on over 225 individual 2D and 3D assets.
Despite some hiccups along the way, all the hard work paid off in the end. Although the river was lazy, it certainly wasn’t slow.
Over the course of the holiday season, we had 350 installs and over 7,000 sessions logged. Over 4,875 beach balls were bonked around. Fun was had by all with the exception of the admins in charge of onboarding.
The 2021 Dream Stream event exceeded all expectations. Both as a company party and as a new kind of VR experience.
Although it was ostensibly a one-off event, we are interested in exploring what it would take to turn this into a public-facing product and getting it up on the Oculus store. It’s just too good not to share :)