When you look at the world around you, what do you see? Do you the kindness and thoughtfulness of humanity or something different? Maybe humanity sees you as someone different or even makes you question if you belong. The world at times can be a great place, but the reality for many can be a cruel place when it comes from our nationality to our age to the way we look and even the color of our skin. Sometimes when we hear, read it, or see it in the news, it makes some of us think, but what would you do, what would you think if the world that is supposed to be this place of opportunity were to turn on you all because of the way you looked? But when I heard that developer Fishean Studio was making an experience that deals with the emotion that many experiences every day, I had to learn more. So I reached out and the creative director, Bryant Young was happy to talk about their newest experience, Our America, as well as talking about Virtual Reality.
Interview with the creative director of Fishean Studio, Byrant Young
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you mind introducing yourself and what you do at Fishean Studio?
“My name is Bryant Young. I am a double USC Alum. Graduated in 2017 with a degree in game design and in 2020 with a MS in Computer Science. I’m the creative director of Our America, but I mostly work in a programming role outside of admin stuff.”
Growing up, what were some of your most memorable gaming moments and what was that one VR experience that really opened your eyes to Virtual Reality?
“Fallout 3 really opened my eyes to being able to create a character that represents you and I think that was the first time I played as a black character. I think the thing that really opened my eyes to what VR was capable of was a class I took in undergrad that allowed us to develop for VR which lead to me doing directed research under Dennis Ramirez. With his guidance, I really began to see the story I could create.”
You have an experience coming this year that deals with emotion and for a lot, the heart called, Our America. What can you tell us about it?
“I really appreciate you calling it an experience by the way. Our America is a branching narrative experience in VR. It follows a father and son on their way to school and work and allows the audience to navigate the nuances of their daily lives.”
What can you tell us about the main characters, Malcolm and his father”
“They are a reflection of myself and my father just on a normal day. The dad is running late because he has to take his son to school and Malcolm is late because he’s dealing with normal things kids that age deal with.”
Choices play an important part here. Will some of the choices that feel right may actually turn out to be the wrong ones?
“Choices that seem harmless to people that don’t understand how dangerous they are will definitely have consequences, but this isn’t a story meant to trick people. It is a way that I can share my experiences with people who are unfamiliar.”
When I first saw the trailer, I was taken back, not in a bad way, but in a wow moment type of way because racism does unfortunately exist. Was it hard to bring this type of emotion and strong feelings into Virtual Reality?
“Not really, mainly because I have a goal to make an impact and that goal is a lot more important to myself and the people who have worked on it.”
There have been two trailers released. One shows Malcolm in the car with his father and you can tell that even Malcolm is being affected by what is going around him and in the world he and we all live. The other trailer shows a different style when being stopped in the car. What can you tell us about the different styles of gameplay that you used?
“So the trailer with the stills is a way to show that at any moment you can make multiple decisions that will impact the story and in a way portray the helplessness I often feel when dealing with police. The other trailer with the walkthrough is more to show the story and art style of the actual project. they work together to show the whole picture and I’m sure we will release another with the updated assets.”
With working with Virtual Reality, what have been some of the challenges that you have come across that you wish you knew in the beginning?
“The biggest roadblocks have been testing because with Covid we obviously can’t set up shop and have 30-40 people come in and wear the same headset it would be dangerous. The best way to go about it is to have remote testers with a setup of their own, so I wish I had a list or database of that already ready.”
When you have an experience like Our America, the sound is going to play a big part from what is being said to just the sound effects that are used. Was there anything with the sound that you tried to get right, but to you, wish could have sounded more realistic?
“The sound is still a work in progress for us, but there’s been plenty I’ve learned from the audio engineer that joined on just how to get things in the right place so when people are listening they feel like they’re in that space instead of in a VR experience. Trying to blur the line between reality and virtual so people can experience these dangerous things in a safer way.”
Is there something you want to add to the experience, but you find conflicting with yourself or maybe others that you shouldn’t?
“Not really the only thing that was cut from the project were the flashback scenes only because of budget and time restraints.”
Our America is coming to Steam VR soon. Do we have an official date and do you see it coming to other platforms such as Oculus, PlayStation VR, or even Viveport in the future?
“No official date yet. It’s hard to set in stone with production still underway. We really want to be able to port to PSVR, but think that may have to be a post-launch addition.”
Knowing what you know now in life, what would be the top three things you would tell your younger self?
“Trust yourself and believe in yourself even if it seems like other people don’t. You’ll eventually get where you need to go as long as you don’t give up.”
What do you hope people will gain once they experience Our America?
“Understanding is the main thing. I don’t think I’m going to change any minds not completely at least, but I think people will have a better understanding of what my life is like.”
If you opened the door into THE VR DIMENSION, but it was in the world of Our America, what would be the number one thing you would do to make a change?
“Not sure I understand this question, but if you’re asking what I’d do to change the Our America world if I could step into it I’d get all the antagonists fired.”
With the content for Virtual Reality continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Our America?
“It’s a story that isn’t told, a story most people will never experience or begin to fathom, and If you go through this experience you’ll have a small glimpse of what my life is like.”
I really want to thank Bryant for taking the time out of their day to give us a closer look into Our America and for also talking about Virtual Reality.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.