Some of the most memorable moments I have would be at night time and just looking up at the stars either right next to a campfire and trying to find all the constellations. And even when I could not find them all for that time of year. Even when the nighttime was over, it was even looking into the clouds and seeing what could possibly appear. All I had to do was open my mind, my imagination, and just see what the eyes can see. It really is a relaxing way to spend your time. So when I heard that developer, Maku XR was releasing a puzzle game where objects could appear simply by connecting the dots, I wanted to know more. So I reached out, and Wyatt Roy a designer, storyteller, and half of Maku XR was happy to talk about their newest game, Skybinder as well as also talk about Virtual Reality.
Interview with the designer, storyteller, and half of Maku XR, Wyatt Roy
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at Maku XR?
“My name is Wyatt Roy, I’m half of Maku XR. Luis Zanforlin and I both design all of our experiences together, but we specialize in different fields. He’s the software architect and chief engineer, as well as our one-man-symphony. I focus on visuals, aesthetics, and storytelling.”
Growing up what were some of your favorite gaming memories and what was that one VR movement that really opened up your eyes to Virtual Reality?
“As a kid, I lived at the edge of a rainforest in Sydney, Australia. My mum always worked full time but would spend weeks creating these elaborate treasure hunts for our birthdays, where my friends and I would race through the jungle to the beach trying to follow maps and clues before the others got to the treasure first. I think these are my favorite gaming memories— being embedded in adventure, using my body to explore the world around me. When VR started to mature, I thought, “My goodness, I could create experiences like that for everyone.”
Maku XR really has an interesting saying in “We turn fleeting emotions into digital experiences”. Would you mind elaborating more on that?
“Luis and I feel a lot. And we talk about our emotions a lot. I feel very lucky to have found a friend who wanted to be a cofounder, and a cofounder who is one of my closest friends. Emotions help us figure out what is important in life. What hurts? What feels wonderful? What do we want to remember? Emotions hold all the answers, but emotions come and go. So we try to use technology to record them, transmute them, and evoke them again.”
Maku XR really has some interesting projects from Painting Life to music-based meditation with the app Tonos to even the unique form of story with Gaia. What is special about these projects and the way Maku XR helps bring them to life?
“Everything we build is inspired by our real lives. Painting Life popped into my head as I was visiting my artist friend. Luis thought of Tonos while trying to process some particularly powerful feelings. Gaia came out of a meditation retreat. The stories we build are from moments in our lives when our perspectives have shifted. And we hope our VR experiences shift the way you see the world.”
Your newest game is a puzzle one called Skybinder. What can you tell us about it?
“Skybinder is a creative game that gets you in flow. You see a bunch of dots floating in front of you, and if they are connected correctly, they will make a 3D origami sculpture — like a chicken, or a whale. But it’s devilishly tricky to figure out how to connect them correctly, because your only clue is a number written on each dot. The number shows how many other dots it connects to, but it doesn’t tell you which.”
When I saw the trailer, there was just something poetic about the experience. What was the inspiration behind Skybinder?
“Thank you! We are so glad that you felt the sense of poetry. Luis was building a VR interface for MIT’s quantum computer, which was exactly as impressive as it sounds. It was a huge undertaking, but he has a keen eye for details, even in a project that big. One day he was playing around with “nodes.” These were basically cubes floating in space, which you could connect to create equations for the quantum computer. Luis thought, “Wow it’s strangely fun to connect dots in space. Could we make a game out of this?” Then I said, “This will be more fun if the dots turn into something beautiful. Let me try to make some sculptures.” I went into VR and used Google Blocks to split a cube again and again into more and more faces until it turned into an elephant. Luis built an algorithm to turn my sculpture into a cloud of connectable dots, and Skybinder was born.”
How many creatures can you unlock and what is your favorite?
“There are twenty creatures in this first pack. But I’m excited to announce today to your readers that we’re planning a Winter Update with a bonus polar animal. I won’t say which— that’s a surprise. I think he’s my new favorite. Or Wanda, the chicken. She’s a cutie.”
Can you tell us about the control mechanics? Is it more controller-based or done with head-tracking?
“We did so much user testing to make sure the controls were intuitive. You use both hands to make the dots bigger, smaller, closer, and farther, and connect the lines. You can basically use one button to do most of the game, but power users will notice some extra features built in for puzzlers who like to go fast.”
Are there any plans to add additional puzzles to Skybinder for the future or possibly of adding an online aspect where a user can create their own puzzles and share them with everyone else?
“We would absolutely love to offer more packs as DLC, but we can’t offer that until Oculus lets us out of App Lab and into the full Quest Store. We already have a dozen ideas for new exciting packs though— everything from Cars and Planes, to Prehistoric Dinosaurs and Sacred Geometry. Redditors have been very generous with their ideas!”
Virtual Reality is all about immersion from the graphics to the sound. What do you feel is the most challenging when making something for Virtual Reality?
“Comfort. Luis and I can spend hours in VR without getting motion sickness, but most people get nauseous after twenty minutes. Even less if the experience has locomotion or movement in it. You have to train your brain, I think. As VR slowly gets wider and wider adoption, comfort will be less of an issue because more and more people will have done this “training” already. But right now, it’s still early days and it’s important that people feel utterly comfortable being in virtual spaces.”
VR is also about the escape of it all. A way to be transported from reality into a new form of reality. In your experience, how well does meditation work in VR?
“I meditate while I walk, while I sit at the airport, while I eat. Meditation for me is the simple (but difficult!) act of being aware of what is happening right now. VR can bring you into a new “right now” in a powerful way. But I’m wary of saying that it is “good” for meditation. My favorite way to meditate is still to just sit on my cushion, close my eyes, and notice the way air feels as it enters my nose, and fills my lungs.”
Knowing what you know now, what would be the top three things you would tell your younger self about Virtual Reality?
“1. 360° videos are awful. I actually think 180° videos are amazing, but I spent a lot of energy trying to do 360 filmmaking 5 years ago, and it was a waste of time.
2. The closer you are to reality, the more jarring it feels when something is wrong. Uncanny Valley myst be avoided at all costs.
3. It can be lonely creating for a medium like VR if no one you love can see it. My parents recently bought a Quest; but for years before that, they had no way to understand what I was working on. When I was a filmmaker I could simply send people a link to my videos. But almost no one has a headset— and I live with a bunch of techie millennials in San Francisco!”
Do you see Skybinder coming to other platforms such as PlayStation VR, Steam VR, and/or Viveport in the future?
“Definitely. So few headsets exist— we would love to have everyone who wants to play it be able to.”
If you stepped through the door into THE VR DIMENSION, but you yourself became a puzzle within Skybinder, how challenging would your puzzle be and who from any time, fact or fiction, would you want to try and solve your puzzle?
“What a question!! I would be a loopy, crazy puzzle with not too many dots, so it seems simple on the surface, but the dots would be arranged in a complex unintuitive way that makes the player say “ah HAH” when they get it. I would want to be solved by Einstein. He had such wonderful ways of seeing the world in metaphor; imagining himself flying alongside a beam of light. I wonder what insights he would uncover about our universe if he played Slybinder.”
With the content for Virtual Reality continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Skybinder?
“So many VR games are based around fear, adrenaline, and shooting. Even Beatsaber is based on destroying things. In contrast, Skybinder is meditative, creative, and soothing. Both kinds of games have a place in a gamer’s day, but there are a lot of the first person shooter category out there. And there’s only one Skybinder.”
I really want to thank Wyatt for taking the time out of their schedule to give us a closer look into Skybinder and for also talking about Virtual Reality.
Skybinder is out on for the Quest/Quest 2 via the Oculus App Lab on the Oculus Store. A review code was provided.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.