If you could have a musical sandbox to create in and share with the world, what do you think you would create? Do you think interacting with an instrument would be too difficult or something that would only take just a few seconds to get the hang of where you could make a masterpiece that you have always heard in your head? Music can really help set us free. So when I heard that publisher Fast Travel Games and developer Really Interactive were bringing the ease of using instruments to create your own music, I had to know more. So I reached out and the creative director, Jonatan Crafoord, was happy to talk about their newest game Virtuoso and Virtual Reality.
Interview with the creative director for Virtuoso at Really Interactive, Jonatan Crafoord
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do Really Interactive?
“Hi! Great to be here! 🙂 My name is Jonatan Crafoord and I’m the creative director of Virtuoso, the VR musical sandbox! I’m also the original creator of the app, it was my spare time project for several years before we brought it into Really Interactive. Today I do everything from programming to designing new features in Virtuoso, and creating content to show off what Virtuoso can do!”
Growing up, was there a particular gaming moment that really inspired you, and what was that one VR moment that really amazed you?
“My foundational gaming moment was definitely hearing the town music in Diablo (1996). It really inspired me to pursue a career in game development and to try to find my own sound as a composer and sound designer. As for VR, I’ve been a huge fan of Tilt Brush, as it has made it possible for me to express myself visually despite never having been an artist. My ambitions are to do the same for music, to enable music creation for people who have never called themselves musicians.”
Really Interactive has some interesting projects that they have been a part of from 20,000 Leagues Above the Clouds and Toran. Your latest game, Virtuoso about creating music. What can tell us about it?
“Virtuoso is a musical sandbox where you can play on instruments that have been specifically designed for VR. We’ve really tried to step away from conventional instruments and tools, and instead, think about what makes sense in VR. Some instruments can be played by moving your hands vertically or forward and backwards, and the sound can be changed by tilting the controllers. Everything is also built around the idea of live looping, so you create the music while it is playing and you never have to stop and rewind.”
And anyone can create music?
“The whole app is built around the idea that you don’t have to know anything about music to be able to play! The instruments are all tuned in a way where they sound good together, and you can turn on a feature called Tempo Sync that makes everything you play end up in sync with the beat. At the same time, we want to stay relevant for more experienced content creators, so for example you can connect Virtuoso to your external music program and control all of your sounds in there from the virtual instruments.”
How many different instruments are in the game and how does the mixing of the sounds work?
“At the moment there are six unique instruments, the Empads, Board, Oorgan, wHarp, Clustr, and Wavemin. You’ll probably recognize the Empads as drum pads that can be built into a custom drum kit, and the wHarp as a harp, but the other instruments aren’t quite like anything that exists in the real world. Everything you play can be recorded into a tool called the Looper, where you can mix sounds and start and stop them in sync with the beat. There is also a virtual microphone so you can sing, rap or beatbox.”
So you can actually add vocals into the mix and can anyone sound like a pro?
“Yes! The microphone leaves a lot to the player still to be honest. Apart from adding some lush reverb, it will come out as it went in, so to speak! The other instruments however can sound great even if you’re a beginner, and we’re hoping to develop more features to help new vocalists make cool sounds with the microphone as well in the future.”
One of the things I found interesting is that you have MIDI support over the network. Can you tell us more about this and how the companion app works?
“The companion app allows you to send MIDI to any computer on your local network, even if you’re playing on the Quest. So, if you’ve got a regular music program with a bunch of instrument plugins, you can connect Virtuoso to it and play with those sounds. We’re hoping to develop this integration further in the future, so both sound and MIDI can go both ways.”
Can you tell us more about the tape recorder and how you can share your live performance with the world?
“When you’ve recorded your loops in the Looper, you can use the Tape Recorder to capture your whole performance. Everything that plays from the Looper and everything you play live will be recorded here, and afterwards you can either export it as a sound file or use it as the preview for your song in our Song Library, where you can also share your whole project with other Virtuosos.”
There is a Content LIbrary that would make the content almost endless. What else can you tell us about it?
“The Song Library is used to save everything about your project, from instrument setup to all the loops in the Looper. You can also share these projects through the community part of the Song Library, where other players can download, remix or collaborate on your songs. Some users have also started using the community library for sharing template songs with cool sound settings or pre-recorded drum loops to help other players get going!”
What has been the most surprising to you when it has come to the community?
“Just how incredibly nice and helpful everyone has been! Despite the community having exploded overnight when we released Virtuoso, we’ve barely had to moderate things, and we often don’t have time to answer support questions before some other player has already stepped in to help. People are super supportive of each other’s work and creations as well, and whenever new players share their first steps in Virtuoso they are met with a lot of encouragement. I’d recommend anyone who is into Virtuoso to join our Discord (https://discord.gg/virtuoso), where all of this stuff happens.”
What do you feel is the working formula when it comes to creating content for Virtual Reality?
“I think it is important to consider the strengths that are specific to VR, and design interactions around them. For example, being able to look around with your head, moving your hands in all dimensions, and twisting and turning them. There is an immediacy to it that makes it a whole lot more approachable to people who are new to games or interactive media, for example, there are no camera controls to learn since your head *is* the camera. I think when creating content for VR it helps to assume that just about anyone might pick it up, and that they’ll want to use those direct interactions as much as possible.”
What still amazes you about Virtual Reality and where do you see VR in the next 5-10 years?
“I’m still amazed by VRs ability to convince you that you are in a completely unreal space, where the common laws of nature and physics don’t have to apply. I love apps and experiences that make use of that by putting you in fantastical places or allowing you to interact with things in a way that wouldn’t be possible in real life. I hope to see more content that makes good use of that, and smaller and more comfortable devices that make it easier to forget that you are in a virtual world.”
Do you see future content such as more instruments coming and do you see Virtuoso coming to additional platforms like PlayStation VR and Viveport in the future?
“We’re absolutely going to add more content to Virtuoso, and we’ve already started that work. We’re also discussing additional platforms, and will try to bring it wherever there is an audience for it!”
If you opened the door into THE VR DIMENSION and could pick the artists or bands to put on a concert with Virtuoso, who would they be?
“I’d love to collaborate with Björk since she has been a keen supporter of VR for a while now, and I think she would have great ideas for virtual instruments to use in her performances. I’d also love to see some really good live looping artists try out Virtuoso, such as Marc Rebillet. I think he would have an absolute field day in it!”
With the content continuing to grow for Virtual Reality, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Virtuoso?
“If you’ve ever dreamed of making music but have never dared to take the step, this is a great place to start! Or if you’re already a talented musician but want to experience a whole new way of creating music, this is also the app for you!”
I really want to thank Jonatan for taking the time out of their day to give us a closer look into Virtuoso as well as talking about Virtual Reality.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.