The Meadow is a playable art installation that mixes virtual reality, set design and costume design in an immersive, physical, tactile experience. Using techniques from theater and installation art to help bridge the transition from the real to the virtual in a graceful way, the piece uses 'experiential' digital gameplay, environmental narrative, sound design and gaze control to create an encounter between the player and the inhabitants of a colorful and mysterious forest clearing. The piece is site-specific, and invites its audience of players to cross a a sequence of thresholds before sitting on the ground amid a designed tactile environment, donning an Oculus VR headset, and crossing the final gateway into the world of wonder and fright that lies beyond...
We had several player experience goals and design goals for this game.
We wanted to explore 'experiential' gameplay: that which is not traditionally 'gamey', but is instead open, expressive or freely explorable. This style of gameplay seemed particularly interesting in the context of virtual reality, because of the interactive opportunities offered by the way that the human gaze traverses a scene.
Inspired by David Batchelor's 2000 book 'Chromaphobia', which criticizes Western cultural distrust and devaluation of exuberance in color, we wanted to create environments and characters with a vibrant, colorful, expressionistically painterly style that is uncommon in virtual reality.
We wanted to combat simulator sickness, a problem that troubles the players of some virtual reality games, and we adopted design constraints to make this goal possible. Our desire to do this was driven by wanting to see a wider adoption of virtual reality experiences, particularly among women, who are disproportionately afflicted by simulator sickness.
We have an interest in pastorality and myth: in the nature of human beings' connection to the 'wild woods', in the archetype of being lost in a forest and having a strange experience while there. We also wanted to use game design to explore ritual and its role in modern life. The sequence of the passage from consensual reality to virtual reality and back again has strong ritual connotations for us—inspired by the game critic and designer Mattie Brice and others, we see a rich, relatively unexplored field for game design and experience design in ritual, whether found in religion or in other cultural contexts.
The Meadow Group is a collective of game designers and developers within the USC Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. The team is lead by Game Director and Associate Professor Richard Lemarchand ('Uncharted'), Creative Director Martzi Campos, Technical Director Julian Ceipek, and key developers Thomas Lu, Christina Orcutt and Aditya Sareen, along with other students from the USC Games program. Music and audio design by Max Rose and Joe Tooley, and other contributors to the project are Chris Muriel, Lishan Amde, Yiwen Dai, Jung-Ho Sohn and Atwood Deng.