Welcome back to our weekly spotlight on the people building for Horizon Worlds and their amazing creations.
Last week, we spent some time at The Bubble Gum Box, a great place to experiment with self-expression by trying on a variety of attachables for your avatar.
This week, we talked to Must_Qalandar—the creator of Stardust Mafia, a dramatic game of “persuasion and deceit,” as well as multiple sequels—about the kinds of things he wants his players to take away from their experience, as well as why he finds building in VR so much more fulfilling than designing 2D software.
Tell us a little about yourself. What got you interested in VR?
For a decade, I worked in user experience design and software development. I designed web applications that helped people understand and apply machine learning. And my journey there began with my love for video games and digital creation.
In 2015, I started playing with Google Cardboard and had my most immersive digital experience ever using just my phone and a piece of cardboard that I folded at home.
Before long, I got a Samsung Gear VR and then an Oculus Rift. I started learning how to build VR experiences using Unity. And eventually, I won a VR building competition at work with an application that explored ways of interacting with data and machine learning models in 3D environments.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much corporate adoption of VR at the time, and my company didn’t have the resources to develop a proper VR application, so the project didn’t get funded. But I kept using VR as a hobby and started experimenting with making 360° 3D videos and sculpting in VR. Eventually, I discovered that my perfect creative tool was Horizon Worlds.
What do you draw upon for inspiration when building in Horizon Worlds?
Building in Horizon Worlds is unique because you can seamlessly do modeling, visuals, and scripting, all in one place. I find it very liberating because creativity thrives with boundaries, so it helps me be creative while I focus on building for the end experience.
And when I build, I like to draw inspiration from delightful and memorable experiences I've had playing games with friends. I think about what made a particular interaction memorable or what made a particular game special.
Plus, multiplayer games have been a huge inspiration when it comes to figuring out what promotes the best communication and interactions between players.
What do you want people to take away from their experience with your worlds?
When they play Stardust Mafia or Stardust Cartel, I want them to be able to connect and make new friends by sharing a memorable common experience. I always felt there was a lack of social worlds for introverts like myself who aren’t so comfortable just walking up to people and starting a conversation. I wanted to make worlds that guided players towards teamwork and communication while also providing depth in the individual player mechanics so that people keep coming back to try out the new tricks they’ve learned.
Are you a programmer/creator as your day job, or do you see this as a hobby?
I've been a professional designer and programmer for the past decade. I have a Masters in Computer Science, and I’ve been coding for as long as I can remember.
For me, building in Horizon Worlds is definitely more than a hobby. I’ve been searching for years for a tool that’s perfect for a Jack of all trades like me, and I feel like I’ve finally found it.
I enjoy really diving into the creation process, particularly because Horizon Worlds lets me be productive in ways I never imagined before. I feel confident about building high-quality experiences that people want to come back to again and again. When I built web applications, I always felt like a designer among programmers and a programmer among designers, but in Horizon Worlds, I feel right at home as a “builder.”
Over time, I hope I can support myself making social games in Horizon Worlds.
Do you collaborate with others, and if so, what’s that experience like for you?
I do, mostly with a longtime friend of mine who’s a great visual designer and modeler. Our collaborations have been amazing. We’ve had frictionless communication and interactions while building together, and we’re able to spend time collaborating while also keeping up with our busy lives.
At the same time, I also enjoy jumping into other people's worlds to help them with scripting and building issues whenever possible. That always feels like fun, not work.
What’s your best advice for getting started on building worlds for Horizon Worlds?
Start small and focus on building the breadth (end to end) of an experience before diving into depth and higher fidelity. Avoid the perfection trap from day one of the build, and trust things can and will improve in the future. New builders need to know that they’ll get better with each new effort.
I’d also suggest prototyping and testing “key” differentiators as soon as possible so that you can evaluate the feasibility and fun of what you’re building before getting too far into a concept.
What do you think the ultimate potential is for Horizon Worlds?
It will encourage entertainment, professional, art, and gaming worlds to co-exist on the same platform, and supporting builders will go a long way to creating a frictionless metaverse for all digital interactions.
One example of what I love about Horizon Worlds is that the amount of engagement and feedback I get from real people about my worlds is way beyond anything I ever got when I built software. I can just walk up to someone and ask if they’ll playtest something, or I can observe others playing in my worlds.
Also, my worlds have some very passionate supporters, and engaging and growing that community has been very rewarding. That’s helped a lot with improving my worlds.
How do you think VR fits into the future vision of the metaverse?
I think VR devices may completely replace computers as the tools we use for deep engaging work and learning. VR is the most immersive medium for engaging the human senses, and I really feel it can help people improve their productivity and maintain states of flow while letting them collaborate like never before.
The metaverse will only thrive if new and returning visitors always find it more compelling than legacy digital platforms. And quality VR experiences, in my opinion, will be that differentiator. In addition, a creator-driven VR ecosystem that rewards audience engagement will help lure more serious creatives and programmers from other digital media to the metaverse.
What’s your favorite VR experience?
I love Felix & Paul Studios’ 360° productions like their Cirque du Soleil and Nomads series. Those were the ones that got me emotionally hooked on VR.