Occupy White Walls preview: ‘not hipster Minecraft’

You can jump into Occupy White Walls with one goal in mind, if you like – that being to construct a museum to your exact specifications and fill it with the sorts of exhibits you want to see. You could leave it at that and have an attractive proposition – something a bit different, and something with a definite allure beyond the usual array of titles to let you shoot/jump/kick balls endlessly.

It’s in adding an MMO aspect, though, that developer StikiPixels really lets Occupy White Walls shine. With a level of collaboration underlying everything you do (should you want it to, at least), you’re able to construct, curate, and even discover artistic works alongside others. As Alex Spyropoulos, creative director at StikiPixels, says: “It is a building MMO, with real-world art.“

It’s not your typical video game idea, so we asked what it was that inspired the decision to make this gallery/space/museum-’em-up. “As gamers who like art, we always found the museum experience very dull and passive,” explains Yarden Yaroshevski, CEO of StikiPixels.

“Visitors have no agency; no-one lets you redesign the Tate how you’d like it… it’s like visiting someone else’s taste in art. Games are the opposite – as the player, you have power, and the world revolves around you, so one day we asked ourselves ‘What if art was actually fun?’. When we dug deeper, we discovered there were (almost) no games about art, so…”

As we all know – because we’re smart and cultured and that’s why we read (or work for) Wireframe – art is very much subjective, so making Occupy White Walls a game, or experience, that just presents the players with a predefined selection of things was never going to work. The community aspect was always necessary to make the title a success, but even with that in mind, the developers were taken by surprise at just how positive the response has already been.

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At its simplest, Occupy White Walls is a virtual art gallery, with all that might entail.

“[The community is] super-creative and engaged and has a ton of great ideas,” Yaroshevski says. “On the other hand, sometimes we have ideas we think are awesome, but players don’t like them, so we change them. We really can’t stress enough how active the community is; they deserve at least half the credit for Occupy White Walls.”

Another aspect of a community focus ties in with Occupy White Walls’ approach to development, releasing first as an Early Access title, then making its way to Kickstarter to raise funding for further development.

It has… not gone too well, falling short of the full £100,000 it asked for, but it hasn’t seen the project cancelled or disappear – something you would likely see had this gone the more traditional route of ‘fundraise first, make game second’. It just means there’ll be less cash for the studio to pump into creating more walls, doors, staircases, umbrellas, origami, stones, and kitchen utensils for people to play around with.

Setbacks aside, the ambitions for Occupy White Walls remain the same as ever: it’s about opening up the world of art, galleries, museums, and so on to a broader audience; one that might not think itself so interested in this particular world. “It would be easy to say [we aimed solely at] creative types, but that’s not totally true,” Spyropoulos says.

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Fortunately for a game so focused on artistic achievement, Occupy White Walls is rather beautiful.

“It is very important for us to open up and bridge the two worlds: art and games. So I am particularly pleased when we have players who play Fortnite or Battlefield – accountants, policemen, [and so on].” Yaroshevski offers a bit more clarity: “Our audience is creative gamers,” he says.

“We like to call them ‘art curious’ – people who are a bit interested yet underwhelmed by traditional museums and galleries, that are often patronising. Many of our reviews are along the lines of ‘I’m not an artsy person, but I just spent three hours with Egon Schiele…’. This is brilliant; we love it!”

Occupy White Walls backs up its ambitious concept with a bespoke AI system called DAISY, a curation aid to help players discover new art they might not have even known they were interested in. “One thing we became increasingly aware of as we dug deeper and spoke to artists is that the current ‘old-school’ gallery system isn’t working for most artists, in the way it’s supposed to when it comes to connecting artists with people who like their particular work,” Yaroshevski says.

“This led to the realisation that any game/platform would need to have some very clever AI that can do that – successfully guess people’s tastes in art and/or analyse artworks and find the right people who would appreciate them.

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Apparently, we’re not allowed to call the game ‘hipster Minecraft’, so we won’t call it hipster Minecraft. Ahem.

“This level of AI was, for a long time, very expensive, but with recent developments, it became more viable,” he continues. “We then discovered it was much harder than we imagined, but we already started and eventually succeeded… Basically, the world caught up with our vision.”

By no means was this an easy achievement for the team of 15, working remotely with heavy reliance on both Unreal and Slack, with AI dev described as “easy on paper but bloody hard in reality.” But with a solid mix of persistence and intelligence (of the organic variety), the DAISY system was born; a tool to help art-adjacent types get more into something that might otherwise be a bit overwhelming to them. “Also, the players are super-creative and are eager to help,” Yaroshevski adds. “So we often listen to their ideas and incorporate them.”

With ambitions to bring art, architecture and design to a wider audience, Occupy White Walls still has a way to go. But it’s getting there, and with the help of an incredibly dedicated community, the project is trundling along – even with the Kickstarter falling short.

And the ambition sounds like it will just continue to grow, as Spyropoulos goes into some detail: “We want to have a lot of in-game creative tools, to have various activities like creating puzzles, add scripting, music composition tools, even advance locomotion for acrobatics and flying,” he says. “We want to become an important platform for artists, and become a social place to hang out. We want to create the best building system ever. OK, I have to stop now because I can go on for hours…”

Genre: Museum curation-‘em-up
Format: PC
Developer: StikiPixels
Publisher: StikiPixels
Release:__ Out now (Early Access)

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