An Inside Look into How We Make Virtual Reality Playsets for Mindshow

Behinds the Scenes: Designing the Presentation Stage

It’s time for your Steve Jobs moment! Introducing the Presentation Stage, the newest playset we’re adding to Mindshow (now available on Steam). We spoke with Luke Patterson (our Co-Founder and Lead Designer) and Jenny Yu (our Environment Concept Artist) to give you an inside look into how we made it!

First off, what’s a playset?

Playsets are a grouping of assets (e.g. sets, characters, and props) that fit together nicely to help you put on a particular kind of show. For example, we designed the Space Bridge (our first playset) with the idea that you could make spoofs of movies like Star Trek or Star Wars.

One of the first pieces of concept art Jenny made for the Presentation Stage.

What’s the design process like for creating a set?

We start by sketching out a thumbnail that communicates a set’s core concept. Based on the thumbnail, Luke then creates a simple floor plan for the environment. Once we feel happy with it, we create a shot breakdown of cool frames you could get with the camera tool. We’ll often make changes to the layout to accommodate the new shot concepts.

After we figure out a set’s basic structure, Jenny creates a mood painting: a lighting, color, and composition scheme that informs the overall aesthetic.

Our gray box prototypes!

Liem Nguyen (our Environment Modeler) transforms Luke’s layout into a 3D scene in Maya we call a “gray box.” He works with Jenny to embed narrative information within the entire space, so no matter where you point the camera, there will always be something interesting to look at. We then test the set internally to see what it’s like in VR.

Once that’s approved by Marc Brownlow (our Art Director), we polish the set by creating beautiful textures and lighting.

Feedback on Jenny’s concept art.

What inspired you to make the Presentation Stage playset?

Every set we design serves a particular purpose and player personality. In this case, we wanted to create a set that satisfied the kind of player that enjoys our News Station and likes giving monologues. *silly example*

What kind of shows can you make with it?

We had four primary use cases in mind: product announcements, TED-style talks, debates, and award shows.

Feedback on our prototype gray box set that began as a debate stage.

How did the set evolve as you designed it?

We initially conceived this playset as a debate stage, but after realizing other fun use cases, we added a storage room filled with cool props that increased the narrative possibilities. We also a added a deletable curtain that reveals multiple prompt cards based on various TED talk topics to give players inspiration for things to talk about.

Some of the prompt cards that appear on the wall behind the curtain.

How did you come up with the characters for this set?

Identifying roles that haven’t already been filled by other characters, we thought it’d be fun to create a tech thought leader (Boss Aiko), a politician (Fancy Barb), and a moderator (Owl). Marc and Taylor Krahenbuhl (our Character Designer) really knocked it out of the park with these characters!

What are some of the challenges when you design sets for both VR and 2D video?

Objects look brighter in the headset compared to exported video, so we increase the contrast in the lighting for the shots we expect most people to shoot. Since characters need to be the focus of attention, we reduce detail in the background of our sets, make different areas feel distinct from each other (value grouping), and maintain a simple art style.

Hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look into how we make our sets at Mindshow! If you want to play with it yourself, download Mindshow now on Steam, or watch some funny videos on our YouTube channel.