October 11 marked an important milestone for Meta Connect: It was the first time we hosted our annual AR/VR conference in Meta Horizon Worlds. People 18+ where Worlds is available were able to don their Meta Quest 2 headsets, hop into VR, and experience the event together—despite being separated by physical distance.
“Connect was our most ambitious event in Worlds to date, and it took a village of incredible talent to make this possible,” says Executive Producer Yelena Rachitsky. “There are few things as rewarding as witnessing a passionate team come together to build something magical, something we’re seeing our creators do in Worlds on a daily basis.”
Today, we’re pulling back the curtain on our process and sharing lessons learned with the Meta Horizon Worlds community of creators.
Designed Around People
We wanted the space to be easy for people to navigate—even if they were new to VR. An architecture that readily lent itself to serendipitous interactions between attendees was top of mind as well.
A 3D Meta logo served as a central landmark to help attendees orient themselves, while a nearby wayfinding sign helped people quickly find the sessions and content they were interested in. The Meta logo was a custom model imported into Worlds—a new feature for creators coming soon.
And of course, there’s some wisdom in the saying that form should follow function. As Meta’s Art Lead John Lomax puts it: “Architecturally, we wanted all the set dressings, decor, tables, and ambiances to be familiar to create a cohesive, delightful experience, while also providing easy ways to navigate the space.”
Various rooms, nooks, and spaces encouraged smaller groups of people for conversation. Cooperative game design was employed to encourage socializing. When two people clinked their coffee mugs together, for example, it spawned icebreaker questions related to AR/VR to spur conversation—an interaction that used triggers and text tools available to all Worlds creators today.
We designed the keynote space to let attendees enjoy the experience together without distractions. And we laid out virtual “seats” to give them their own personal viewing space. As a result, we saw attendees engaging in behaviors that were analogous to the physical world. People took their seats in the virtual room without being instructed to do so—they didn’t crowd each other, and people weren’t noisy or disruptive during the keynote.
And when the screen disappeared, the environment transformed, and the avatars of Mark Zuckerberg and Aigerim Shorman stepped out, the crowd rushed to the stage, cheering in surprise. It was an incredible moment—a far different experience than watching it all play out on a 2D screen, and it was also something only possible in VR.
With so many gatherings going virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was something magical about this immersive, social conference experience, with serendipitous moments like we enjoyed when Connect was held in-person. People met up in Meta Square and had friendly side chats in the virtual hallways, and John Carmack even met up and chatted with fans.
Dynamic & Engaging Environments
With a virtual space, you can pull off feats that simply aren’t possible in the physical world—including some next-level stagecraft. As the keynote progressed, Meta Square’s environments, lighting, and animations changed to keep people engaged and visually stimulated while also showcasing what’s possible when the sense of delight technology can enable is brought to the fore. The evolving immersive environments surrounded the screen and emphasized its content using VR’s unique abilities of scale, distance, and perspective.
“The dynamic environment changes for the Connect keynote were built entirely inside of Worlds,” explains Art Lead Randy Nolta. “Bringing these environments to life required building a brand-new custom animation sequence and easing system. It was important to deliver an experience that would be feasible for our own community to achieve as well. That’s why everything we did here was made entirely from the same code blocks our creators have access to.”
Dynamic lighting was also a necessity to make the experience feel premium. The team used a lighting management system designed to deliver a rich experience within the limit of 20 dynamic lights per world. It was composed of the following:
- Light Node: A text object placed in the world that defines the color, intensity, and falloff of a dynamic light
- Light Object: A wrapper around a dynamic light that lets you easily update the light’s settings
- Stage Enumeration: The team defined an integer used as an enumerator to identify which Light Node applied to which stage
- Lighting Manager: Stores references to each of the Light Nodes in the scene as well as each of the Light Objects—when we want to set new stage lighting, we ask the Lighting Manager to set the stage for a specific enumeration and it will iterate through all Light Objects, set their properties as defined in the Light Nodes, and move them to the right position
Performance management was necessary to hide complex geometry and keep the frame rates smooth. The team built a simple scene management system to help asset load parts of the dynamic environments. Additionally, they built audio zones to help reduce the need for large trigger volumes to swap music when entering and exiting different rooms.
A Unified Event Experience
Finally, we wanted all attendees in Worlds to be able to share the same Connect experience, with keynote viewing in sync across instances.
To that end, the keynote’s timeline was managed with a “server time” event system, so everyone in all of the various instances of the world saw the same sequence at the same time. This helped provide a singular, cohesive event experience.
This “server time” event system is early in development and not yet available to the public. In the future, we hope to make it possible for creators to leverage this tool to enable similar content synching across multiple instances for their own large-scale events.
Another Step on the Road to the Metaverse
While it’s still early days, Connect showcased the unique power of social VR experiences and gave us a tangible example of the value the metaverse promises to bring. It also highlights the opportunity for creators to experiment and push our existing tech stack.
Says Meta Product Designer Andrew Curtis, “The Connect keynote was an insanely complex world. We intentionally pushed the tools to their absolute limit, not only to deliver a great experience for attendees, but also to showcase what’s possible in Worlds today. We hope that by sharing this look at our work, it will inspire the Worlds community to take risks and experiment in their own world-building—and maybe inspire new creators to join us.”
Ultimately, we were able to host a successful event—but we also learned more about the capacity of Worlds to help host dynamic, large-scale events in the future.
To learn how to build engaging worlds with the latest creation tools, check out more information here.