April 3, 2018

How Unreal Engine helped HBO and REWIND create a perfect VR recreation of the Hacker Hostel from Silicon Valley

Hey there! We’re REWIND, an immersive content studio with a passion for AR, VR, MR and beyond. We’re celebrating the release of our latest VR experience, developed in collaboration with HBO - Silicon Valley: Inside the Hacker Hostel, and we’re thrilled to tell you how our team collaborated with the show’s marketing team to create a perfect 1:1 recreation of the set of HBO’s Emmy®-winning comedy series. The experience comes complete with original scripted video content from the principal talent of the show, created in collaboration with the show’s writers. The experience launched on Viveport on March 25 to coincide with season five of the show, making it the perfect accompaniment to the latest episodes.

Silicon Valley: Inside the Hacker Hostel is a real-time VR experience for the HTC Vive, taking fans into the home where the show’s main characters live and work, giving them one-on-one encounters with Richard (Thomas Middleditch), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Big Head (Josh Brener) and Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang). There are plenty of interactive elements in the experience, from a table football with an AI opponent to a fully playable piano. You can even get ‘drunk’ on tequila and ‘stoned’, with the screen distorting to simulate the feeling of the room spinning!

Creating The Hacker Hostel


As you can imagine, a lot of pre-production work had to be carried out to ensure our digital recreation perfectly captured the look and feel of the actual space, as authenticity was the main point of the experience. HBO invited the team to the show’s set to capture thousands of photo references, both of props and the set, including 360º captures of each room, so we could get the lighting exactly right. From the images, we were then able to recreate these iconic assets in Autodesk 3ds Max, Maya and Substance Designer/Painter.


Given the sheer number of props within the experience, we had to approach it in a modular fashion, in order to ensure the house was as accurate to the real-life environment as possible, and a 1:1 representation of the space. We utilised highly detailed blueprint designs provided by HBO as our main reference point for the project, modelling all of the floors, walls, and ceilings in 3ds Max and Maya, which were then imported pre-transformed into Unreal Engine, ensuring a perfect replica.


To ensure continuity within the environment and interactive elements, HBO also provided us with the technical design documentation for the iconic ‘Always Blue’ ball, allowing us to model and rig the ball according to the exact specs. HBO provided us with a ton of reference images from the show, along with images from their other shows for some in-universe set decoration, which we were then able to implement into our experience. There were other parties from HBO involved throughout the production of the experience, namely their Interactive Design team - the experience contains so many items, HBO’s team were keen to ensure that textures for the likes of books, bottles, cans and all other interactive objects were bespoke and consistent with the show’s aesthetic and branding.

Utilising Built-in Systems


Many of Unreal’s built-in systems saved us a lot of time when creating the experience, so we’d like to call out some of them here;

  • Unreal Engine’s Blueprint system allowed for rapid prototyping of all the game mechanics in Silicon Valley: Inside the Hacker Hostel. The Sticky Note system was essential to the core of the experience’s narrative, as the objective is to find Richard’s sticky note inside the hostel. We were very quickly able to create and iterate on the sticky note mechanic, littering the experience with literally hundreds of notes, of different sizes, shapes, and colours.
  • Unreal’s Automatic LOD Generation was an absolute life-saver. Silicon Valley: Inside the Hacker Hostel contains 756 interactive objects, and authoring custom LODs for all those assets would have been a massive time sink. Automatic LOD Generation might have saved us over a week of production time.
  • Unreal’s Widget Blueprints were used extensively to create authentic feeling mobile phone touch screens and for bringing many of the computer monitors around the hostel to life. Not since DOOM 3 has there been this many interactive screens!
  • LightMass was used to statically light the scene, giving us high-quality lighting and shadows on all of our static geometry. We were able to use the 360º images of the real-life rooms we captured from our set visit to ensure our lighting and post-processing perfectly matched the look of the hacker hostel in the show. For our dynamic assets, we made heavy use of reflection capture probes to bring convincing lighting to those. Many of these objects also made use of Capsule Shadows, giving us convincing and cheap contact shadows.
  • Similarly to how Unreal Engine’s Automatic LOD Generation allowed us to save a lot of time on LOD model authoring, the Destructible Mesh system allowed us to very quickly and easily create broken states for the multiple ceramic and glass items scattered around the environment.

As you can see, we used a lot of Unreal Engine’s built-in systems, married with our own in-house VR template, specifically designed for convincing physically-based interactions, bringing users into the world of Silicon Valley in a way only possible with such advanced technology. Allowing players to interact - to prod, throw, push, and smash - delights and entertains, and we couldn’t be happier with the result.


Thanks for reading! Silicon Valley: Inside the Hacker Hostel is a collaboration between Silicon Valley, HBO, and REWIND, and is currently available for US players on HTC’s Viveport platform. For further updates on where to download the VR experience visit SiliconValleyVR.com.