July 2, 2018

REWIND uses Unreal Engine to bring VR Hacker Hostel to life

By Ken Pimentel

When UK-based company REWIND set out to create a virtual reality experience for HBO’s hit comedy series Silicon Valley, their goal was to make something that brought the fans themselves into the show. The result was Silicon Valley: Inside the Hacker Hostel, an interactive VR experience of the show’s iconic hangout complete with laptops, toys, food, beer, and even a piano—more than 750 interactive objects in all.

“You can go in and pick up, throw about, touch and interact with absolutely everything in the house,” says Kate Ellis, Head of Production at REWIND. “It is just littered with little in-jokes, little Easter Eggs. You can spend hours in there.”

The TV show itself has won numerous awards, and now the VR experience has followed suit— Silicon Valley: Inside the Hacker Hostel won a prestigious Cannes Lion award in the Digital Craft category for 2018.

Inside the Hacker Hostel

In the Silicon Valley series, the Hacker Hostel is a tech incubator in a suburban house, serving as both home and office to several software developers. 
Who says whiteboard markers are just for whiteboards?
Visitors to the VR Hacker Hostel are greeted by messages from the show’s characters, and are encouraged to roam around, eat, drink, smoke, play games, search for hidden messages, throw things, make a mess (and clean it up, should they want to), play the piano, help with coding problems, or just hang out.

The space also includes several references to the episodes themselves—visitors can play the Always Blue ball game, or use the Not Hot Dog app to determine whether a particular food is (or isn’t) a hot dog. 

Driving VR with Unreal Engine

To create a VR experience with hundreds of interactive objects, REWIND turned to Unreal Engine for its tools and performance. “Most of Hacker Hostel was created in Blueprint,” says Solomon Rogers, Founder/CEO at REWIND, referring to Unreal Engine’s visual scripting tool. Blueprints can, among other things, control interactive triggers and object animation with intuitive graphical relationships.
Blueprint controls the objects in the Hacker Hostel.
During development of the Hacker Hostel VR experience, the team had some initial concerns about maintaining 90fps in Unreal Engine. “We were just throwing assets at Unreal on a day-to day basis,” says Ellis.

Custom profiling support turned out to be key, so artists could test assets themselves. “Artists can view directly in-engine to see how their assets perform,” says Sam Birley, Lead Developer at REWIND. Despite the huge dataset, Unreal Engine maintains a minimum 90fps frame rate for the VR experience.
blog-body-img1.jpgVisitors can take a virtual bite of this correctly-identified hot dog. 

“As REWIND lives in the gap between entertainment and film and advertising, having a product which is developing with us to create these movies and content, it’s phenomenal,” says Rogers. “Unreal Engine has really become the core of our pipeline, allowing us to deliver on every platform.”

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