Creator Spotlight: 5 Questions with OfficeBots’ Pranee McKinlay

With it being E3 week we can’t not talk about gaming this week we wanted to talk to a creator whose VR you may have seen as part of the St Kilda Film Festival – OfficeBots: Reality Bytes.
Released last year OfficeBots puts you a corporate office, with robotic co-workers and looking to escape. The game is available now with the “Quantum Update” being released only last week. So take 5 with the game’s Creator, Pranee McKinlay.

What are you reading right now? I’m currently in the middle of reading Milan Kundera’s, “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”. He’s such a passionate, thoughtful, and emotive writer that I just love his work. Unfortunately, I’ve been too busy working lately that it seems to be taking me forever to finish it!

What is OfficeBots? Why is it important? OfficeBots: Reality Bytes is a virtual reality experience which was released last year on Steam. It’s a little game with a big heart which encourages player empathy and tells a tale of hope and friendship. It’s set in a dreary corporate office. The player’s encouraged to listen to their co-worker’s stories, help solve their problems, and learn their secrets in the process. It’s about bringing happiness to others and hopefully finding it for oneself.

It was initially created as a solo project which I developed part time while working a day job. Thankfully, I was a recipient of a Marketing and Release grant from Film Victoria. It’s given me the opportunity to do a major overhaul of a lot of the game’s features, add new achievements, activities, and give it full Oculus Rift support. It’s a much better, more polished experience because of this. This new Quantum Update has allowed me to fully realise my initial vision in a more complete way. I was able to employ the assistance of a small but fabulous team to help me enhance the project.

For me, the project is an experiment. I went through a long period of reflection before making this game.  I thought about how people have these dreams, desires and life goals which get side-tracked because “life” gets in the way.  Many people face hurdles which set them back. They may come from a poor family who can’t afford to support their further education.  They may face homelessness at an early age. Someone close to them may become sick and they need to take time out to care for them. Maybe they suffer from depression which makes everything hard. Maybe they became a single parent at a young 

age and are faced with the responsibility of looking after another. Perhaps it’s the result of external societal factors such as racism, economic systems, sexism, or homophobia. All these barriers can make it harder for people to achieve their desired dreams. I also felt that western cultures in particular often focus upon a person’s identity and worth being greatly determined by their career success or failures.  

So I wanted to experiment with conveying all these thoughts I was having by creating an experience which resonated with some people, and encouraged reflection, cognitive empathy, and compassion for others. I’m not sure if I succeeded but it was an interesting experiment nonetheless. It’s a difficult challenge, especially as a solo developer with minimal resources.  

I’m so thankful that Film Victoria has given me the financial support and encouragement to help me improve the project so that it can potentially reach a wider audience. It’s a super niche game and the virtual reality market is tiny. I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished with this new update and I hope more people get to experience it. I think it’s really important to provide these different experiences and to tell stories that matter.

Apart from your game what should everyone be looking out for in local Australian Pop Culture? There’s so much amazingly creative stuff out there! A former colleague of mine, Simon Ward, has collaborated with Jess Johnson to install the first immersive virtual reality installation at the National Gallery of Australia. It’s called Terminus and it uses a new and emerging technology to present art in an exciting way that’s incredibly immersive and surreal.

I’m also closely watching the development of Melbourne game, Wayward Strand which is an interactive story about a teenage girl exploring an airborne hospital and getting to know the patients within. The development team is super talented and they’re really pushing boundaries in how stories can be told in games.

There’s also a local Melbourne artist who goes by the name, Marc-O-Matic. He creates beautifully intricate and creative augmented reality artworks inspired by a steampunk aesthetic. It’s well worth checking out his work if you haven’t already.

Major prediction for Pop Culture 12 months from now? I think people are getting more and more interested in hearing and experiencing personal stories and this is encouraging artists and creators to take risks and be more experimental. This is a great thing and all the various mediums out there will be all the better for it.

We’ll also see a greater fusion of mediums and disciplines, especially within the VR, AR, and Mixed Reality spaces. Many creators from the traditional film industry are entering these spaces as well as playing around with creating films rendered with real-time graphics. Look at the work Neill Blomkamp is creating at Oats Studio with the Unity Engine. Weta Workshop now has a games department in collaboration with Magic Leap and even Elijah Wood is working on a virtual reality thriller in his film studio, SpectreVision.

It’s exciting times ahead for people working in creative spaces with technology and it makes me incredibly happy to see this all develop further.

Best last thing you ate? There’s a wonderful place in Fitzroy called the Grub Food Van. It’s got a retro van in the front garden which is filled with fruit trees and looks like someone’s country garden. 

The interior is a conservatory of sorts, full of more fruit trees, plants, and fish ponds. I ate their kingfish salami which they served with kipfler potato salad, salmon roe, and a new favorite taste sensation for me, finger lime. It’s a native Australian bush fruit which is like citrus caviar. It tasted a bit like grapefruit would if it had an affair with a lime tree. It was truly delightful!

And that’s 5! Don’t forget to pickup Officebots for your compatible VR hardware through Steam now and for more information plus Pranee’s other current projects jump over to the FutureStateMachine website.