Hey Kevin! Thanks for taking the time to talk about some of your projects! People know your amazing work (whether they know it or not) from Bsaber’s “preview song button”.
Your Beatsaver Previewer has become a HUGELY useful feature when finding good songs to play. I personally use it every day to mark songs to try for the “Curator Recommended” section.
What exactly is your newest project / game Moon Rider?
Yeah, so Moon Rider is a free and open source VR music visualization and rhythm game that is playable completely from the web. The gameplay consists of surfing a musical road among stars, tunnels, and the northern lights. The game / site has a variety of modes such as Ride Mode and Punch Mode. The experience, like the Beatsaver Viewer, is powered by the public community Beatsaver data set that features something like 15,000 songs now? Really an amazing achievement!
You mentioned that it even works on the new Oculus Quest? That’s really exciting! How do you access it?
You can open Moon Rider in any browser (e.g., Firefox, Chrome) right now by heading over to the URL https://moonrider.xyz. Even on a smartphone! (Although iOS currently won’t play the song format until we can merge my code patch into Beatsaver).
If you have a VR headset, you can dive in the upcoming Oculus Quest via Oculus Browser. Or on a Rift or Vive via Supermedum or Firefox on your desktop. If you have a Daydream or Oculus Go, that also works for Ride Mode or Viewer Mode. It pretty much works anywhere without installing anything. The smoothest way with the best performance is to install our Supermedium browser through Steam or Oculus, and it’ll be featured there.
That’s awesome! It’s incredible that full VR experiences can be served all through a website, without downloading any apps. So who are you guys? What got you into all this?
We’re three people at Supermedium. We’re working on building the browser for the “VR Internet.” Supermedium is a browser available for free on Oculus and Steam desktop that lets you easily surf hundreds of VR applications published on the Web. We’re trying to imagine a Web if it was only 3D and VR content, throwing the 2D Web out the window. It’s still an early product, but we hope to improve further.
So is it mainly the browser you’re working on or the technology behind it too?
Yeah, we’re also the creators and maintainers of A-Frame, an open source web framework for building VR experiences, which we used to build Moon Rider. Previously, we were on the original VR team at Mozilla that pioneered WebVR which enables VR in the browser over the Web.
The possibilities of a VR web is really exciting, without the friction and approval process of getting a game on the Oculus store, for example.
What other projects have you done? What was the motivation to build a whole playable game in the form of “Moon Rider” after making the Beatsaver Viewer?
Yeah, so as you mentioned, we developed the open source Beat Saver Viewer site. It seems to have been really well received and useful for the mapping community. Over the last few months, we’ve seen tens of thousands of people using the Viewer hundreds of thousands of times. It’s used here on BeastSaber to preview maps and check out what songs people might want to play. The Viewer is also officially used on the Discord for mappers to review and critique each other’s unreleased maps.
We’ve also previously contributed to VR rhythm communities in the past as well. We collaborated with ericflo to build for free the Web version of Soundboxing, one of the original VR rhythm games. It’s since become one of the most popular experiences featured on Supermedium, our VR browser. We’re big fans of music and rhythm games, and we’d love to see this community grow and continue to push VR forward.
So with Moon Rider, we thought we could try repurposing the Viewer and build an original VR music visualization experience. We wanted to create a unique visual experience that was calm, atmospheric, and relaxing with the stars, moon, and aurora borealis. Our technical artist, feiss, crafted everything from scratch based on the feeling of space and Merkabah mysticism.
We started with a Ride Mode where you casually ride this infinite curve into space, watching the lights change, touching the comets as they fly past. Ride Mode is great for chilling or cooling down in between sessions of trying to capture a spot on the leaderboards.
We added in other modes such as Punch Mode and Classic Mode, and retained the Viewer mode. In a way, it’s an alternative version of the Beat Saver Viewer to discover maps or just have a cool way listen to songs. After a few months of building the visuals from scratch, starting from the Beat Saver Viewer codebase, we named it Moon Rider.
That looks really cool! I love the idea of curving through the environments like that.
Yeah, he really did a fantastic job on the visuals! Our hope with Moon Rider was to technically demonstrate that websites are capable of quality 3D and VR experiences, where web technology has traditionally been dismissed in the games industry. I think there are many people that aren’t aware that the Web can be a legitimate way to build and experience VR content in the future. We had fostered a large open source developer community in A-Frame, and wanted to show that A-Frame and the Web were viable open tools for building native-like VR content.
That’s really cool! So really anyone could make a mod for it or create a new gameplay style for it.
How did you get into VR?
Diego was into it from the beginning, following Palmer Luckey on the MTBS3D forum. He Paypal’ed Palmer some money for one of his early prototypes and backed the original Kickstarter. At Mozilla, he was one of the first few people involved from the beginning on bringing VR to the Web. The VR Web community has since grown to tens or hundreds of thousands.
Our other Diego who lives in Spain, known as “feiss”, used to work in the movies and games industry as a technical artist. He was heavily involved in the graphics demoscene so Moon Rider is something right up his alley. He started working in VR with us back when we were at Mozilla.
I was following it towards the beginning, watching people play with the DK1 on YouTube. I got my first headset with the DK2 through eBay, dreaming about playing games like Skyrim or Half Life VR. Little did I know that those wouldn’t be the games that would make VR big. Then, while at Mozilla, I learned about the VR team and really wanted in. Basically, I just headed downstairs and started contributing to the beginnings of A-Frame.
It’s exciting to see where all this goes. What’s your motivation / gets you excited about working in VR?
We want to bring the best ideas of the Web into VR, to make something that’s already awesome even better. Right now, there’s a lot of vendor lock-in and the necessity of app stores that I think limit the potential of VR.
How can other people help you guys? Do you take donations? How are you funded or plan to stay afloat long term as a company?
We don’t take donations. For a while, we worked on things like A-Frame and Supermedium out of our own pocket. We did get investment from Y Combinator and seed investors so we have several years of space to try to push VR on the Web. But we’re pretty frugal. We’ve done some odd contracts with companies like Google, but we’re trying ways to produce revenue so we don’t have to rely as much on funding in the future, like releasing paid apps on Oculus and Steam stores or providing developer tools. For now, we’re releasing projects like Moon Rider for free to push our community forward and raise awareness of the power of webVR.
Do you see a game engine like Unity being made for VR Web game technologies?
It’s grown to be one of the most popular VR frameworks, having been used by hundreds of thousands of people (even kids!), and having been adopted by companies such as Google, Disney, Sony, Chevrolet, Magic Leap, Samsung, and NASA. It’s being taught in schools and events all over the world and even sort of created a small little industry of jobs. We’re going to continue to push better tools and frameworks for easily building VR content.
As a developer, what are some of its strengths?
With A-Frame and developing VR on the Web, it’s a lot more accessible to pick up. You can get started in five minutes and have something showing in your VR headset without needing to download, install, or compile anything. You don’t even need an IDE, you can develop all within your browser with online environments such as glitch.com or repl.it. Development speed is also fast because changing your code reflects instantly in the browser. And then you can instantly share your work online to your friends via a link. There’s a lot of inherent things you can do on the Web that you are unable to do with traditional game engines.
Developers also don’t have to submit their work for review to get approved by an app store. You can just publish their work as a website. In just a few seconds, you can load the site from any device and browser. As a good example, I think Moon Rider would be challenging to get onto the app store, but via the Web, it’s available to everyone today across all headsets and platforms.
As for benefits for users, VR websites load really fast, in seconds with just a click of a link. No need to login, download gigabytes, and install. Websites are on the order of megabytes. And they can even link to one another. For example, we placed a link within Moon Rider that will directly transport you to a similar game in Soundboxing.
For the developers out there maybe wanting to get into it, what would you say are some of the hardest difficulties developing for it currently?
The hardest part is that it’s in its earlier stages compared to existing game engines in terms of raw power, but we have a long roadmap set out for VR on the Web. We’re making great strides in capabilities and performance and we’re closing the gap with native engines. It’s a ton of work, continually improving A-Frame, making more guides, coming out with more tools, and building more content that people might actually want to engage with. We hope Moon Rider becomes something that we can highlight to encourage more people to develop for an open VR platform.
How about some of its current limitations? What are some of those challenges?
Limitations on the Web begin and end with Web specifications and standards. Without standards, websites would not be ensured that it’d be able to run on every browser. But standards don’t move as fast as we would like. The first WebVR implementation was made public and implemented by Firefox in 2014. Five years later, the WebXR spec has not yet shipped. Larger corporations often influence the process and standards get slowed down to accommodate agendas and priorities.
And that story is the same for any new feature that the Web might need in the future (e.g., payments, identity, authentication, avatars). Even right now, we’ve been fighting for the right to be able to do simple navigation between sites in VR. We hope to build Supermedium into a browser that people use while improving A-Frame to gain more influence to speed things up.
We’re big proponents of the Extensible Web Manifesto. We should have low-level standards that can be designed and agreed upon quickly enabling anyone to innovate on top of them. We should try to accelerate the pace at which the Web innovates.
What are some of the ways you’d like to see others contributing to the project?
I think it’d be awesome to continue to experiment and add more types of game modes or jam around with the visuals. We’ve seen on Steam many VR games already making use of Beat Saver maps in creative ways. I could imagine having adding in Whip Mode, Gun Mode, Drum Mode, Hammer Mode. Or a Web-based map editor. Or being able to motion record yourself in an avatar and being able to share your real-time gameplay in 3D with just a link over the Web. At the moment, we’re currently working on adding support to display BeastSaber playlists.
We mentioned how it’s playable on the Oculus Quest already! Can you talk a little more about that?
Yeah! It’s a webpage, not an app; it’ll be able to run on the Oculus Quest through the Web on Oculus Browser or any other browsers that appear on the store. We have our own browser, Supermedium, that’s tailored for surfing VR content on the Web, which we’re trying to get into ship-shape for the Quest.
Can’t wait to also try it tomorrow on my Quest when it comes! What else are you working on outside of Supermedium and A-Frame?
We’re looking at building more Web-based applications and ship them on the stores. Like Moon Rider is already pretty space-y, we’re looking at doing a planetarium using star data. We were also granted access to LIDAR scans of El Capitan in Yosemite, so perhaps we can use that to do something interesting. We want to prove we can build engaging and performant Web-based experiences that are featured alongside native apps, while improving our own tools and workflows. Whatever pushes VR forward.
Very cool! Well, thanks for chatting today! The whole community can’t thank you enough for your hard work on the Beatsaver Viewer as it really has become such an essential way to hunt down and peek into maps to see if they’re worth playing.
We’re also really excited to try out some of our favorite maps with Moon Rider. Thanks for taking the time and thanks for all you do!!