Nominee Threshold Award Autonomous Practices
Meet Jacob Eriksson and Angelina (Lina) Maldeikyte! Jacob and Lina are nominated for the 2021 Threshold Award Autonomous Practices with their graduation project ‘Recursion Excursion’. On top of that, Jacob was also nominated for the 2021 BA Research Award. In this interview, the duo tells us about their work and future plans.
Can you tell us a bit about your graduation project and how it came about?
Lina: During the first half of our graduation year, we started working together to find out whether our collaboration would go smoothly. We departed from our personal research topics and wanted to see if those would fit together. Jacob was looking into competitive collaboration and I was researching the nostalgia of Russian youth in game design. Our graduation project tied those two themes together nicely. The collaboration worked really well because our skills complement each other nicely. I am a visual designer and Jacob is an interaction designer. Combining the two enabled us to realise a project that is more advanced and complex than anything we could accomplish on our own. During that first semester, we developed the concept for Recursion Excursion and elaborated it further in the second half of the year.
Jacob: Recursion Excursion is an asymmetric, semi-cooperative, interactive experience that is played by two players. One of the players is using virtual reality, while the other is playing on the computer. The narrative of the game is about young adolescents that are in the process of discovering their place in society and finding their independence. They have been abducted from their homes and awakened in this sort of dark alien landscape. The virtual reality player can navigate through the environment and interact with the physical space, while the player on the PC is confined to one area. They have access to a system of cameras, as well as a unique time rewinding mechanism they can use to change the physical space of the environment, in which the VR player is walking around. The two players must work together to solve memory-based, environmental puzzles. So they explore the memories of their characters by replaying them in a physical way. And by doing this, they unlock the mystery of this extraterrestrial environment and eventually find their way home. But there is also an element of social deception. We do not just want the players to be nice and happy and friendly, but we also want to create distrust between the players and challenge them to work through social obstacles next to the physical ones.
I have done some VR projects in the past, mostly focusing on interaction design. Something I noticed about existing VR games is that often, there is only one person experiencing the game in VR and everyone else is just sort of standing around and watching this person play. So we wanted to find a way in which we could incorporate the audience into the experience. That is where the idea of the PC player comes in. This player is not part of the VR experience directly, but can still influence what is happening in the environment.
Which themes or societal concerns are you addressing in your work, and how?
Lina: As I mentioned before, we both have our separate research interests. For me, it is nostalgia in the young post-Soviet generation in Russia, because that is something that I can relate to. I channeled this style through visual mapping of the nostalgia of this young generation. And this is something that we are going to continue doing. For now, this very vibrant style is expressed in the colors, atmospheres, and in the overall picture of a moment that is very quick to pass.
Jacob: In my research, I focused on the social aspect and the dynamics between the two players. I looked into what is called ‘competitive collaboration’, a format in which players have opposing goals, but need each others' help in order to reach them, to put it shortly. But as the project developed, I wanted to make it a bit more personal and narrative-driven. So instead of only focusing on the interaction, I also looked into the meaning behind it. And that is where I started researching ‘meaningful interaction’, which is about the cultural influence and impact that a game has relative to a player's background, and how their sense of presence within the experience helps them bring the message of the game into their own lives.
Besides that, we paid a lot of attention to narrative development and themes for the characters. Because they are young adolescents that are finding a sense of independence, there is a lot of emphasis on personal growth. The game explores how you can develop yourself through social interaction and by relating to others in similar situations as yourself. And how these interactions change who you become later on your path towards self-discovery. But it is not only through positive elements that these themes are explored. There are also moments where we shift the dynamic between players to create a social conflict and challenge the trust between them. The players need to decide by themselves if they want to keep working together, which will influence the outcome of the game.
What will you be working on in the near future? What are your next steps?
Lina: At this point, we have created the interaction level, which is showcasing the gameplay and the puzzle mechanics. We are now working towards the development of introduction levels that are separate for each character and allows players to learn more about their character and the general narrative. We are also working on a pitch to apply for funding for the further development of the project. The funds that we have in mind at the moment are Midgame Fund, Stimuleringsfonds and Immerse Interact, among others. Ideally, we would like to develop the project fully so that we have enough levels to tell the full story and create more of those interesting moments of (dis)trust and interaction between the players.
Jacob: It is also worth mentioning that with these funds—because we are not experts in every field—we would really like to collaborate with audio designers, production designers, technical programmers, etc. to help us cover the areas that we do not have the time or technical ability for. So that is a big part of our motivation to apply for funding.
I hope we will be able to finish the project within a year or two.
Lina: Or maybe even three! Our hope is that the development of the game can serve as a baseline for other projects in the long term.
To read more about Jacob and Lina’s work, pay a visit to their Graduation Catalogue Pages (Jacob’s page, Lina’s page). Furthermore, their journey can be followed on Instagram (Jacob’s Instagram, Lina’s Instagram), their Websites (Jacob’s website, Lina’s website), and Recursion Excursion’s Website. The winners of the Threshold Award Autonomous Practices and the BA Research Award will be announced during a festive ceremony as part of the Graduation Show. Keep an eye on our Graduation Show page for more information.