Life in the Metaverse – What’s In the Box?!
Oh God, What Is It This Time?
The trivia night. The pub quiz. Whatever you call it, we’ve been splitting into teams and challenging each other to answer questions about minutiae forever, whether the questions are related to sports, historical events, gaming, or a dozen other topics. Now it’s happening in social VR, and it’s awesome.
A little under a year ago, in the burgeoning online metaverse called VRChat, enterprising content developer Naticus decided he wanted to recreate the trivia night experience for social VR. After some creative scripting, trial and error, and a good bit of multiplayer testing, one of VRChat’s most popular bi-monthly events, the cleverly titled “What’s in the Box!?” was born, and has grown in popularity since.
Like other trivia events, “What’s In The Box!?” challenges teams of up to nine players to answer obscure questions (primarily involving pop and geek culture) but the approach is just a tad different. Instead of heading to your local bar or other venue, “What’s In the Box!?” takes place in Hell. Nine circles of it, specifically. Fortunately for those participating, Hell isn’t actually that bad. It even has trampolines.
Wait, Why Trampolines?
Bouncing. Once every two weeks, a new set of trivia circles arrives as a new VRChat world, and intrepid teams descend through the nine circles of (virtual) Hell to identify 80s love ballads, random ships from Star Trek, and sometimes even fellow users from VRChat itself. In “What’s in the Box?!” your MC is Satan, actually (channeled by VR/AR developer Reverend Kyle) and each circle of Hell is a particular trivia category, ranging from “Keanu Reeves Characters” to “Altspace Avatars” and Satan knows what else.
Unlike trivia nights in meatspace, where users raise their hands (or just yell answers) each circle of Hell contains eleven boxes (hence the title, “What’s in the Box?!”) on pedestals at the center of the ring. Inside each box waits an image or audio clip. To progress, users literally pick up the box and jam their head inside it, because you can jam your head inside anything in VR (and why wouldn’t you, honestly?)
In the case of a visual clue, users see a picture inside the box, and in the case of an audio clue, they hear an audio sample played so long as their head remains inside the box. Each Hell circle consists of nine braziers and eleven boxes, meaning there are always two “false” answers that are never used.
Once each trivia circle begins, a single brazier appears with an answer floating above it (such as “John Wick”). In such a case, the circle might be titled “Keanu Reeves Characters”. Participants then grab boxes as a team and (assuming they actually know who John Wick is) search for the box holding an image of Keanu Reeves playing John Wick. Once found, they toss that box into the brazier to advance.
Tossing the right answer into the brazier consumes the box and unlocks the next brazier in the circle, while tossing in the wrong box ices over the brazier for three seconds, preventing all other boxes from being tossed in until the ice penalty clears. Teams compete to complete each of the nine circles in the fastest time, with the winning team claiming victory, a group photo in front of Satan’s giant guitar, and mocking privileges. In addition to a rotating stable of refreshments in the Victory Circle, there is also a potato people toss around that whistles happily until it explodes (thanks for that, Korro).
There’s an Exploding Potato?
There is always an exploding potato. That’s not important right now.
Curious what a round of “What’s In the Box?!” is like? It’s easier to show than tell. Those interested can watch this video of trivia night with Team Avian (led by ZircronSwift, bird enthusiast) as they frantically juggle boxes and yell answers at each other in a ballet of comical desperation and enthusiasm.
(Skip to 4:40 if jump to a game in progress. Don’t skip anything if you enjoy comical absurdity. Audio Warning: There are a few naughty words)
You Still Haven’t Explained Why There’s an Exploding Potato
Correct. To learn more about what inspired “What’s In the Box?!” and how it came to be, I tossed some questions at its primary developer, Naticus. Here’s what he had to say!
Other than developing for virtual reality, what’s your background?
Professionally, I work for a healthcare association in fundraising. I have a law degree and I help donors leave large gifts through planned giving. Even though fundraising has nothing to do with VR development, I’ve had the opportunity to help evangelize VR by demoing my Vive at some of the association conferences. This is the first exposure to VR for a lot of the attendees and it has been to see their reactions. Many have remarked how VR has great potential for education and training in the healthcare sector.
How did you come up with What’s in the Box?!
At the time, I wanted to create an experience for VRChat that was replayable. Pub trivia has always been a favorite of mine and my wife and I wanted to find a way to bring the social aspect of that into VR. The idea to put the trivia content in boxes came from a fun game at The Great Pug during a St. Patrick’s Day event. Owlboy, the proprietor, had hid tiny gold coins all over the bar as a mini game and everyone had to scour the virtual spaces to find them all. I found that it was a lot of fun to look inside of things in VR and it might be fun to do that as a trivia mechanic.
Most pub trivia nights have several rounds and categories so I needed a world structure that could accommodate that. Dante’s nine levels of Hell seemed to work well with the difficulty of the trivia becoming the source of punishment. The event needed to be set up in a way that would discourage Google searching to find answers. Pitting teams against each other in a race format raises the stakes and means that players can’t waste time to research the trivia.
How long did it take to develop the first prototype?
The first prototype took about two weeks to develop, however the game is constantly being tweaked. Another VRChat user, KuraiOokami, helped the effort by adding detailed stats tracking that now provides the players feedback on how they played. The two of us are always looking for new twists to add to the game to make it more challenging. Half the fun for us is seeing how the players react to these new hurdles.
What motivates you to do all his hard work? Why create a new version of What’s in the Box?! every two weeks?
The best part of developing What’s in the Box is bringing the community together for a little friendly competition. It has been fun seeing the teams evolve and I’ll keep making these as long as people still want to play. It can be a lot of work but it is so gratifying when individuals get to shine with their own areas of expertise.
You’re Never Going to Explain the Potato Thing, Are You?
Who can explain the exploding potato? Why does it whistle? Why do people toss it around? Why does it explode when so many other things do not? These are questions we may never answer.