Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Picture This: Occupy White Walls

Not content with hooking me back up with an old addiction, yesterday my MMO dealer, Massively OP, turned me on to something new. Something different and strange.

I'd seen the name Occupy White Walls a couple of times before but it hadn't stuck. Some kind of gameified art project, wasn't it? In closed alpha, I think? The sort of thing you file away for future reference to look at when there's something there to see, then promptly forget about.

I would have left it at that but the latest MOP piece came with a video and for some reason I watched it. I can't say why but it was definitely a moment.

Although the video was made by someone highly skeptical about the project, by his own admission not at all part of OWW's target demographic, it nevertheless turns out to be a very effective piece of promotion for the game. It's a considered, informative, thoughtful overview, well worth seven minutes of your time.

It was certainly enough to send me on to the official website. I thought I'd take a look at the application process for the closed alpha for which, according to Massively, sign-ups were being taken.

Only Massively is wrong. Sign-ups aren't being taken because the closed alpha isn't closed. To quote the appropriately arch statement on the front page of the site itself:

OWW is almost ready to go public and shake up everything you thought you knew about the world of art ... and frogs. So now we are releasing the Alpha version of OWW to the selected few individuals who have the courage, the audacity, the vision … or who just clicked our Ad. Alpha means that the game is mostly stable but under heavy development.

So I downloaded and installed the thing, which took maybe ten minutes. Then I made an account and "played" it for a couple of hours.

It's definitely an alpha. There's not much of a warm-up. It throws you right in. The Tutorial is tricky to navigate and the controls seem to be fighting the UI at times - windows overlap a little, you have to back up and come around now and again - but it works more than well enough already to give a clear idea of the potential.

For an MMO player the initial impression is something like a mash-up of Landmark and The Secret World's Museum of the Occult. There's an extensive bank of building pieces - walls, floors, ceilings, stairways, pillars, lighting and so on - which you can place in a way that feels very similar to how it was in Landmark.

It felt so familiar I'd already built my first room before the Tutorial prompted me to open the interface. I messed around with that for a while, changing my wooden avatar for a scarier shattered  glass model, topped off with a fedora.

The part I really wanted to try out was DAISY, the AI that supposedly learns from your choices and suggests art you'd find to your taste. Fevir, who made the video above, was very impressed by DAISY, to the point that he found the experience unsettling. He's not wrong.

I spent about half an hour letting DAISY learn my preferences. Within a few minutes the artworks she was suggesting were beginning to pique my interest and stimulate my pleasure centers. I was hard-put to pick even one of the first nine, random pictures she suggested for my walls. I didn't really like any of them. After a dozen or so iterations, and by the time I decided I'd spent enough of my $100K seed money for a first run, the problem was stopping myself from buying everything she put in front of me. I loved it all.

Although some of the pictures I ended up buying are mostly by artists entirely unfamiliar to me, while others are by established favorites, and though they hail from different countries, schools and centuries (although the time period is actually quite tight), the final grid of my initial acquisitions shows an astonishing degree of coherency. It's quite a weird, discomfitting experience, having one's thoughts, tastes and feelings second-guessed in this way.

With my purchases made, I was intending to stop as it was getting late but in that oh-so-familiar Landmark fashion I thought I'd just pop a couple of pictures on the wall. Half an hour later I was still fiddling around, changing frames, trying to get a couple of lights to go just where I wanted them.

As I was futzing about my tiny, one-room gallery began to fill. As you place art, it attracts visitors. NPC visitors, that is, although players can visit each other's galleries and comment on the works, the layout, whatever they choose, as well.

The more NPCs visit your gallery, the more money your gallery makes. You need the money to buy art and furnishings and gallery space. That, I guess, is the "game" part of this MMORPG. No doubt that aspect will be fleshed out in time and I note that the EULA (which, yes, I did read) contains all  the usual caveats and commands related to gameplay that you'd find in a traditional MMO.

Whether or not Occupy White Walls eventually turns into some kind of fully-functioning game or not it very clearly has a shining future in the MMO building/decorating sub-genre. It absolutely has that hook that Landmark had. I'm not saying it has the potential to be the hipster Minecraft but it might.

For now, it's free and open and it's well worth a look if you have any interest in either building stuff or looking at art. I will be working on my gallery in those quiet moments when I don't feel like killing monsters. Plus I'm really curious to see what I can learn about my own tastes and preferences, with DAISY's help. I just worry about what she might be learning about me...


  1. Afraid I’ll learn too much about you, huh? When they turned me on my first instinct was to cheat myself into getting good results.

    But no it’s really great that you’re enjoying your time in OWW! See you soon ;-)


    1. Ever get that feeling you're being watched...?

    2. Yeah.... *backs away slowly*


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