Walkabout Mini Golf, one of best multiplayer apps for VR headsets, adds a course made by artist collective Meow Wolf and based on the real world experiences. It’s Meow Wolf’s first big dive into VR, and it’s expected to arrive later this year.
It’s not as strange a decision as you might think for Meow Wolf, the band behind the cult hit House of Eternal Return, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a growing number of other destinations in person (Omega Mars in Las Vegas, Convergence Station in Denver).
Or maybe it is.
But in a VR/AR landscape that still doesn’t really know what a metaverse is meant to be, this collaboration could point to creative teams trying to figure this out ahead of a wave of new helmets arrives later this year.
Let me back up a bit. I find well-constructed and personalized virtual reality experiences wonderful. I also love immersive physical spaces and theatrical experiences that nurture the way groups of people explore strange new worlds together.
However, the metaverse push of virtual reality and augmented reality over the past couple of years has attempted to simply create large open social tools with no real direction or superstructure. These squares — VRChat, the soon to be closed AltSpace VR, Meta waving Horizon WorldsRec Room – seem to either be places where fun things pop up, or confusing, poorly run experiences that feel empty or alienating unless you know who you’re meeting and where you’re going.
Sometimes I find that in-person experiences can create what virtual experiences still can’t. Meow Wolf in person, multi-layered, dense to the max collective art spaces struck me as the sort of way to guide the more elaborate social virtual worlds of the future. The Meow Wolf-Walkabout collaboration feels like a bizarre, whimsical mirror-world experience that’s also a foot in the door for future Meow Wolf explorations in VR and AR.
“We’ve always dreamed of doing mini golf,” Caity Kennedy, one of Meow Wolf’s co-founders and the group’s senior creative director, told me during a Zoom chat. “Since a lot of our exhibits are one big thing compartmentalized with a bunch of little things, mini golf is like a pretty hilarious and very accessible version of that.”
Another Meow Wolf co-founder, Vince Kadlubek, had been playing games and VR experiences for years, which led to the collaboration with the Walkabout Mini Golf team. Meow Wolf had created its own AR companion app for the House of Eternal Return setup years ago, but translating some of those designs into a VR mini-golf course is a different kind of crossover experience.
Kennedy already uses some VR art tools, including Gravity Sketch, to work on designs for Meow Wolf’s physical installations. Gravity Sketch was also used as a collaborative space to imagine the VR course. “We have VR artists, we have VR developers working on things,” Kennedy hinted, suggesting Walkabout’s relatively contained structure might be a good place to start.
If you haven’t paid attention, Walkabout Mini Golf has already become one of the best social VR destinations if you have a small group of friends. This game, and Demeo, is where I tend to join a few old friends for a casual game that lasts about an hour, lets us chat and explore, and then stop. It’s like going for a walk, having a coffee or going to a museum. Or play mini-golf. Unlike more intense VR games or overly open social worlds with no real purpose, it gives us something to do while we talk. That works.
“It was very much in line with our sense of humor,” Kennedy said of the collaboration. “You can be good at golf, you can be bad at golf, you can just not play golf and go exploring.”
Golf as a strange door
Walkabout’s golf courses have already become much more immersive over time, looking more like theme parks or stories than just golf holes. A course based on the classic Jim Henson movie Labyrinth is like a tour of the movie’s plot, and even has a side maze to wander around. There are Jules Verne courses. There is a Myst course.
The Meow Wolf course, based on the living world of the other-dimensional jungle of Numina that is part of the Meow Wolf Convergence Station in-person experience in Denver, is meant to be a sort of parallel virtual tour, or maybe a golf course that ends up being visited and mutated by Numina.
Kennedy hints that the way the Meow Wolf course will work is much weirder and more whimsical than even previous Walkabout courses, which of course excites me. Additionally, Numina’s presence as a character will figure prominently in the experience, a “living universe that’s curious about us, mere animals wandering around, falling down stairs and all.”
“It’s not just a duplicate,” Kennedy said of the VR version of Numina versus the physical creation in Denver. “There will be a familiar experience that is twisted and released by the mechanics of virtual reality. People who have been to Numina in real life [at Meow Wolf] will see a lot of things they may have seen in real life, but many people who have only seen pictures will be able to walk around in something that looks like the pictures they saw.
“But, a lot of differences: I mean, gravity doesn’t exist in virtual reality. We can drag things. We don’t need electric wires, speakers or a lot of things that limit this that we can do. And we’re able to have animation that we can’t do. There’s so much fluidity that’s only really possible right now in VR.
Virtual and real wink at each other
Disney explored the intersections of the virtual and the real. He created a Star Wars Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge VR game that takes place in the outer realms of the same planet Batuu as the actual Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge parks. In theory, visiting the virtual game could inspire you to go to the actual park, or the game could be a living memory.
Future planned metaverse explorations may have a similar vibe. Meow Wolf’s own physical spaces communicate with each other via phones, and a ton of merchandise already extends the stories in take-home souvenir directions. You can buy Omega Mart merchandise from the alternate universe store’s gift shop, for example, or get books and artifacts, much like you can from the Disney stores in Galaxy’s Edge. In some ways, Meow Wolf’s virtual spaces can aim to do the same.
“Mini golf is not a collective world, so there can’t be live streams on anything, but have ties between the two, where people can at least see one of the another, or use something they found in one to affect the other…that’s going to be kind of our test case,” Kennedy said. “This is our first foray into connecting real-world exposure to virtual reality.”
Lucas Martell, director of Walkabout Mini Golf, said the Meow Wolf course “is going to be much more of an experience”, admitting the company is starting to adapt with more experimental designs that are starting to look more like side trips. an hour for groups, as opposed to just an occasional sport.
Even though Walkabout is a VR game, the company has also released a phone version that will use augmented reality, of sorts: courses can be seen through the phone screen, and swings happen by moving your phone like a real putter. The phone version is coming before the Meow Wolf course, which means more people could try it out.
“The irony is that a lot of people playing probably haven’t even gone to see a real Meow Wolf,” Martell said. Considering that Meow Wolf is still an organization that some people haven’t heard of, let alone seen, a little mini-golf game like Walkabout could be a chance to open awareness to a whole lot more people. . As someone who has been lucky enough to experience the real spaces of Meow Wolf, I can’t wait to visit a small virtual fragment of it in my home.
The Meow Wolf course isn’t available until the end of the year, but I’m looking forward to playing it with some friends. We could explore these weird spaces together in VR as we talk, just like we would in the real world too.