It’s Quarantime: Battle a Virtual Virus with Remote-Controlled Robots

Quarantine has been a productive time for Los Angeles-based interactive studio, VTProDesign. The 45-member team had multiple projects in-progress when the COVID-19 lockdowns occurred, but they quickly began converting those physical experiences into digital ones.

“It’s been a really exciting process for the company,” says Judd Katz, director of business development at VTPro. “We've been exploring a bunch of different possibilities and interesting opportunities that have developed from this current quarantine. The main tools we’ve been focused on are remote installations, mixed reality broadcasts, generative visuals, and memorable takeaways. We’re able to build installations in our studio that, through a live stream, can connect people from anywhere. What is also cool is we build physical assets for some of these that the client can then keep for future experiential activations once we’re out of quarantine.”

One such remote installation is RoboArcaid. A collaborative effort with their friends at design studio, Master of Shapes, the interactive website allows users to control real-world physical robots to collectively battle a virtual virus in a new video game called Quarantime, complete with custom sound design and intelligent lighting. Housed in VTProDesign’s warehouse is the massive arcade cabinet featuring a 16' LED screen and 4' joysticks manned by two industrial KUKA Robots—all originally intended for a live installation activation at SXSW 2020, which was cancelled a week before the mid-March event.

“After our SXSW experience was canceled, we realized we still wanted to make something awesome for our friends, even if they can’t physically be there in person,” says Adam Amaral, owner and director at Master of Shapes. “I started talking with the guys at VTPro, and nerding out on what we could make together. We made Quarantime and the RoboArcaid as a way to keep having fun and to do something cool for our community.”

“We can still create installations in our space safely,” adds Katz, “and by using live stream technology, we can allow people to experience the installations and interact with them in all kinds of ways. In a way, we're still able to keep live show ideas alive.”

In Quarantime, players must remotely work together to stop the spread of coronavirus and save the world. While players wait for their turn to control the robots, they can give the current players power boosts of hand sanitizer or vaccines. With the click of a button or a message in the chat window, players can also trigger a variety of real-life effects including lasers and haze. After the game, players have the option to make donations to the World Health Organization.

“We’ve been collaborating with Master of Shapes since both of our companies started,” notes Michael Fullman, chief creative officer at VTProDesign. “Master of Shapes has a lot of front-end web development expertise, while we have a good amount of back-end web skills, especially as it relates to physical things. We also share resources for game development and design. All these things led to a really great back and forth process between both of us. We are good friends and we really enjoy collaborating, so we split the talent between our two teams to build the entire experience.”

Once Master of Shapes developed the game dynamic and storyline, VTPro got to work on the behind the scenes components. The back-end control of Quarantime features elements of TouchDesigner, as well as the robot tools that VTPro has been developing for the past several years. The entire game was rendered and built in Unreal Engine and then integrated throughout the system. The livestream aspect of the website is Twitch, which requires a username for players to log in and chat.

“We built our own chat in the website so that Twitch never gated, so that way, users could participate in the game,” explains Fullman. “Additionally, we are using back-end Twitch controls to build a lot of the interactions between players and the game, which primarily exists in Unreal. Ultimately, it’s a combination of a number of different tools and platforms that we commonly work with but have not necessarily put them all together in this way, which has been a pretty fun part of the process.”

“People might look at this project and say, ‘That's just so ridiculous.’ It's almost unnecessary, to a certain extent, the level of silly details and practical effects but that's what you get when you put the personalities of VTPro and Master of Shapes together,” adds Katz. “We're just so close with them that we got to have a lot of fun on this one, and I think that's something that really comes across when you play the game.”

“We hope it gives people a good laugh and some fun while they are staying safe at home,” concludes Fullman.