Kismet © Image courtesy of Psyop


Fortune Telling in VR

Last modification: 30 Aug, 2017
7 mins

No need to head to the boardwalk to look into your future. With VR, you can get your fortune told in the comfort of your home.

Kismet is a VR fortune-telling experience that’s been known to be eerily accurate. It’s the first project of animation studio Psyop who are best known for their emmy-nominated Coca-Cola commercial “Happiness Factory”. We chatted with David Chontos about the making of Kismet and what he foresees for the future of VR.


Tell me about Psyop and the kind of work that Psyop does.

Psyop was founded in 2000 by a handful of creators from MTV, Nickelodeon and other production companies. It has traditionally been a motion graphics, design, and animation studio. We’ve now branched out in film, television and virtual reality, but generally, it’s an animation studio.

How did you get the idea for Kismet?

The idea came from a character I designed a while ago that’s been sitting in the archives. When we first started talking seriously about VR, I needed a concept that I could execute within a short period of time and within a small budget. We wanted to be able to participate in this first wave of content in VR because these types of circumstances don’t come around very often.

I was thinking about the role of the fortune teller and what an interesting and bizarre experience it would be in VR. The concept seemed to check a lot of the boxes; it was a comfortable experience, had a fair amount of interactivity but not too complex, it’s stationary but also has a few moving parts. I pitched it internally to our board of directors and received funding to start production in December 2015.

Kismet © Image courtesy of Psyop

Tell me about the game.

People report it to be a calm, relaxing and introspective experience. You can get a tarot card reading, an astrology reading or play the board game. The board game, Ur, is a replica of a game that was played in ancient Mesopotamia. It was unearthed in an archeological dig where they found a game board, all the pieces and a stone tablet with instructions.

Generally, the game is low impact; it’s not scary and there’s no shootings. It’s just an immersive experience.

How accurate are the readings?

People have said that they are frighteningly accurate, which is really funny because the way it’s built is entirely random. The cards you choose are random. What fascinates me about the subject is that I don’t personally believe in supernatural things like psychic abilities but, fortune tellers have been persistent figures since the dawn of civilization. Each tarot card has a very specific historical meaning that hasn’t changed since they’ve been on historical record. That symbolism is respected in the game itself. I consulted a tarot card reader here in L.A. and I wrote all of the conversational dialogue that Kismet speaks about in reference to the cards.

Kismet © Image courtesy of Psyop

Why did you decide to go with this particular art style?

I didn’t attempt to do anything too realistic and I didn’t want to do anything that was tremendously ‘cartoony’. We found a mid-way point that is physically based and uses physically based shaders. We were going for a nice warm, painterly feel. We focused on the details, a rich environment that’s visually engaging. We even came up with stories about where objects came from and how she collected them over time to add detail.

What did the pipeline look it?

We did all our modeling, rigging and animation in Maya. We built a couple tools and scripts to maximize the workflows like getting the assets out on Maya and Unreal. It’s relative similar to how we approach commercial production. We just adapted the initial pipeline to work within these new confines.

It was very smooth. We didn’t have any major problems. Exporting out for this specific purpose has been streamlined in the past couple of versions of Maya, which has been tremendously helpful. It was just about identifying the workflow we needed.

Kismet © Image courtesy of Psyop

Tell me about the making of these beautifully designed tarot cards. How did you make the cards appear 2D on its side if the front of the card appears 3D?

The illustrations each have their own animations and distinct sound. You’ll be able to hear sounds based on your proximity to them. We thought about the tarot cards as paper cut out dolls stacked in space creating dioramas. So the cards itself, appear as 2-dimensional but they have deep perspective in it. In the HTC Vive version, you can grab the card and rotate them around. They appear to be about 3 inches deep on the interior but when you turn them around on the side, they are flat. We essentially scaled the back of the card towards the front as you turn away from you so by the time you get to the side, it’s completely flat but on the front, you can see that there’s some perspective there.

What about performance? Did you have problems keeping things at 90 fps?

(Laughs) Just when you figure out one problem, you get a new one. It was especially difficult for someone like myself and a place like Psyop because we’ve been used to increasing complexity and detail over the years to create more and more elaborate things. With VR, we have to go backwards. We needed to strip out that detail and think about making things as efficient and as simple as possible. It’s definitely a change. It was a little bit of a struggle but once you embrace your restrictions and design around them, all that stuff falls away.

Kismet © Image courtesy of Psyop

What do you foresee for the future of gaming?

The advent of VR has been intriguing but, I think it needs more time in the oven. What game developers are creating seem to be projections of existing games into this new space and new medium. I don’t think that anyone has figured out where VR is going to go. Augmented reality and virtual reality will abolish screen based games and create more physical interactions. In the next couple of years, we’re going to start designing the path and it’ll be slightly better. The audience right now isn’t very specific. I think the industry will grow into something really amazing.

Kismet © Image courtesy of Psyop

Kismet was brought to life with the help of
Autodesk Maya. Get your fortune told on Steam or stay up to date on new launches on Twitter.

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