Responses by Wim Wouters and Yasmin Van de Werf, cofounders, Poppins & Wayne.
Background: Pollinator Park raises awareness of the alarming decline of pollinating insects, its consequences for our planet and how we can help turn the tide. As part of the European Commission’s EU Pollinators Initiative, the interactive experience intends to reach EU citizens of all ages, inspire individual action and create a support base for governmental action. To maximize impact, we conceived a fictional story set in the year 2050, where park visitors get a glimpse of the dystopian future that awaits if we continue to lose pollinating insects.
Design core: Given the broad target audience, we chose to create a very layered user journey. Ingredients include a gradually unraveling backstory, a more informational audio guide and playful interactions. It’s pretty much a content buffet where every visitor gets to assemble an experience to their own taste and desired visit length.
Challenges: When you build a game-like, highly detailed 3-D universe that runs smoothly on nongame hardware, every polygon counts. And both organic architecture and nature, the main ingredients of the web experience, happen to be highly polygon-and-texture intensive. Finding the right balance between aesthetics and performance proved to be a major challenge during production.
Equally challenging—if not more challenging—was the fact that Pollinator Park is a hybrid product also available for Oculus VR. This forced us to think about scale, 2-D and 3-D screens, and user interactions in a way that would work for both product variations.
New lessons: Going into this project, we were “blissfully” unaware of the severity of this biodiversity crisis, but after a year of diving into scientific publications and numerous conversations, we’ve grown even more motivated to make some changes in our own relationship to nature. To us, the personal growth that comes with such a content deep-dive is incredibly valuable.
Navigation structure: Conceptually, the virtual Pollinator Park is a crossover between a zoo, a museum and an experience center, so the user journey was designed accordingly. Inspired by these physical and relatable user experiences, we used pathways, kiosks, signage and strategically placed planters, as well as classical UI elements and storytelling to steer the user journey in a way that balances between direction and exploration.
Interactions had to be as low threshold as possible to achieve maximum audience reach. Basically, both our seven-year-old son and our 70-year-old parents had to be able to intuitively move around in it and enjoy their virtual visit.
Technology: We used Blender and Autodesk 3ds Max for the 3-D content. The Unity game engine provided us with the tools to create the interactions and export to WebGL and Oculus Quest VR.
Special technical features: The complete file size for the project is more than 300 megabytes. Preloading everything beforehand would be a long wait for users. We think we did a good job in breaking everything down into small chunks without the user noticing what’s happening in the background.