Buzludzha VR

2015-2019 · PRODUCT DESIGNER · REAL-TIME ARTIST

Context

The Buzludzha Monument was built in the 1970s and used to serve as the headquarters of the Bulgarian communist party. However, in November 1989, Bulgaria ceased to be a communist state and the building was promptly closed down. After years of disuse and with no further maintenance, the abandoned structure began to deteriorate and suffer from acts of vandalism.

Thanks to the building’s unusual design and unique location, it did not take long for Buzludzha to become one of Europe’s most iconic abandoned sites. It continuously attracts urban explorers from all around the world.

The Project

Buzludzha VR is an immersive virtual reality experience that allows players to discover the abandoned UFO-shaped brutalist legend Buzludzha and its surrounding landscape. In addition to learning about the monument's history, players can immerse themselves in fun activities such as playing the fully-interactive grand piano, flying a helicopter around the structure, juggling with muffins or climbing the 70m high tower.

The experience is both educational and entertaining and pushes the limits of interaction and real-time graphics in virtual reality.

The Story Behind Buzludzha VR

Buzludzha VR started out in mid-2015 as a joint project between my colleague Rafal Czarnowski and me. The idea was to create a real-time architectural visualisation of the Buzludzha monument that suggests a new purpose for the abandoned megastructure and raises awareness about the current state of the monument.

We travelled on-site to the Buzludzha monument to capture essential reference photographs and to experience first-hand the size and scale of the structure. We took several spatial measurements to aid our design and development process.
We launched the first conceptual version of the project in May 2016 and successfully restarted the discussion around the restoration of the monument in Bulgaria.

The project was met with a positive reception from across Bulgarian media, the public and Buzludzha's original architect - Georgi Stoilov. Buzludzha VR was featured on some of the biggest Bulgarian TV channels, magazines and newspapers.

We restarted work on the project towards the end of 2018 after a growing number of requests to add support for more VR headsets and include even more interactivity. Over the following year, we rebuilt the experience from the ground up and focused our attention on areas such as:

Overall user experience and mechanics

Quality of real-time graphics

Storytelling

Expansion of all explorable environment

Performance improvements

Extra layer of interactivity

Throughout the development phase, we frequently tested work-in-progress builds of the VR experience at events around the UK, Germany and Bulgaria. Thanks to the invaluable feedback we received and the observations we made during the testing sessions, we could continue improving the spatial user experience and accessibility of the product.

In November 2019, 30 years after the fall of communism in Bulgaria, we officially released Buzludzha VR on the Steam Store.

My Role

Research and ideation

3D asset modeling

Texturing & Material Creation

Environment Lighting

3D Asset Optimisation

Storytelling

User Journey Mapping

User Interface Implementation

Visual Design

User Testing

Toolkit

Unreal Engine 4

Autodesk 3Ds Max

Substance Painter

Substance Designer

Figma

Photoshop

Illustrator

Ora

Platforms

Steam VR

Oculus

Windows Mixed Reality

Buzludzha VR

Discover Europe’s most iconic abandoned structure in VR

Reviews

The experience is immersive and informative from start to finish with many excellently voiced information points and translations that really make your journey through the structure in its reimagined form interesting and engaging. The attention to detail is a testament to the passion behind this project and provides incentive to thoroughly inspect every nook and cranny of the structure for things to see and do.

Wickerman123

Steam User

"This is your only chance to experience the Buzludzha as it no longer exists in its original state. Top-notch graphics, it must have taken a ton of research and work to model it.  All the history and text is narrated really well. Plus detailed toilet interactions you'd never expect like lifting the seat, flushing, washing and drying your hands. The climbing and helicopter flying is icing on the cake."

koochy

Steam User