Meet the Worlds Part 1: Playful, Whimsical Build-A-Burn

Here we go again! August 22 to September 7, 2021, six teams of wildly creative technologists are building Virtual Worlds and inviting one and all to explore, co-create, and play in the digital dust. This post kicks off a series of conversations with the amazing humans who have dedicated their summer to building their World for the 2021 Virtual Burn. Learn about all the Worlds and get your tickets to the Virtual Burn here.

First up, meet Build-A-Burn!

Build-A-Burn is your canvas of infinite possibility. Burners can freely explore the playa for moments of spontaneity and serendipity. You might stumble onto a group of Burners listening to a live set on an art car. You might join a camp for an evening group dinner. You might even be pulled into a fantastical immersive experience filled with inflatable wildlife.

Whether you’re wandering the playa to connect with others or inspired to create something of your own, our browser-based platform makes it incredibly easy for everyone to participate.

Tell us about your World.

Daniel: We are Build-A-Burn, hosted by Topia, a social platform with spatial video chat in endlessly customizable worlds, all within your browser.

What spatial video chat means is that as I click to walk away from you, my audio and video begins fading out. When I come closer to you, the audio and video fades in.

You can be connected to up to nine people at a time. There can be 200+ people on the main playa around you, and you can still have a little intimate gathering; a conversation, experience, and connection together within the context of a much bigger event happening around you.

The Virtual Playa itself will be built by both our team and the Burning Man community. Anyone can create a camp (we have starter camps to get you started), make art for the playa, or design an immersive experience.

Build-a-Burn is incredibly customizable and easy to use, whether you’re a first-time creator or a veteran artist.

This year’s Build-A-Burn is going to be full of all sorts of events, both scheduled and impromptu, just like the in-person Burn. Both on main playa and within specific camps (aka worlds).

We co-hosted digital Burning Man last year, and since then our platform has incredibly evolved. Last year we were in a mad scramble — just like everybody else during the pandemic — to create a way for the Burning Man community to come together in a time when everybody really needed more opportunities for human connection, serendipity and community. The first version was a big push over four months trying to get ready for Virtual Burning Man. For the 2021 Virtual Burn, we’ve basically had a year to prepare. We have dramatically improved our stability and performance, transformed our UI/UX, and released tons of new features for editing, collaborating, connecting, and bringing your community together.

You’ll see all sorts of cool new things: embeddable audio and video streams, Twitch embeds, YouTube embeds, the ability to open entire web platforms and interactive games and elements within worlds, podiums for spatial broadcasting, teleporting, and much more. Last year, we saw a lot of communities and camps doing all sorts of imaginative things. I think this year you’re going to be blown away by the ways people are literally inventing what it means to have meaningful, connective shared experiences online.

See Topia in action!

How do I get in? What software do I need? What hardware do I need?

Daniel: It’s all browser based. You don’t need to install anything. You just need a functioning computer or mobile device with a webcam. We recommend the Chrome browser for the best experience for everybody.

Go to topia.io/burn, then you can portal to camps (aka worlds) that have their own separate URL, which is essentially their community space.

What can I build in there?

Daniel: Nearly anything you can imagine! We encourage people to be experimental in how they are approaching the interactive element of a Virtual Burning Man.

This is a blank canvas for you to create any kind of adventure you can imagine. You can also choose from one of our templates (aka scenes) to get you started, and customize it by uploading your own art.

From there you can make your world even more interactive by adding sounds to the environment, live-stream or pre-recorded video, or embed websites and interactive experiences. The possibilities are nearly limitless to transform your world into a space that can be interactive and joyful on its own or enhanced by having real people from your camp facilitate an experience.

Build-A-Burn uses 2.5D art, which means, in addition to our growing free library, anyone who is handy with Photoshop or another image editing tool can source creative commons art and populate their world. You can even take 3D models and save them out as 2D images for use in your world. You don’t need to be a skilled artist to create something breathtaking.

How can people get involved? 

Daniel: There are a couple of different ways that you can get involved right now. The first is to create your camp or experience, submit it for placement, and we’ll put you on the virtual playa. Another way to get involved is to create art that other people can use, upload it to the marketplace, and gift it to others.

You can also submit art directly to us for placement on the virtual playa.

As things start to unfold more, and as we get closer to the Burn, I imagine there’ll be a lot more opportunities to get involved; especially as events get announced. If you want to get in touch with us, you can join us on our Discord community — that’s a great way to stay connected with what we’re doing and get involved with Build-A-Burn.

We’re just really honored to be part of this community and to have the opportunity to bring Build-A-Burn to Burners again for the second year in a row. We’re beyond excited to see what you all create, what we create together, and to find you all on the virtual playa in August.


Cover image by Build-A-Burn, 2021

About the author: Kirsten Weisenburger

Kirsten Weisenburger (aka Kbot) began her Burning Man journey in 2004 when she touched down in Black Rock City with a handful of disoriented Canadians. Since that early misadventure, she has shared in the wondrous emergence of Montreal’s Regional Burning Man community. A Black Rock Ranger and occasional theme camp organizer, Kirsten spends her summers bounding between Regionals in Eastern Canada and the Northeastern US. Her biggest adventure yet involves joining the Burning Man Project Communications team, where she identifies storytelling opportunities and co-creates the global nonprofit’s communication strategies.

9 Comments on “Meet the Worlds Part 1: Playful, Whimsical Build-A-Burn

  • Burning Man Project Communications says:

    Reminder: Burning Man Project has a responsibility to maintain this space for the benefit of all participants, to ensure that comments serve to enhance the experience of our visitors, rather than cause harm. While spirited conversation is welcome, unruly and rude behavior is not. Posts that are harmful to others or run counter to the spirit of civil discourse may be removed.

    Please review our COMMENT POLICY here, then comment with care: https://journal.burningman.org/comment-policy/

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  • Brooke says:

    Woohoo! SO excited to create with you all again this year! <3

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  • Robert says:

    What type of polices are being enacted to protect participants in these troubled times? What are the virtual burns’ plans of action in order to be more inclusive to People of Color, Gender Spectrum Individuals, The Physically Disabled, and The Mentally Handicapable, and The Institutionalized?

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    • kbot says:

      Each World has its own processes and policies for ensuring all participants feel safe and radically included. The Virtual Event Support Team, a.k.a. V.E.S.T., will be offering outreach and support across all Worlds during Virtual Burn. They’ll be available 24/7 to support participants, help them navigate, and address safety issues.

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  • This looks great! I can’t wait for the Children of Chaos to get involved. I will get in touch with you to set up our camp and imbed the Fleeting Marvels.

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  • Yvette says:

    OMG! Can’t wait on this event. My kids should know about this and I am sure they will like it so much. Keep us updated please!

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  • Yvette says:

    I am assuming that this will be a big event that I don’t want to miss. Cheers for the success!

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