How often do you come across an amazing idea for an interactive game or immersive installation, only to realize that the coding behind the concept is way out of reach? Designers are almost always at the mercy of developers to be able to execute their ideas, a hierarchy as old as the computer itself, but an open-source application called VVVV aims to change that.
VVVV is a multipurpose toolkit built for designers and seasoned developers. It’s a visual programming environment, so instead of writing lines and lines of code users simply drag in blocks of code (called nodes, represented as little gray boxes) into a visual editor. Each node comes with a series of inputs and outputs, all the user has to do is draw lines from one node to the other to make connections in the code. A series of connected nodes is usually referred to as a “patch”, and it’s the VVVV equivalent to what we think of as an app or program.
The nodal approach that VVVV takes toward programing has some major advantages over traditional coding. First, it allows you to string together just about any type of device, file or graphic. You name it. This gives novice users access to very complex interactions. Want to make the input of an Xbox Kinect effect the color of a complex visualization that is based on live hastags from Twitter? No problem. Just round up the nodes you need, pull them into the editor and start patching! Because data is always flowing through your nodes, there is no need to worry about compiling and waiting for feedback before you can make changes. VVVV is always in run-time, so changes you make in the sketch are instantly reflected, tightening the feedback loop and accelerating the development process. And if you’re comfortable with more traditional approaches to programming, it’s easy to create your own nodes, the underlying code is all written in C#.
There are a few limitations. VVVV isn’t a cure-all to the complex world of computer science, so be sure to thank your developer for all the heavy lifting they do. While there are a lot of uses for VVVV, publishing to a wide market is not one of them. VVVV can only run on computers with the application installed, which means it cannot be easily distributed. It also cannot run as a plug-in on a web browser. With those limitations in mind, VVVV is still an excellent choice for installations and one-offs that require complex interactions and dependencies. It’s a blessing for designers who want to rapidly prototype their ideas.
VVVV is free for non-commercial use that’s available on their website. Be sure to check out the contributions page, as there are tons of add-ons, plug-ins and other goodies for your enjoyment. Happy Patching!
Image source: VVVV.org