Population: One, Meta’s VR battle royale title, is opening up its new Sandbox mode in early access to all players on Wednesday, allowing them to make their own levels with custom rules. With the new mode, developer BigBox VR follows in the footsteps of big multiplayer games like Epic Games’ Fortnite and Microsoft’s Minecraft in giving players tools to create their own 3D environments, but with Population: One, you’ll be able to do it in VR.
I got to try Sandbox mode myself last week, and I was impressed with the tools at my fingertips. While building, you’ll be able to pick from a big catalog of objects and structures to place around your level. And there are a lot of ways you can manipulate those pieces, like scaling them up and down or moving them around.
Before my demo, I had never played Population: One. As a relative newbie to VR, I was worried I’d be overwhelmed by the tools. But it only took a few minutes for me to get the hang of things, and soon, using the Quest 2’s controllers to drop things down felt natural. Thanks to a Minecraft-like ability to fly while building, I found myself zipping around to every corner of my test map to place things exactly where I wanted them. (Fortnite lets you fly in its creative mode, too.)
I was shown around a map in space, and while I had a lot of fun placing giant asteroids everywhere, I wouldn’t want anybody to actually play it. Some of the levels built by early Sandbox testers, on the other hand, look far more interesting to explore.
I got to wander through one, a pond-themed map called Lily Pad, and I was impressed by how the creator simulates areas both above and below the surface of the water. The graphics weren’t great on the Quest 2 I was using (things were pretty blocky), but I thought it was creative all the same. You can see Lily Pad and some other good maps in this video highlighting the top 10 from a recent community contest, including a castle with huge chess pieces and a giant mini-golf course.
The addition of the Sandbox mode isn’t just another way for Population: One players to experience the game. It’s also another opportunity for Meta, which bought BigBox VR last year, to offer a digital space for VR players to hang out in. Horizon Worlds, Meta’s Roblox-ish social VR app, hasn’t been a big hit so far, but Population: One’s Sandbox tools could be more interesting for some players.