VR and the reimagining of Story - part 3

In the first installment of this series I wrote about how seasoned game fanatics were turned into crying babies by the power of the VR medium, thereby proving what potential psychologically this medium holds. I also touched upon the utterly heart wrenching semi-interactive story “That Dragon Cancer” which proved that some artists do have something wortwhile to tell.

In the second installment, I went into the hurdles which the VR-medium poses on the storyteller. I also laid out a humble appeal to the future VR-filmmakers for  stories which search for, and question, something deeper, more humane, existential and morally complex, than what most games/interactive stories have to offer right now

As promised in this third part, I would like to see what the future holds for VR.  And with this, I would like to draft my own personal vision, a rough crystal ball, of a new kind of movie/hyper-reality experience which I believe VR is headed for during this decade.  In my opinion this experience holds so much promies on so many levels, that this just might be the place where the true screenwriting/actor/theater/film talent will be heading for.

In order to get to an experience which might have a shot at showing the full potential of VR,  we need to take a look at a few of the emerging technologies which are happening around the world right this moment.

Hurdle number one – 1:1 room scale environments

In my personal opinion, there are two major hurdles to overcome. The physicality of the world. Meaning the expierence needs to deliver a 1:1 room scale environment which imitates the Virtual space. And second, the psychology and interactions which need to take place in this world have to mimic the real world. Let’s take a closer look at both of them. Let’s dive into the first of those.

This year has given us a promising glimpse into what the true potential of VR holds. The Occulus, the HTC Vive, and a myriad others have materialized onto the market. You can install each one of them at home. Despite the steep access prize, and  the high-end gear requirements, it’s available right this moment for you to enjoy at home.

All of these systems deliver different  levels of  immersion, but where everyone of them ultimately fails is the sense of being in the environmet at 1:1 scale. HTC Vive can map your movement onto your surroundings, so you can actually walk around. That’s a big step in the right direction. But this is also limited to the space confined within a couple of meters. Whenever you need to move further,  you have to teleport within the game. And to say the least, this obliterates any feeling of being in the Virtual environment.

But there are some guys in the US who are working hard and chipping away at this challenge. And they might have just solved it with their Hyper-reality.

Image from the company the Void, depicting their experience, coined Hyper-Reality

Stepping into Hyper-Reality

The Void is the name of the relatively new start up from Salt Lake City, US, and it is also the name of the VR experience they are creating.  But to call their vision VR wouldn’t be quite doing it proper justice. Instead they coin their experience, Hyper-Reality. And rightly so. In my opinion, this is VR done right, in the sense that they have built a physical theme park from the ground up which corresponds exactly 1:1 to the digital environment in their Virtual world.

This means that when you step into this theme park, put on the vest, and the VR goggles named Rapture, you are transported into a world which you can walk around, run, and most of all, touch. When you pass through a door, you can literaly touch the door handle, push the door frame open. When you approach a wall, it will be there, exatly as you would expect it.

Check out the Video on the Void to get a better understanding of what I am talking about.

So it goes without saying that this kind of immersion puts us in a completely different category of experience.

“While the phenomenon of “presence” in VR is well-documented, inducing shared presence—experienced among people in different physical spaces, and bolstered by the immersive power of physical feedback—is the milestone that will unlock the medium for good.” Wired

 

Image from the Ghostbusters VR experience playing in London and done by the people from Void. This experience puts a small team of players into a fully immersive environment which is built as an exact replica of the VR-space.

Another hurdle – this time psychological

But the second point is a bit more tricky. I am talking about the psychology and interactions which need to take place in this VR-world and mimic the real world. It is absolutely necessary to be able to communicate with other characters in a believable way, in order to play out the dramatic narratives.

The interactions between characters playing in the Void, with their team interactions, point us in the right direction. The cooperative game and the multiplayer social experience is what will draw the masses to these theme parks. But this kind of approach can only get us as far as the First Person Shooter genre or Horror VR-experiences like Paranormal Activity VR.

If we want to go further, and create genuine human drama, we need to have proper human interaction. And I am not talking about the A.I.-level of human dialog/communication which is available at this moment. That simply won’t cut it. While I am a strong believer in Artificial Intelligence, I also think that Kurzweil is wildly optimistic. I just don’t think that we will see A.I. advanced enough to pull off a true dramatic narrative for at least two more decades. (Still, I do hope I am way off on this)

But I don’t think we need one. And we might have all the tools available to do something which might be inherently more believable and at the same time social. A new kind of theatre. But this time,  interactive theatre.

Image from Ninja’s thory game Hellblade. The character and its facial and body animation was real-time mo-capped as proof of concept.

Real-time Cinematography

For this to happen we need to look closer at a small company named Ninja Theory who have are working on some amazing tools developed specifically for Unreal Engine.

A new concept of motion capture has been making the rounds at SIGGRAPH 2016(premiere meeting place for the Visual FX industry). Coined “Real-time cinematography”, and done by the Ninja’s Theory team, it is a based on the well known technological innovations of motion capture, both facial and full body. But Ninja Theory’s approach has an added, all important twist. The actor performing the mocap is actually acting out his performance in real time. Only so his facial, and body expressions can be transposed onto a digital character.

Take a look at the video below to see a glimpse of what I am talking about.

Rightly so, they coin this Real-time cinematography. A way to record and immediately play the mocap sequences, without any rendering which could sometimes take weeks. Only this time, the director and the team are able to see the result instantly. And what’s more important, make immediate adjustments, direct and create a story right before their eyes.

 

And the glue that holds it all together

So with the Void and Ninja Theory’s tech we might have the necessary tools at hand to create a new kind of experience. Something which would convince the most demanding directors working in film today to experiment with their scripts in VR as an interactive experience akin to theatre/film.

With this in mind, please stay tuned to for the next installment of this story where I want to talk about the concept of Dungeon Masters, lifted from the age old game Dungeons & Dragons.  Because, I think personally that therein lies the key to the glue that will hold all of this together and form a new kind of narrative.

I would love to hear what you think, so drop me a line. And if you want more stories like this, please subscribe to the newsletter on the front page!