Sunday, May 13, 2018

27 Ways To Tell A Story In VR


Guess what? Virtual reality is finally here. 

Various companies have released goggles, motion tracking technology, omni-directional treadmills.

  So now we can have:

- the illusion of a 360 degree virtual environment by strapping screens to our faces, with changing images depending on where your head is, and where it’s pointing.

- we can have consoles that detect the positions of your body, in any given moment, so they can be recreated by a computer generated avatar)

- and we can have the illusion of walking, by being held in a slippery bowl, with a harness.

 So naturally, you may be wondering: who cares?

Well I’ll tell you who cares. YOU. You care. Or at least you will. Even about VR in it’s current state, without any of the following:

-without a full-body haptic rig,

to have the virtual environment actually push back against you...

- without suspension of a rig,
 to create inertia...

- without a full body, haptic suit,
to feel stimulation on any part of your body, in the form of pressure or temperature changes...

- without 'digital scent technology' or 'digital taste interface', 
to create odors...

and flavors...

- without direct-brain interface, 
to control your avatar with thoughts alone. allowing you to do things like...
...control multiple limbs, or....
...control very different types of limbs, or...
to “use the force” (in other words, to control your environment...)
 (...or to grab things, with your invisible extra limbs, depending on how you wanna look at it.)

- without direct-brain stimulation,
 to have a fully hallucinatory experience, like in the matrix, allowing you to experience things like...
sticking your arm through your head, or...
distort your perception of time compared to another user, or...
have an involuntary belief...
...or an involuntary emotion!

- without "claytronics",
 using tiny little robots that can be programmed to self-assemble into any shape and color (to create something like the holodeck in Star Trek, but, anywhere...),

- without even buying augmented reality glasses.
 (that can detect the shapes of your real environment, so that it can overlay virtual objects onto the physical surfaces)
     Even without any of that, basic virtual reality, for all the advertisers, educators, and entertainers out there, opens up a lot of new methods of story-telling, all at once. In fact, there's at least... 27...

 All 27, of these unique methods…fit into four main categories.                                                   

 Passive. Like watching a movie,
 Active. Like playing a traditional video game,
 Open. Like having a stage you're free to roam around on.
 And Combo, or combinations of these methods (that's where things get especially new and exciting!).

 The most familiar of these will be: 
     This is like watching your favorite show or movie on the screen, but with VR, you can be inside the screen (the scene) of a story.
You can sit back and enjoy the show exactly as intended from within the same environment.
It's like going on one of those rides at Disneyworld with the animatronic scenes.
We can call this:
     And if you still want to see it with a crowd of people cause you enjoy hearing the reactions of others, maybe all the viewers have their own microphones, so you can hear  e v e r y o n e  who's watching it.
You’ve never seen a movie like that before……..

   Sounds like a nice novelty, but maybe you wanna be right in the action, firsthand, right in the "point of view” of the main character.

 Just like this music video:

Or that one movie, that you’re going to watch a few minutes of, some day, when you’re really bored, and it’s on Netflix:

We can call this: 
That's a little bit more immersive! But seeing your own body without controlling it might feel too strange (for most stories).

So maybe you wanna walk around the scenes, to enjoy all of the little details (like an invisible ghost).

Great. But now you can miss important plot points if you get distracted by the details of the scenery, or fail to keep close to the characters.

So the simple solution is to fence you in, to one room or area. So we’ll call this: 
By the way, this style is very similar to “immersive theater”.
(or at least I think it is. I’ve never actually been to one of these myself)
…But you don't have to stay cooped up all the time. Cause there's another solution:
   Sometimes the environment could grant subtle, or apparent, clues or visual cues, (depending on your preference).

   The lighting, level of detail, the terrain (maybe there’s a narrator who leads you too...). All these things can be designed to point you toward the focal moments of the plot.

 Of course if you don’t want to rely on those either, there's always:
Where crucial story moments will only happen when you're around to see them.   
(Kinda like the sound of a tree, falling in the forest. I think.)

     Events could trigger through the location and position of the viewer's body. Eye-tracking could also be utilized for this purpose.

     Of course, you could also be an "un-lucky" (or semi-unlucky) ghost witness, where the triggered event is only seen for a moment, to make it more mysterious.
Wait for it...
Maybe it'll start to seem like things are only going on when you're not looking at them. 
Just like the Weeping Angels in Dr. Who.
    Or you could have one of multiple different endings, like seeing the movie Clue when it was released in theaters; except that the ending you see, is the one where the murderer ends up being someone other than the people you've been eyeing. That way, if you think you know who it is, and you keep looking at them, then you're automatically wrong; thus giving you the most unpredictable story possible. 

(so it's really the same trick as Lucky Ghost Witness, just reversed in some parts)

   Either way, I'd personally recommend creators wait a bit after the viewer walks over so it's not so obvious that everything's waiting for you.

But if it still is...
"Ghost Wanderer VR" is here to save the day.

   You can have events that change so much of the environment, that you'll see effects of some kind no matter where you go; you can't miss them, even if you tried.

   Or, they could be unchanging environments, but you’re teleported from one to another, to tell a story.

   But either way, this element of freedom to wander around, makes all the difference.

This is about as real as passive entertainment gets.

But who wants realism? Wouldn't you rather have something new?

Well how about this...
Now we're talkin!

    Every scene is frozen in time, all the sounds are written out in text, like you're inside the panel of a comic book, switching to the next one, at the press of a button.
     And if this isn't exciting enough, you could always add some movement, that loops like a 'cinemagraph' gif:
There's also:
(Or maybe something like "Mull Ex", if that's too long. We can always shorten these. They’re just working titles...)

     In this, we can see several moments at once, like we're walking inside of a multiple-exposure photograph, but you follow them, in order, by following the path of the main character.

When you're not looking, old paths disappear, and new paths appear, for you to follow.

That's a lot more dynamic of a way to passively enjoy a story.

But what if you're not feeling very passive? 

Well then, we can get...

  We can play...

   We already have games, and for many, it's just a matter of putting your body, into your character's body. 

   How different will a game of online poker be if you could actually see your opponents, see the faces they may be trying to hide?

(Especially if a console’s camera can read those expressions and exaggerate them...)

Or take it even further..

You could have a simple game with two teams... a sci-fi shooting game in capture-the-flag-mode perhaps...
     ...but from time to time, you're given the opportunity to jump into the body, or a duplicate body, of someone in the opposing team.

It's kinda like in the, classic, multiple academy award-deserving movie:

 But you do it so that you can spy on or sabotage your opponents.

     Simple stuff, right? But this means that now you need to walk in your stolen avatar the way that your opponent normally walks in it.

     And if you can only communicate via text, or all the voices in the game normally are distorted in some way, you might be able to convincingly talk the way they normally talk in their avatar too.

     The funny thing about this is, if enough people do it at the same time, and find themselves in the same room together, that'll mean you need to give clues to your own team members to signal who you are (clues that are subtle enough that your opponents... won't notice).

Now that is a STORY! Kinda.

(And if you're intested in more gaming-type VR experiences, check out my other article, on: 
"The First VR Game That Should Exist".)

There's also:
You can play games that are both in your hands AND all around you at the same time.

     This could happen literally, or in abstract ways:

You could play a game like Jumanji, the way Robin Williams played Jumanji in...that one movie from the 90s; I can’t remember what it was called.
But you could also play Monopoly that way.
Or Candy Land.

Or Life.
Or Settlers of Catan.

Or any ...other board game that way...
Maybe you already do........   o_0
If you want something that's more of a story than a game... an adventure game, or a choose-your-own-adventure book, or an episode of "All Of My Circuits” (from Futurama)... option is:
     You can choose options for some of the dialogue and other minor (ultimately inconsequential) choices for the main character on a menu, but the story ends the same.

     This way, the writers and animators aren't exhausted by making countless variants and endings on a given plot line to account for all potential decisions a player might make. So it'd end up feeling kinda like this:

But you would do this as a ghost. Or, with... would be a character, but one who can only press buttons on a control panel, to communicate.
Like you're this character from Star Trek.

But there's other ways of solving this too, in order to make: 
 There could be no one around to talk to.

     And whoever does show up could be someone who won’t give much of a response to what you have to say...       

...either because they're not exactly in-the-mood...
...or because they don't speak English at all...
...or because the character itself is an actual robot, so it doesn't matter if it seems like all you're talking to is just an algorithm with pre-programmed responses.

    But there's another interesting possibility. If the main character is simple enough, there could be:
...where you could control the environment, but not the person.

     This is similar to the game "Pacman 2" for Super Nintendo, where you could only give the main guy directions or mess with his surroundings.

     And when the events of the scene change his mood, that can make it harder or easier. 

...or just kinda... weird...
     This style didn't really take off with traditional video games but maybe VR is the better fit for it. Anyway, all of these give YOU more power over the story.

But the funny thing about power is, people always want a little bit more of it...
 Let's say you and your friends want to improvise a scene, or maybe a whole story.

     Just like an improv show, role playing excercise, or the "Inter-Dimensional Cable" episodes of "Rick and Morty".

 We can call this: "Improv VR"

 The difference in VR is:

- your friends can be on the other side of the planet,

- you can do gags that are reliant on the visuals and sound effects for the humor to work at all,

- and, if developers create pre-animated distortions of avatars, (kinda like snap chat filters), triggered by facial expressions, you can be like a character in Tex Avery cartoon too.     

If you’re feeling especially ambitious, each scene could segway into another, no matter how unrelated they are.

Just like in the sketch show: "Mr. Show"

     But with VR, users connected all-around-the-world could use this idea, to create a constant, 24-hour channel, if they wanted to.   

Here's one scene...

...and now another.
      And if any actor has a mental block, a cheat-sheet of ideas could appear in the air, crowd sourced in real time.

 Interestingly enough, this form of entertainment would be the polar opposite of books.

     With books, you imagine the sights and sounds, but the story is created for you. With "Improv VR" you imagine the story, but the sights and sounds are created for you.

But maybe you're a production wiz so you want to write it all out beforehand, like:

- a movie
- or a tv show
- or a play
- or pro wrestling...
- or porn 
 We’ll call this: "Scripted VR"
     The difference in VR is it'll feel like having an U N L I M I T E D budget on props, costumes, and sets. Load anything you want into the scene, instantly.

It's kinda like “The Construct”, in the movie: “The Matrix”.

Or in those old commercials,
where they had the people who took the blue pill go shopping for cars.

But more than that, it's all avatars, so you can cast any actor to play any part.

     And you could read your lines from a teleprompter, visible anywhere you look, yet invisible to the audience.

     Prefer something much less…elaborate? Just want to chase each other around and/or swing weapons at each other? As characters? Like 'LARP-ing'?

  That’s still a story.

  We can call this one: 
  But maybe you’d rather control the characters like puppets, like in a puppet show.

     We can call this "Puppet Master VR". Or maybe something even more badass, like:
(that goes better with some of the naming-themes we've been doing so far too)

Anyway, this is yet another great way to create your own story.

But wait, why should you have to choose just one?
       What if you could collaborate on a story, AND compete with each other, back and forth.

This would be: "Role Playing Game VR"

Like these guys are doin:

     Maybe the concept of pre-planned animations from earlier can be used for action too, as well as comedy.

So it'll be like you're playing street fighter.

     But instead of pressing the right buttons for special moves, you're making the gestures that are close enough approximations of them.

     There could also be a multi-player "Ghost Witness VR", that surprises a player with a sudden change to single player to heighten a scary moment.

(Infinity War spoilers btw)

     To get: "Alienation VR" 

     On top of that, it could change from Ghost Witness VR to a first person Open-Ended Adventure Game style.

  To get: 
(Cause you're a ghost, but he's talking to you. And apparently that's what they call people like that...)

     This would be even more fun if, unbeknownst to you, it's your own friends who are now playing the parts of the villains...

     Or what about a Multi Player Ghost Whitness VR where each of you and your friends are in a different room, seeing a different vantage point of the story.

     Then switch to Comic VR, where everything's frozen (and maybe empty too), so you can compare notes to get the full story.

      That'd be: 

Or what about Comic to Game?   
     You take as much time as you need looking through a frozen murder scene to figure out who the murderer is.

"Mystery VR" is combo number 5.

   Or gradually immerse yourself into the story as way of preparing you to be a part of it, starting as an observer and eventually becoming a character. Learn about the elements of the story as a ghost to inspire you to develop your own direction for that story and it's characters, making it your own.  
Ghost Wanderer VR

Guided Ghost Witness VR

Ride VR

Scripted VR

   To do this, we go from wanderer, to guided, to ride, to POV ride, to scripted, to any of the other yellow ones (or all of them):

  Or you could play a game with a story that keeps going even after your character dies. You can just watch it as a ghost, as it continues on without you. Maybe you could still have a connection with someone after death... with Whoopi Goldberg's character in the movie "Ghost"...

...or even the opportunity to be reincarnated at some point into some other character's body.

     So you'd be going from Game or Open-Ended Adventure Game to any of the Ghost styles to make: 
  Or maybe you wanna to take full control of a scene, after full immersion into it, to really feel the power trip.

Like Mr. Anderson here.

You could go from predestination, to open ended, guardian angel, divine intervention, to make:
      Lastly, if the limitations of Multiple Exposure VR become too constricting for the creators, one combination would allow them to switch to Comic VR, back and forth whenever. We can call this: 

It’s catchy! That’s what I like about it!

     Realistically though, in conversation, most people will probably just refer to a given VR experience as “mostly passive”, “mostly active”, or “mostly open”.  

I mean, they might refer to something as a “Ghost VR”, but the switching between the ghost styles in particular will probably be so common, that they’ll just be treated as one “genre”.

Same with these 2 adventure game styles, it might be hard to really draw the line all.
     In fact, maybe the ideal system is to periodically change from whatever the current style is to a completely different style (triggered by any number of factors, that are unknown to the user),
for the sake of having the most spontaneity possible.

     So then everything will just ONE genre. We’d refer to any number of stories in various style combos, as just being:
     But we’ll cover more of this kind of franchising stuff, in a more comprehensive way, in a later article called: “The Future of Franchising”.

     That article will cover VR and other forms of media too. In the meantime we can categorize them like this:                       


 So the question is:

     Which one of these 27 ways do you think will be the most popular? Why? You can leave an answer, in the comment section below.

And if you enjoyed this article, you can help me make more (even faster and even better) by clicking here.

If I get enough support I can make all kinds of articles, on topics like:

- all the best gaming mechanics opened up by full body haptic feedback rigs,

- an article about the ideal future of gestural computing (including why it shouldn’t look very much like that desk in minority report).

-And many more.

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  1. Nice Article. Exciting times where the rules and techniques of story telling in VR are being created

  2. Great article Sam, really great creativity and thought put into your ideas and article.

    I look forward to seeing what else you create.

  3. Great Article!! Beautifully explanation with pictures. VR treadmill is the future of VR world and took gaming to next level.

  4. Virtual reality (VR) is no longer a tool used only in the gaming world or entertainment sector. Awesome blog post. Thanks for sharing this details.

    VR Development

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