Aaron-KoblinWithin premiered their first real-time rendered, interactive experience at Sundance New Frontier this year with Life of Us, which is the story of life on the planet as told through embodying a series of characters who are evolving into humans. The experience is somewhere betweeen a film and game, but it’s more like a theme park ride. There’s an on-rails narrative story being told, but there’s also opportunities to throw objects, swim or fly around, control a fire-breathing dragon, and interact with another person who has joined you on the experience. You learn about which new character you’re embodying by watching the other person embody that creature with you, and the modulation of your voice also changes with each new character deepening your sense of embodiment and presence.

I had a chance to catch up with Within CTO and co-founder Aaron Koblin at Sundance to talk about their design process, overcoming the uncanny valley of voice modulation delays, how the environment is primary feature of VR experiences, and how their background in large-scale museum installations inspires their work in virtual reality.

Koblin also talks quite a bit about finding that balance between the storytelling of a film and interaction of a game, and how Life of Us is their first serious investigation into that hybrid form that VR provides. He compares this type of VR storytelling to the experience of going to a baseball game with a friend in that this type of sports experience is amplified by the shared stories that are told by your friends. This is similar to collaborative storytelling of group explorations of VRChat, but with an environment that is a lot more opinionated in how it tells a story.

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Life of Us is a compelling way to connect and get to know someone. The structure of the story is open enough to allow each individual to explore and express themselves, but it also gives a more satisfying narrative arc than a completely open world that can have a fractured story. Life of Us has a deeper message about our relationship to each other and the environment that it’s asking us to contemplate. Overall, Koblin says that our relationships with each other essentially amount to the sum total of our shared experiences, and so Within sees an opportunity to create the types of social & narrative-driven, embodied stories that we can go through to connect and express our humanity to each other.

Here’s a trailer for Life of Us.

The Life of Us experience should be released sometime in 2017, and you can find more information about Within website (which links to all of their platform-specific apps), or their newly launched WebVR portal at VR.With.in.

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Music: Fatality & Summer Trip

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