#941: Critics Roundtable on Venice VR Expanded 2020 with Pola Weiß & Kathryn Yu

venice-vr-expanded-2020

I’m joined by Pola Weiß (Founder, VR Stories / VR Geschichten) & Kathryn Yu (Executive Editor, No Proscenium) to talk about nearly all of the 44 experiences that were a part of the Venice VR Expanded 2020 edition running from September 2 to 12. We focus mainly on projects in the main competition as well as the Biennale College Cinema VR, while briefly mentioning the Out of Competition Best of VR, which are projects that have already been released or have premiered at other festivals.

There’s somewhere between 15-17 hours worth of content where most of it is freely available throughout the course of the festival, and it took each of use nearly a week to navigate different technical difficulties, scheduling live performances, and setting aside enough time to get through the majority of the program. Between us we were able to see all of the experiences, and then unpack and digest them a bit within this critics roundtable discussion.

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So the Venice Film Festival's Venice VR Expanded Selection was 44 different experiences totaling somewhere between 15 to 17 hours worth of content. It started on September 2nd and goes to September 12th. So there's just like a day left before the festival is over. One of the things that I like to do is to try to see all the content and then have a discussion with some other VR critics who are also trying to, you know, see the content and comment on it. Paula Weiss, she's at the VR Stories, the blog that she writes based out of Germany. as well as Catherine Yu. She's the executive editor for No Proscenium, which has been covering the immersive theater space, but also this cross-section between virtual reality and immersive technologies and storytelling. And so I wanted to get together with them. Between all of us, we had seen all the different experiences. And so I'd just like to talk about each of them. And at the start of this, we didn't know if we were going to be able to get through all the different content. And we get through most of it. We don't go through a lot of the best of selection, which is the selections that were already released and they're just trying to feature and highlight specific selections. So we mostly cover a lot of the new experiences that we haven't seen before, especially the ones that are in competition and the ones that are featured as a part of the Benally College cinema that are out of competition. So it's about a two hour and 20 minute conversation or so. And, uh, yeah, we're just trying to cover a lot of these different experiences. I think always it's preferable to see the experiences, but we also try to maintain fairly spoiler free, although, you know, it's hard to always know what is going to be a spoiler and whatnot. So. kind of proceed at your own risk. And, you know, if you're able to see a lot of the experiences, then you could get a lot more context and maybe try to catch them later. Or if you did see it, then I'm very interested in figuring out other ways to kind of continue this conversation within this immersive storytelling community. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this conversation with Catherine Yu and Paula Weiss happened on Wednesday, September 9th, 2020. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:14.300] Pola Weiß: Okay. Hi. I'm so excited to be here. Thank you again for the invite. I'm Paula. I'm from Berlin in Germany. And since 2017, I write my blog, VRstories.blog, where I try to cover as many experiences as I can in virtual reality and focus on narrative, like very story-driven games or VR films, 360 movies, things like that.

[00:02:39.810] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, and I'm Catherine Yu. I'm the executive editor of No Proscenium. We are a newsletter, podcast, and publication that covers all forms of immersive entertainment, touching upon alternate reality games, virtual and mixed reality, themed entertainment, immersive theater, escape rooms, live-action role-playing, and everything in between. And I'm also in the second year of my master's program at USC Games, where, yes, doing a lot of interactive media and game design, and so This will be an interesting conversation because I see both sides of the coin as someone who has spent many, many hours in Unity the last couple of weeks actually doing some VR development as well.

[00:03:21.168] Kent Bye: Great. And I'm Kent Bye and I do the Voices of VR podcast. And I've, I think at this point recorded about 1500 oral history interviews over the last six and a half years going to around 100 different VR events. And I've been really focusing on experiential design and the affordances of the VR medium. And so when I see a lot of these experiences at film festivals, I tend to focus on what are the innovations when it comes to the affordances of VR. Not so much specifically looking at the story, although if it is a good story, then I'll like it more, but I don't feel like I'm necessarily paying attention to the story first. I'm kind of paying attention first to what is VR as a medium? How is this being used? What's new? What's different? So, sometimes I'll have experiences that I don't like as a story, but they're still things that I have insights from, even if it's what not to do. I think these film festivals are actually a great opportunity for people in the industry to be able to experiment with immersive storytelling. And I just want to first off say it's a miracle for anybody to finish anything in VR. Yes, bravo, bravo.

[00:04:22.185] Kathryn Yu: Everyone who made it to the film festival, just, we appreciate you and we know how tough it is.

[00:04:29.278] Kent Bye: Yeah. So anything that I think I try to share, it's in the spirit of the dialectic of trying to inform people to continue to evolve what we know and don't know about the affordances of VR as we move forward. So the Venice VR Festival started about a week ago. So there's around 44 experiences. I think between all of us, we've seen all the experiences. Maybe we could just start at the top. What were some of the highlights from the festival? And we'll start there and we'll kind of jump around.

[00:04:57.938] Kathryn Yu: Oh my goodness, this is tough. Yeah, I feel like I saw a little bit more comedy than I have at previous festivals compared to, say, CanXR, which was this past summer, or just previous Tribeca's, which is actually where I met Paula. I think it was Tribeca 2019? Yes. Yes.

[00:05:17.924] Pola Weiß: Well, I have to say I'm pretty surprised by the documentary section this year. I didn't expect it to be such a diversity also in subjects and themes and especially the documentary section has been strong, I think.

[00:05:32.192] Kent Bye: Yeah, for me, there's some very interesting experiments when it comes to AI and agency. I just did the meta movie where I was the protagonist in this piece. That was, for me, probably a highlight in terms of the overall immersive VR experience. And yeah, some other weird themes of playing with breaking the fourth wall, of having the characters look at you and engage in you in different ways. you know, some technical innovations on all sorts of different projects. Also a level of polish of having a Pixar level quality of some of the experiences as well. But maybe I'll pick an experience and maybe let's start with MetaMovie and we can focus on some of the performances because I know Catherine, you cover a lot of the immersive theater aspect. But first, were you the protagonist or one of the sidekicks of a bot to be able to watch it?

[00:06:19.411] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, yeah. So I was the protagonist and I had a full body in the interactive experience, which lasts about an hour. There's multiple actors in there with you, some of whom you see as embodied characters, some of whom are just voices. There's like one artificial intelligence voice. And then there's a bunch of spectators and they call them eye bots and there's like floating metal tubes. And so You know, you're doing stuff, and you're interacting with this environment, and you're talking to the actors who are in character, and you're your own character. And then these little bots are just kind of like whizzing all around you. And every spectator can have independent movement, right? So sometimes I would see them in front of me, sometimes I would see them behind me. And there's a really interesting model of how you can bring people into an interactive experience and not necessarily have them be a star if they don't want to be. So it was very interesting to me because I also was like, oh, well, I kind of know these people, but I also don't, like, right, there's that social VR aspect where you know someone only by their handle. And you're like, I think I know who this might be, or I'm not sure, or I'm with a bunch of strangers. and then at some point it dawned on me like oh they're all watching me like I need to like bring it and be the star of this so I started like you know hamming it up and yes ending and adding some more jokes and I think they got frustrated with me because I would want to talk more to like the robot lady or some of the other characters or even just look around at the environment and they kept trying to push me forward and they're like come on let's go let's go let's go down the tunnel let's go like what's behind this door let's go over here and one really interesting thing is like they all knew my name and i very quickly forgot their names like what's this uh z or something all right you're supposed to be my best friend And I don't know about you, other people who are in my space gang, but it was a lot of like, Catherine, over here. Do you see anything, Catherine? Oh no, what was that noise, Catherine? And I was like, wow, I feel really on the spot right now, but also that's kind of like the point of metamovie. So I don't know how you maybe felt as the star, Kent, or maybe how you felt, Paula, like your experience was, I think, a little bit different.

[00:08:30.958] Pola Weiß: Yes, I was an iBot, which originally I had the hero spot and then I became afraid that because you don't have a teleportation mode, you have to move a lot in the space and I tend to get motion sick. So I decided to become an iBot. And that was really interesting because I didn't feel the pressure the hero must feel, or I would have felt so watched if I were the hero. But being an AI bot gave me the freedom to explore the space in my own tempo, in my own way, just flying around. I could somehow be part of the story. They're coming like little creatures who attack the protagonist. And I could fight them even as Naibot. That didn't change the story and I couldn't decide anything, but I still was there and I still was visible and I could join the story. So that was really, really nicely done, I thought. I expected to be just like a ghost, seen by nobody, but it wasn't the case. I really could be in the story. And yeah, the story was that we had to break into a facility and I think rescue somebody, right?

[00:09:34.480] Kent Bye: Yeah, and you know, what was interesting for me as a protagonist is that there's certain lack of choices that I had because it was like, you go with this person and do that, where the bots could choose, like the storyline split at different points and they actually had more agency and freedom to be able to kind of choose what storylines they wanted to follow. And I kind of explore around a little bit more. There's a certain obligation that I'm a part of this cast and I have to be responsive to what's being said and tracking different stuff. I had a similar experience from you, Catherine, where rather than always yes-anding at the very beginning, I sort of realized that one of the rules of improv is to yes-and and not to contradict. But there was this moment where Ursula, the voice that's coming over the intercom, was like, oh, this bot, he's like, oh, it's such a no one reliable. I was like, hey, you know, whatever, don't be so rough on him, you know? And I was like. Right. That's my friend. Yeah, it's like he's, I actually find him very helpful. Like he's not, you know, so it was sort of like trying to maintain the integrity of my own like authenticity of how I would react in that situation versus like contradicting what the narrative that's being put forth. And there was other moments where I had to sort of like judge what I was going to naturally react to and speak versus like stepping over the lines of the other actors and make sure that my reaction wasn't more important than the narrative that was trying to be told because it is fun to be able to react and get a reaction from other people. But I also didn't want to completely derail the trajectory of what the story was trying to be. So over time, I felt like I was able to get more of that balance. But in the beginning, it was a little bit of that negotiation of like, okay, how much can I just be myself as a character and kind of react to how I would react in that situation? versus, you know, what's my role to be able to help facilitate this larger narrative and not talk over the other actors and contradict them a whole bunch of times to make it so that the story is not coming forth.

[00:11:20.734] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, it kind of reminds me of some of the issues with video conferencing and being on Zoom and people ending up like talking over each other by X. No, you go. No, you go. No. And I felt a bit of fatigue towards the second half because like, dang you are in that headset for a really long time. So there's like 15 minutes of preamble where they were trying to figure out why someone had spawned into the space and then I think put their headset down but the mic was still hot and so they needed to like kick someone out and then another person they had this really bad echo And they isolated the issue to it being a quest. And because of the positioning of the speakers and the mic on the quest, if you don't use headphones, you can create an echo. And then because everyone's mics are hot, you can hear that echo throughout the space. So it's on the Neos platform, which is a platform I think a lot of people are not familiar with. It's not as familiar as an alt space or a VR chat. So people are trying to figure out like, what can I do? How do I do this? By the way, can we just choose one button for teleport like for the love of god every single experience had a different teleport constantly trying to remap my muscle memory and then to paula's point because you do have that smooth locomotion and you're in an enormous space and a lot of it is like chasing people through tunnels and mazes like i started to feel a little nauseous And then to your point, Kent, I was kind of like, I am really on rails right now. What happens if I take my gun out and shoot this big green eyeball? And I don't think the cast knew how to react. Like, I wasn't sure how much they had predicted that people were going to mess around in that way. for someone who's a very experienced immersive interactive performer they can really go with it and lean into that and incorporate that into the story or use eye contact or body language or gestural language to kind of say hey let's go over here instead and like gently redirect people's attention so i'm wondering what tools metamovie has for the cast to, I don't know, disable my gun or take my gun away from me or just figure out a way to redirect my attention. I think they just sped up the story and it got ignored that I was shooting at the big green eyeball looking at me, but I kind of wanted something to happen, you know?

[00:13:39.988] Pola Weiß: Maybe just a thought of what you both said. Putting the eyeballs or the spectators inside the room is like kind of social pressure not to overstep the line. So they probably didn't have to think of all possibilities somebody could do or somebody could try to change the story, because they knew, okay, if you play the hero, you feel responsible for the whole storyline, for the whole game, so that everybody has a nice time. So you won't try so many things, maybe. So that's kind of a social prevention.

[00:14:12.482] Kent Bye: Yeah. And, you know, for me, the Nios platform, this is the first time I've seen any narrative experience and Fructious is a PR genius. He's one of the most advanced developers out there and it's so flexible, but also really complicated. And so the default settings weren't set properly. And so there's like a lot of this thrashing of getting all the echo set and that that'll get sorted out over time, but. Yeah, just being able to quickly going in between different worlds. I was really impressed by how fast each of the worlds loaded any other app or world that I've been in is not that fast. And so there was a white label type of solution that they were able to put together. So overall, I was super impressed with the technology, but let's move on to some of the other performances because there was four different performances here. Let's talk a little bit about like Pandora X, because that was an example of using VR chat to be able to do a little bit more of a. a theater production where you become a part of the Greek chorus going along. And, you know, for that, for me, that was a bit of performative theater, but also you make a choice and you kind of explore around and there's like game-like elements that you're trying to solve puzzles and collaborate between each other. And I really enjoyed it, especially to see where the first iteration of Pandora X happened from Kyrie Benzing and Double Eye Pro. I saw a version that was live streamed earlier in the year and just to be a part of the cast and be immersed into this world. And, you know, there's some kind of Easter eggs that get unlocked later that are fun to play around with as a member. But yeah, that was an experience for me where it felt like small opportunities to participate, you know, there's opportunities to help solve a puzzle and they leave it open ended so that there's a community discussion to kind of like solve this thing. And so, and yeah, just to see how they can use something like VR chat and the affordances of teleporting and, you know, meeting up with people. Again, this wasn't designed from scratch to be able to deal with this. And so there's a lot of like having to get invited and It's not exactly clear. You don't just click on a URL and it's there. It's kind of like an invitation. You kind of have to jump through all these hoops and it's stressful for both people getting in. But overall, it's just nice to see using a platform like VRChat to be able to do an experience like this.

[00:16:13.478] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, I thought the onboarding was really interesting because you sign into VRChat and you go into like your VRChat home. And then you go find this private room where the show is, and they walk you through, hey, open up your menu, turn off these UI elements that we think are distracting. And then everyone who was in the audience changed their avatar to the same avatar. So you had the same Greek chorus figure, but like times 10. And because everyone's handles were turned off, they didn't have the placard above them. So you're like, oh, now I really feel a little bit more anonymous. And then all of the people who were moderating weren't the core people of the show. So that was really nice is to actually have like these facilitators like, oh, you're having debugging problem or a moderator problem or an echo problem or something like that. And so I felt really well taken care of, even though the first time I went in and Paula was there, she kept trying to talk to me, I couldn't talk to her back, there was something wrong with my mic. And then right after the show started, I think in the second scene, I like fell through the ground. and then my controllers so I didn't have hands anymore and if you know VRChat like all the menus are in the hands and so this poor moderator comes over he's like are you okay are you having trouble oh I guess you're probably muted try this try that and so it was just that's something that I think you take for granted in location-based festivals where someone hands you the piece of equipment, you put it on, is it too tight? Is it too loose? Can you hear okay? You only need this one button, and you only need your right hand, or you need both hands. Like, how long is this going to take? Oh, okay, it's about X number of minutes, and you should start facing this way, and here's a chair for you, and I'm going to watch your bag. Like, all of that nice stuff. Being at home and logging in and trying to go through the different hoops you were saying, it's just, it's not the same.

[00:18:06.978] Pola Weiß: True. Yeah, I also have to say Pandora X was for me, well, I loved the experience. I loved to be there, but it was also the biggest challenge I had to master during the festival, because at the same time you are like participating in the story, just a little bit, but you are, you have to say something, you have to speak English, you have to follow the story. And you also have to handle all the menu in VR chat, the settings, you need to grab things and throw things and talk to people. So you have to follow them. I couldn't be as quick as the others. I don't know why. So that was so, so hard for me to follow. And I was so concentrated on not getting lost somewhere, which I did at some point. They waited for me. So it was really, I was absolutely tired after that experience, but also very, very proud of me because I did that. And they mastered also to get me in the story, even though I got lost, I was too slow, I didn't sometimes understand them. So that was really, really appreciated. And I think the actors and the whole cast has done an amazing job to do that.

[00:19:12.982] Kent Bye: Yeah, they're really locomoting through these different environments, which I really appreciate it. And, you know, you have to make a choice and it kind of split up at some point. So I might do it again to see the other thread. But just a note on the technical side of the VR chat, by default, it has third party teleportation. So you walk and you see like a ghost of yourself moving forward, but the real-time locomotion, you can actually move faster with that. So most people were already set with the other version and there is like a slowness there. So again, it's like the teleportation options that get fragmented there based upon if people are like comfortable with VRChat and already dialed it in and, or they're like me, I've, I think I've built up a certain amount of tolerance where I don't get as much nausea as I did at the very beginning. So I can kind of like move around very quickly. But yeah, I appreciated all the different stuff that they're doing there in terms of mashing up like traditional theater type conceits with a little bit of collaborative world exploration on top of trying to solve puzzles. You know, when people get lost and then you have to like have the person that is the lead actor and to request to join an invite and You know, there's still a lot of stuff that, you know, the Udon scripting language within VRChat is not as robust as it is and say, like Nios VR, they're able to do a lot more with that. But I think you were starting to see the very early beginnings of the type of scripting that you can do. And it was nice to see that used a little bit. Any other thoughts on finding PandoraX?

[00:20:35.362] Kathryn Yu: Who did you go with? Did you go with Zeus or did you go with Hera?

[00:20:39.355] Kent Bye: I went with Zeus for Underworld. So, but don't tell me anything cause I want to experience the other side and just see it.

[00:20:49.998] Kathryn Yu: Yeah. I think it's possible that one of the levels after that branch was a lot more complicated and twisty and turny than the others.

[00:20:58.700] Kent Bye: Oh, okay.

[00:21:00.781] Kathryn Yu: Yeah. So be careful in Futura City. Don't get lost.

[00:21:06.284] Kent Bye: Well, let's move on to the other performance. One of the other performances was the La Comedie Virtuelle recreated an actual theater in Geneva that hasn't been built yet. And they, the creators of this, they do a lot of dance and performance choreography. They've had a pieces at Sundance this past year and before with doing immersive dance, but You know, the thing that I was super impressed with what they were able to pull off here was that they had dancers from around the world doing live motion capture, where they were shared in the same virtual space, communicating with each other over Zoom and doing like a live dance performance within VR. And just to hear a little bit more of the context of what they were able to pull off, it's like so much more impressive because When I saw it, I couldn't quite tell that it was a live performance because they had live streams on the wall, but there was a 30 second delay. So it was too long of a delay. Oh, that's what that was. Yeah.

[00:21:57.695] Kathryn Yu: Oh, that was breaking my brain to see three live stream videos, like as flat panels in VR. Because at one point, one of the dancers came up to the camera and started staring at it. And then I could see that same dancer doing something different in real time. And then they got cloned and my brain just exploded.

[00:22:15.815] Kent Bye: Yeah, so I was like, wait, was that live? Because I couldn't tell. And he was like, yeah, it was totally live. It's just that there's a 30 second delay in the video that you're seeing. So the fact that it was all live was so much more impressive. But I think the question that I have in a piece like that is how do you convey the liveness of a live performance? because when I watch it, it could have been mocapped and I couldn't have told the difference. If they would have taken a previous performance, there would have been no way for me to see any traces of my own individual agency. And so that's the type of thing that I think of when I see a piece like that is, is there a way for me to really know that this is live and for me to have some sort of interaction that maybe they're mirroring me or something that just gives me the sense of this presence that, okay, these are actors from around the world doing this dance. the experience within itself as impressive in its own right. But I think what they're doing on the liveness part, as me as a viewer, I want to know that it's live. And I want to be able to test it and interrogate that liveness in some ways. And just to really be fully grounded into that live performance.

[00:23:16.451] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, it was interesting to me that the dancers were all constrained. So they started off in this, I don't know, like 10 by 10 foot square. And then they all ended up off to the side in this garden looking thing that was almost like a proscenium stage. And then in the third act of this pretty short movement piece, they all were floating above us. And so I kept waiting for a moment for like the dentist to kind of break out of that cage and start interacting maybe with one of us. Or like something that I noticed in the other pieces is that eye contact. Like even if an animated character looks like they're looking at you, you have that moment of, oh wait, Is this pre-recorded or not? So I think that is something that could take that liveness and really bring it to the forefront and be like, yes, this is live. This is definitely live. This person in Sydney is looking at you and like making a circle around you.

[00:24:11.305] Pola Weiß: Yeah, I totally agree. That was my one question and I think Kent and I, we were in the same show. So I also had the problem with the 30 second delay and I was like really trying to figure out how that has to be and who's doing which movement. One thing I want to mention is just the simple fact that they recreated this theater made for me a big difference because, you know, when you go to the theater or to the ballet or somewhere, you meet in front of the space, you meet in front of the building, you talk to people you know, you go inside, then there's a dong, and then there's somebody telling you, please enter, we're starting in a few minutes. And this excitement, they really translate it to virtual reality just by doing that very simple measure. And I think that's a good way of like starting or introducing a live show just by giving the people this excitement that there's something happening just for them.

[00:25:07.678] Kent Bye: Yeah. And the space that they created was also well worth exploring around and having different little dance animations there. Actually, in terms of other experiences, it's for me, one of the more impressive overall experiences of all the stuff they had in there, because they had like aliens using telekinesis to move boxes. They had all these different loops. They had, there's ways to kind of like sneak into the back hallways and explore around in a theater. It's like a recreation of the theater. So it was like, wow, this did feel like a real place that's going to be built. And so. If I ever end up in that theater, I'll be like, oh yeah, I've been here before.

[00:25:38.766] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, at one point I ended up standing in the doorway and I was watching the live dancers and then I was watching all of the different characters that were doing stuff that I assume was pre-recorded and none of them looked exactly human. And then the people like on my right hand side were the human dancers, but then they were starting to get cloned. And I was like, okay, where am I looking? What's going on now? Like, it felt so surreal, but also something that could really only happen in VR.

[00:26:06.983] Kent Bye: Well, let's move on to the last performance, Double, which was from Dark Field, where they do like a whole spatialized audio. Does anybody want to sort of give their first impressions of this experience?

[00:26:18.811] Pola Weiß: My first question is, with whom did he do it?

[00:26:21.715] Kent Bye: Oh, I did it with my wife here at home. So we did it together and they give instructions to not open your eyes. And I, I was not compliant. I opened my eyes. There's a specialized audio part and I did myself in by sort of opening my eyes at one point just to kind of see like, wait, what is happening? The specialized audio was so good that it tricked me. And I'm like, wait, am I being tricked? And I opened my eyes and it was like, yes, you're being tricked. And then I was like, oh, well, good job for ruining the rest of the experience for yourself.

[00:26:51.370] Kathryn Yu: There goes your suspension of disbelief tent.

[00:26:54.810] Pola Weiß: But I had the same problem because we were not sitting at a table. They asked you to sit on a table. We didn't. We sat on our couch and the couch is in the middle of the room so you can walk all around. Exactly what the sound is doing. There's somebody walking around you. It became so real at one point that I got scared so much and had to open my eyes too. Yes, I cheated. And I did it with my husband too. So it was also quite intimate situation, a third person being in our flat and just walking around us, which is our space.

[00:27:30.092] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, I did it over a Zoom call with a friend who is really into audio and audio production, but she had never done anything with binaural audio or 3D audio. So the spatial audio really blew her mind so much that her roommate came out and was worried about her.

[00:27:45.833] Kent Bye: Well, I think there's something about this experience of doing it with somebody else, because there was a certain amount where I've done like the collider as an example, where you have like different audio tracks and different instructions as you're going through. And so there's a little bit of. Ambiguity as to like what you're hearing. And this is actually going to be an experience that's going to be available for people to actually have their own experience. And so I'm hesitant to go too much into it because I really want people to, to have their own experience. I would just say, trust the creators and don't open your eyes. It'll be better. Trust me.

[00:28:16.083] Kathryn Yu: and try to do it at a table in your kitchen, which is what they recommend. And because I did it in my actual kitchen, a lot of the realistic sound effects, I was like, that is actually where my fridge is and where my counter is and where my stove is. Like it actually mapped to my physical space pretty well. And even though I peeked once, like I still felt as if there was someone behind me.

[00:28:39.869] Kent Bye: Ah, so you peeked as well.

[00:28:45.340] Kathryn Yu: I also wanted to make sure that my friend was okay.

[00:28:48.283] Kent Bye: Okay, okay.

[00:28:49.685] Kathryn Yu: Her roommate is like, is everything all right out here? Why are you gasping and screaming? And I was like, it's fine, it's fine, it's fine. Back to the audio.

[00:29:01.977] Pola Weiß: It was virtual reality without virtual reality, so it was really immersive, I thought. It was impressing.

[00:29:09.652] Kent Bye: Yeah, I talked to the creators and did an interview with them. And they were saying that, you know, when you have the gaps of your imagination, fill in the experience, then it can become that much more immersive and that they had done previous experiences where they would do things in shipping containers. And they've had a history of having complete control over the environment. And then now they've created this to be able to have the users to be able to be in their environment and They can't shut off the lights as an example and have it completely pitch dark. And so they're trying to take this performance and there's a time where it is starting. And it really made me be like, okay, this is happening. We have to like get ready. This is like, it felt like going to a show, even though like technologically they could have theoretically just had us do it at any moment, but it was kind of nice to have that performative aspect where it felt like, okay, this is special pay attention, set the time, make sure the technology is working. and set the intention that we're going to go on this adventure and we're going to give it our full attention.

[00:30:05.059] Pola Weiß: I actually would have preferred to do it at my own time or to choose my own time when we are ready and when we want to do that. Because yeah, you can like dim the lights yourself, you can do everything and just prepare in your own way when you want it. So if I do that again, I would prefer to choose my own time, to be honest.

[00:30:27.425] Kent Bye: Cool. Well, that's all the different performances. Are there any other experiences that anybody wants to talk about next in terms of what you want to talk about or discuss a little bit of?

[00:30:36.089] Kathryn Yu: Oh my gosh. There are so many. I don't know. One thing that really, I don't know if I've seen it done quite so well, but the merging of stuff that's being driven by a game engine with bookends of 360 video or just kind of dipping back and forth between documentary video and then back into stuff that is a little bit more interactive. Like this hybrid model, one that I really loved, I think it was an Oculus for Good project, We Live Here. And for the first time ever, I felt as if the creators had taken a lot of what I love about specific first-person perspective video games, like Firewatch and Stanley Parable and Gone Home, and applied that to the subject matter of telling the story of a homeless woman named Rocky, where you saw her living space, her tent, and all of her possessions in video. And then you could see it rendered by a game engine, and you could interact with it. And specific objects had specific stories and anecdotes that were told in her voice. And that aspect just really blew me away.

[00:31:51.415] Pola Weiß: Yeah, I've seen that like three or four times before in experiences, but not in this perfection. And you also have to say, we live here. That was one of my big surprise highlights this year at the festival, because it works so well because you are in a tent, which is like a tiny space. So the spatial component works very well in virtual reality. So they didn't have to do so much.

[00:32:14.181] Kathryn Yu: So much running and jumping and teleporting behind someone.

[00:32:18.462] Pola Weiß: And neither to fit something in virtual reality, which doesn't naturally fit, because it did. It was a tent. It was a tiny space. You felt very intimate. You were in her home, I think we can say that, without revealing too much of the story. And you felt like at home, at one place of somebody else. So that worked very, very well in virtual reality. But I also have to say the strongest scene was during the end credits, in my opinion, which wasn't virtual reality.

[00:32:47.963] Kent Bye: Yeah, they cast Rocky as the main protagonist of this story about herself. So they cast the homeless woman who actually gone through all this. And I talked to Rose Choche about this and Rose has done like go fish, you know, 2d films, and then she's done perspective and misdemeanor and another piece about shooting a gay bar. And so she's been experimenting with the 360 film and the 2D film medium. And so to see her start to take the affordances of the spatialized 6DOF medium to be able to actually interact with objects, for me, it gave me a much deeper connection as both being in that place, but also connected to the story of those objects as a representation of Rakti as a character. And the animation and the different varieties of animation in that piece were really well done. I love how she's really experimenting with the fusion of those two things coming together. And, you know, I talked to her because I was like, there are certain aspects where she still has the authorial control of kind of guiding you to which order you want to see these different objects. And so the type of agency you have within that environment is very limited and guided. You know, it's definitely towards on the spectrum of authorial controlled, where, you know, she still as a storyteller wants to reveal the story in a specific order. And so you do have like limited agency in that sense. But I think it, you know, in this story, I think it works quite well. And that, you know, it's arguable that that that was the best decision there. But, you know, just to give you that sense of embodiment in a place like that to tell that story. So, yeah, that was one of my highlights as well. And, you know, I'll have an interview with Rose coming up here soon to kind of unpack more of her process.

[00:34:18.562] Pola Weiß: Maybe something to add in terms of the story, because going through the objects in that particular context, it has a story role. Because when you're homeless, you don't have a home. You're not attached to places. You're attached to things. And they recreated that by making us exploring the things or her possessions. We got attached to those things, too. So it was a very, very important emotional journey you did by discovering all these objects and you could understand much better what it meant to live like Rocky, I thought. So it was really interesting. Actually a very simple decision, but a very, very effective one.

[00:35:03.412] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, super powerful. And clearly Rocky is not a professional performer, but the performance aspect was really impressive too. Yeah.

[00:35:12.636] Kent Bye: Yeah, this blend of 360 video with technology actually is a big theme of a lot of other projects. We might as well dive into some of the other ones as well. First one that comes to mind is Once Upon a Sea, which again, you're kind of exploring around the Dead Sea and you see the dynamics of the different sinkholes that are happening there, but also kind of intercut between telling the story like that. Another thing that I think was happening throughout the entire festival was telling the story of a place. but telling the story of a place through individual people, but the story really being about that location rather than the story being about like an individual. Like, how do you tell a story of a place? I think was a big question that I saw a lot of different approaches to this year, because as a medium, VR tends to want to share you this deepest context. And so Once Upon a Sea was one of those experiences where I felt like they were able to do that. Like, give me the sense of this photogrammetry scan of the space to kind of explore around a little bit and discover like, Hey, what, what is this? This is really weird. And then different ways of allowing you to kind of experience those different aspects of that environment in that context. And then, you know, have an animation and then to cut to a 360 video of the actual aftermath of these different events. And it's like, wow, that simulated experience of what they are showing is actually happening to these people. And like, And I had no idea that all this was happening. And so that was such a fascinating feeling of being transported into like this whole other world that I had no idea about, but that richness between telling the story of the place, but through the lens of all these individual people that live there.

[00:36:41.024] Kathryn Yu: I also thought the opening segment was really clever and it made me think about my perspective in a different way because so many of these, maybe you're more of like God scale or giant scale and the story's tiny. or the characters are more human scale. But in this, when you first start the experience, you're literally in the water. And I ended up like kind of bobbing my head up and down to see what would happen when I was in the water or outside the water and really just taking in the landscape. And it really brought me back to like what swimming in the ocean is like. And with that powerful emotional connection to start the story of what's happening to the Dead Sea, like I thought that that was just really set the tone well.

[00:37:22.891] Pola Weiß: Yeah, I did the same thing. I tried to swim because I was so immersed. And I also thought it was interesting that they gave the Dead Sea a voice. It was actually a woman speaking to me, or maybe it was me. I don't know. So it became much more personal than just seeing some 360 videos. Because yeah, now it was my concern. It was my role to worry about it because I've experienced it firsthand.

[00:37:51.052] Kent Bye: Well, there's at least three other experiences that explore this intersection of blending 360 video with technology in some fashion. I'm just going to go through one at a time. Let's start with African Spacemakers because that's a piece that, again, is trying to tell the story of the space. And you have some agency within this experience to choose different options as you go through. And it's kind of a blend of performative acting that has this kind of cheesy vibe on top of it, but also like real interviews with different people that are making spaces in Nairobi in Africa. And you get this exploration of a city through these different characters and these locations. But you do have as a user different choices that you're making, even though sometimes you can't really make a choice. Like the one that I chose at the very beginning to go to first was like, nope, you're not ready to do that yet. So like, hey, why are you giving me a choice if you're not going to let me choose stuff? So There was a part of that where sometimes when you give a choice and you actually choose it and they're like, no, sorry, we're not going to let you actually choose that. We were just kidding. I think that makes me lose trust a little bit with the creator because it's, I don't know, maybe I would almost prefer to only really give me a choice if I can have a choice. I did actually think that it helped to be able to explore 50 minutes worth of content. It was a long experience. I think I actually might have been in there for longer, maybe like an hour. And that's a long time. And to give me an opportunity to have some control over how that unfolds, I think if they would have just had me watch a passive 360 video, I think I would have been maybe a little bit more frustrated, but I enjoyed being able to control it a little bit more. And yeah, you, you have the option to be able to choose whether you're embodied as a male or a female in this, which, you know, it was interesting to see that that was something they also implemented throughout of having people do different voiceovers and different stuff as well. But for me, I really just loved this type of experience where at the end of it, I feel like, okay, I feel like I've just had a little guided tour through the city to kind of explore these spaces and these stories across the city.

[00:39:49.332] Pola Weiß: Yeah, well, it was choose your own adventure, clearly, in documentary style, which was very nice. There were two kinds of interactions. First, you could choose the space you wanted to explore. And second, when you were in the story, you still had little choices like, do you want to keep looking there? Or do you want to do that? Or do you want to explore that? Or do you want to explore that? And sometimes those decisions matter. And I thought it was interesting how they mix these two kinds, because normally when you have an interactive movie where you can choose the scenes, that's all you can do. But you cannot really be in the scene and do other decisions as well. So I thought that was very interesting. It was fun as well. So I usually prefer VR experiences who are a bit fun and who put a little bit humor in it. And they did that quite well, I think.

[00:40:37.111] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's definitely true.

[00:40:39.738] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, this is one of the ones that I didn't get a chance to see.

[00:40:42.620] Kent Bye: Oh, okay. Sorry. So this is probably a good opportunity to say that as we do these experiences at home, there are a certain amount of technical difficulties that each of us have to do. There was about seven or eight experiences that I could not do on my initial VR PC. I had to go to my backup PC and it It worked. I have some issues with Unreal Engine. Sometimes there's different codec issues or sometimes it just crashes. I was using a valve index, which meant that sometimes the mapping of the controllers didn't actually map over. So I would get into like 12 minutes into an experience and then realize that the mapping of the controller was impossible for me to do certain things and I had to be okay. And then I had to like do the experience over all over again from the start. So there was just a lot of like technological debugging and thrashing that as we do these remote conferences that I had to do. And luckily I had a backup VR PC. I was able to see most of this content, but. Yeah, it definitely colored the overall experience of having to, on top of everything, do technical support and debugging. Obviously we all want to see all the experiences and when we can't because of the technical difficulties, that doesn't usually happen at a conference because they're just using their own PC and they don't have to worry about making it compatible for everybody else's PC. So it's kind of like the nature of the game to be on the bleeding edge and receive a build of something that just doesn't work on your end.

[00:42:01.355] Kathryn Yu: or it's showing you a picture of a controller, and you're like, I don't own this. So in my head, which trigger did you mean? I did think that MetaMovie solved this really well. I don't know if you saw that part of the lobby. They had giant blown up models of every VR controller, and they had labeled, like, this one is to move, and this one is for your microphone, and this is for that, and this is for the gun. So I appreciated that, like, extra little bit of the onboarding experience.

[00:42:28.318] Pola Weiß: Actually at one point I just changed to my Quest and used it as a Rift for the link cable because everything else got too complicated. So the HTC Vive just had to sleep for a while.

[00:42:42.062] Kent Bye: Well, let's move on to a couple of the other ones that do this. The Kanasha Now is another type of interactive documentary where, again, you do make some choices. And I started to go through it again and see, okay, what are the other options? And there are actually different branches and information. And then I converged onto the same path. And so I didn't go through the entire experience again, but this was an experience that I thought, again, did an interesting job of blending narrative aspects of having these characters, but yet they're showing you part of the city. So it's a way of doing a bit of a documentary style of things that actually are stories, but they're synthesized and dramatized. And you're able to get a sense of the life of a street kid in one of these African countries. And again, it was a 360 video that I thought had some compelling content to give me a sense of a place, but also using the conceit of these different characters and you're asked to make choices to see, okay, what branch do you want to go? And I also appreciated that. And that's probably experience I would want to do again at some point when I had more time, not having the pressure of wanting to see everything and not spend too much time on something, especially if it's going to like start to repeat.

[00:43:47.226] Kathryn Yu: So Kent, do you know if there are multiple endings? I know you didn't get through like your full second playthrough.

[00:43:53.348] Kent Bye: Yeah, I didn't play through all the way through. So I'm not sure.

[00:43:58.116] Kathryn Yu: My ending that I got felt a little bit arbitrary in terms of the choices I had made along the way. So I'd be curious if everything did converge all the way back to the end. Because that's always the problem with branching narrative, is you need exponential content to fulfill, which is why they always end up having these conversion points and these choke points. But it also means that you're like, oh, well, there was only one ending, or maybe there were three endings. I'm not really sure. And when I saw that last scene, I was like, I have no idea why my character is doing this.

[00:44:26.925] Pola Weiß: Yeah, I had the same feeling for the very end. But I think it's also a problem. Well, I loved the experience. I thought it was great because the street kids actually were former street kids that were playing themselves. So they were actors, but also it was their story as well. But if you give the choices, and here the choices weren't just, do you want to go there or do you want to go there? It was like really essential choices to the storyline, like what do you want the stepmother to decide, go there and there. And when you give the people a choice, you need to give them also a chance to do an informed choice. So sometimes I was confronted with a choice like, do you want to do that or do you want him to go there? And I just didn't know what either was, because I didn't have the information to choose. So it just became arbitrary, which I wanted to have. And at the end, I was like, oh, no, if I knew that, if I knew what that is, I definitely would have gone the other way. So I think the biggest challenge, what you see here very clearly is to give the people freedom, but at the same time, give them all they need to know to decide. And I think that's also the reason why the ending was like, for me also, it came like out of nowhere. And I was like, what? It wasn't prepared. So I think it's also the same problem that we didn't have the information to do the decision for the protagonist because we didn't know what he knows. So that is so hard to achieve. It's an amazing film. I loved it. And it shows also this problem you have with branching narratives, which I think is totally worth to explore more.

[00:46:02.472] Kent Bye: Yeah. And for my part, I was paying more attention to the anthropological exploration of a city. And I felt like I got more out of that than I did from the specific stories that we're trying to tell. Because yeah, there was a certain amount of incoherence of those stories. But, you know, moving on to another experience that I think does this same type of interaction was the Killing a Superstar, which was a Chinese production where you had 360 video in these different rooms and you had the agency to be able to go between these different rooms. And at the very end, you have to like fill out a quiz and a questionnaire of different things that are happening there. And for me, I found that once I figured out the affordances of like, okay, there's a timeline here, I can scrub backwards if I want to, I can move between rooms. Okay, who are these characters? What are their relationship to each other? There's like six characters, there's a lot of people, and they're kind of moving around these different rooms and having these different conversations. And so I found myself jumping in between different rooms to see who people were talking to. And then sometimes I would be like, oh, but there's stuff that happens. What's this person doing all by themselves in this room? And so I found that this was an interesting experiment where I liked the idea and I didn't get the questions all right. And I was like, I don't know if I have the patience to go through this again to sort of really figure out the puzzle because my initial reactions and what I thought were the answers were wrong. And I was like, oh God, do I really want to watch the whole thing again? And I was like, no, I'll just wait to see what Paul and Catherine say.

[00:47:26.373] Kathryn Yu: On the timeline, did you realize what the colors meant?

[00:47:29.335] Kent Bye: Yeah, the colors meant that there was some interactions that were happening there that you could sort of skip around.

[00:47:34.521] Kathryn Yu: Right. So I would point my pointer at the beginning or end of each interaction, and then I would use the 15 second buttons to jump around and be like, oh, this person's about to say something really juicy. I'm going to go back a whole minute and then just watch that minute.

[00:47:49.938] Kent Bye: I treat it as a real time, like I'm popping in and I could only see what was happening there. No, no, no. It's a game.

[00:47:56.823] Kathryn Yu: It's just like Invisible Hours. It's just like Tacoma. You got to treat it like a game.

[00:48:00.646] Pola Weiß: Or like Eleven Eleven. Those two experiences, just in 360. But there are actually two tactics. Either you go by character and follow the same story for each character, or you go by room, which I tried both being a real German. I... I spent like four and a half hours in there. I love that kind of stuff. I did the invisible hours also for like hours and hours and hours. That became invisible after a while. And so I thought it was really interesting to see. And it was a totally different kind of interaction if you compare it with Kinshasa now. Because in Killing a Superstar, you cannot change the story. The story happens no matter what you do. You just can change what you see. and in which order you see it. So it's a totally different kind of telling a story. And at the same time, they gave you motivation to go through it because it requires kind of a patience and this very pedantic, persistent character. It's a murder mystery. You've got to investigate. Yes.

[00:49:02.342] Kathryn Yu: You've got to be organized, Kent.

[00:49:04.643] Pola Weiß: So I loved it that they gave me these little quests of finding out who did it at the end. Yeah. But it was challenging because you had to read subtitles and following the story at the same time. So that was the hardest part, I think.

[00:49:19.409] Kathryn Yu: Yep. It took me maybe five or 10 minutes to really be like, okay, this is how I use the UI. But I did accidentally keep going back to my Rift menu.

[00:49:30.291] Kent Bye: I'm going to presume that you were able to solve the mystery then, that you were able to finish the game.

[00:49:33.832] Kathryn Yu: Of course, Kent.

[00:49:36.825] Pola Weiß: But I also have to say, I don't know how you felt, Katharine, but I don't want to say anything, not just by the experience, but I had a big question at the end about the motivation of the murderer.

[00:49:48.710] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, it didn't seem that strong to me. And then they put this epilogue on where there was an additional twist and I was like, all right, I get it. Maybe on paper it read as a stronger motivation, but just going through the experience, I was like, This person doesn't seem this passionate about this issue.

[00:50:07.262] Pola Weiß: Yeah, I had the same feeling. I didn't believe that hmm was doing it. Hmm.

[00:50:14.335] Kent Bye: Well, yeah, maybe when I go back and play it again, I think this sort of speaks to my temperamental orientation towards sort of the technological aspects. And, you know, the, sometimes it takes me longer to really get immersed into the story. And it is intriguing enough of a conceit that I would maybe have to go back and be a lot more diligent than I could. Cause my strategy was like, I'm going to just watch it in real time and see if I can figure it out. And I couldn't, so I'd have to go back and really no way.

[00:50:40.856] Pola Weiß: That's very pragmatic. Try it.

[00:50:43.613] Kent Bye: Yeah. All right. Well, I'm going to list one of my favorites and then we can maybe jump in between people's favorite experiences and other ones that you may be thinking of. But for me, there was actually a piece that translated to replacements. It was Penn and Genshin. But this was a 360 video that you're in one location over like 60 or 70 years. And for me, it took me a bit to know what was actually happening at first. When I go into immersive experiences, I don't typically read about them. I just go into them and I try to figure them out. And this is a time lapse and evolution of this location that happened over that span of period. And to use illustration to be able to do that, on top of the sound design, to be able to really make me feel immersed into these different worlds. It's the same location, but over time. And so it feels like navigating between different soundscapes. I just thought it was incredibly evocative in terms of this time lapse of a place over that scale of time. Here also does that to a different degree, but with a little bit more of a volumetric capture of a single place and different families. But the replacements I thought was particularly strong for me and just like one of my favorite experiences that I came away from the festival.

[00:51:50.485] Pola Weiß: Yeah, agreed. It was also one of my highlights because, well, just to say you are in one street in Jakarta, in Indonesia, and you see it over the span of 30 years, just how it changes. So what I thought was very impressive, but I didn't expect so much, is that there is no dialogue in the experience. You just see and feel and hear what's going on during the decades. And I didn't expect them to talk so much or so explicitly about the Islam in Indonesia, because you could see it. Yeah, it was more explicit than I would have expected, to be honest. I was waiting for it, that it comes, but it was very interesting to see also the shift then. And seeing 30 years in, what was it, 10 minutes, 20 minutes? I think it was like 12 minutes, yeah. Yeah, made it even more impressive.

[00:52:41.903] Kathryn Yu: Well, I don't know about you two, but I'd like to talk about some fantasy worlds also. Yeah, go ahead. Yeah, so two of my favorites, and I think they do feel like they have some sort of kinship, were the demo of Gnomes and Goblins. as well as Baba Yaga, the latter being from Baobab Studios and Matthias Teleborg, and then the former being a demo of a much longer experience that is launching in the end of September or, you know, September 23rd, yeah, Jon Favreau, where I guess you're more explicitly a character in the story world, and it's a fantasy world, and you have a fair amount of agency, maybe a little bit more in gnomes and goblins, but I really enjoyed all of the little, were they gnomes or were they goblins? I assume they were gnomes, but a friend said that those were the goblins. Those were the goblins, yeah. Oh, really? Okay, but there were like a hundred of them and it felt like they were helping me and they were watching me and they wanted me to take a specific path and they really wanted to show me something that was deep inside of a cave and the whole thing felt very much like on rails dark ride kind of disney or pixar-esque the quality of the animation is beautiful and i found the ending had a certain storybook, but also a little bit ritualistic elements. And it felt like a really good prelude to a much bigger tale. But I wanted to stay in that world like forever, which is really interesting, because I also wanted to move the story forward. So I felt a little bit of internal conflict, just wanting to look around and look at the forest, and the sky and the goblins and the river, and this raft that you're on. but also like, what's at the end of the river? What's at the end of the path? So they're playing with a lot of really interesting, I guess kind of like old school storytelling techniques about fairy tales and fantasy lands, but really well executed and brought to life.

[00:54:41.746] Pola Weiß: I unfortunately couldn't see it because I couldn't run it. I only had the intro, which was nice. And I met some very cute goblins, but after that, it started to crash. Unfortunately, I can only talk about Baba Yaga.

[00:54:53.950] Kent Bye: Well, so yeah, for me, I got a chance to do the gnomes and goblins. And I agree that there was a certain amount of like, I want to explore this world and I want to like sort of look around. But, you know, there was only like one path I could really go down, which is fine. I think, you know, for people that may not be into open world exploration, they're really able to drive forth this specific story that they're telling. And I loved just the little creatures, the little goblins and how they looked at me and also the world building overall as you get a bit of a tour of this place it's like wow this is so rich of a whole culture that they've created and songs and different behaviors collective behaviors and just the sense of that being a part of a community and this rituals that you're participating in and i'm really looking forward to seeing the whole experience and it just was Yeah, very transportive and certainly a highlight of the festival for me and a true delight. So it's going to be coming out, I think, on September 23rd. And Weaver, as well as Jon Favreau, put this together. And I think there was a demo that came out a number of years ago. And so I'm just glad that they finished it and that we get a chance to get transported into this world and I look forward to being able to really immerse myself into it. And yeah, a big question for me is, you know, what degree am I going to be able to go down this pathway and kind of look at what else is there versus, you know, there's just like one direct way, which, you know, I can understand why having it one way means that it's going to be very easy for people who may not be into that type of gaming. And so it's a type of experience that's going to be a lot of kids first experience in VR. And it's going to be like something that is impressed into them for a long, long time. Gosh, I hope so. Do you want to say something about Baba Yaga?

[00:56:30.706] Pola Weiß: Yeah, Baba Yaga was also one of my highlights and also one of the experiences I was looking forward to very much before the festival. I thought it was brilliantly that because you don't play the main character, you play her sidekick, which is very common right now in virtual reality and it works pretty well when you're not forced to decide everything. You can just follow somebody, but you still have agency to decide things. And they had this fantastic voice acting, which made the whole experience. It, for me, was wonderful to hear and listen to the story of Baba Yaga. And you follow your little sister, actually, which felt more like a big sister to me. I don't know how you felt about it. And she gives you orders. She's very bossy and tells you what to do and what you can't do. But at the end, which is very interesting, you get the choice to choose between At the beginning, it looks, I think, like two different endings, but you can actually choose, I think, three. Maybe there are more, I don't know. And having like these different endings, it actually is only one ending, but from different perspectives. That was something Baobab Studios hasn't done before. And that was very interesting to see how they did it and how well it worked.

[00:57:49.622] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, I think they first, like, so I remember seeing asteroids and rabbits and all the other stuff, which was much more about you're watching this 360 animation, things are happening around you. And it's about animal characters. And then was it last year that they put out Bonfire? And that you have like one big choice at the end. And when I spoke to one of the creators, he told me that like 90% of people pick one and 10% of people pick like the other. So I think this is just a really wonderful natural evolution because they're coming at it from more of an animation and filmmaking perspective and gradually layering in interactivity. But the characters are gorgeous, the environments are gorgeous, the acting is really nice, and then One thing that I noticed and a couple other people on Twitter, too, is the way that you can grab things in the world, the tactile and the haptic that they've included, where at some point you're in a forest and very bad things are happening. And I reached out to touch a plant and I was like, oh, my hand's probably just going to pass right through it. And it didn't. I collided with the plant and there was that little buzz. And I was like, oh, my gosh, it really does feel like I'm in the movie, like I'm in this Disney movie.

[00:59:00.025] Kent Bye: Yeah. And a technical point on Bonfire is that there's actually a lot of more sophisticated AI in the backend that is very much branching and customizing the world around you that it wasn't until I talked to them to hear about that, that I even realized that that was there. So sometimes you go through these experiences and there's a lot more interactivity that is happening that you're not consciously aware of. But my experience of Baba Yaga was colored by the hand interactions being a new interaction. And so sometimes it would like work perfectly and other times it wouldn't. And so I was dealing with the paradox of what does it mean to do hand tracking and hand interactions when it doesn't work 100% of the time. And when it doesn't work, and it breaks, then it kind of breaks my sense of embodied presence, because there's some technical glitch that's happening. And then you kind of have to like, figure out how to work that out. So there's like little technical things like that. And I know that a lot of these experiences, there's like six experiences that were delivered on Oculus. And I'm not sure if any of them have been fully QA'd. So I'm hesitant to like make final judgments. And when it does come out the final version, I want to really go through it again and see it. Because I think this is the type of experience that does feel like Pixar quality levels, but also degrees of interaction that they're trying to enable as well. And I kind of miss that there was multiple endings. And so I'll have to go back and do a closer look and see what that exactly means.

[01:00:18.439] Kathryn Yu: I miss that there was hand tracking. I was doing it with the controller, so everything was fine for me.

[01:00:24.585] Kent Bye: Yeah, I mean, they have it enabled, but then it's not fully baked. And so maybe that was part of it.

[01:00:29.746] Kathryn Yu: Right. But unlike paper birds, which told you put down the controllers, put your hands here and then your hands became another big trend right particle systems. We're tired of seeing our hands as hands. or controller. So what else can we do that's magical? And then, you know, at some point during Paperbirds, I got distracted, because looking at my own dang hands and all the like trails they were leaving in the sky. I was like, Oh, this is so beautiful. All right. There's a story going on here. Turn around, Catherine. Look at the story.

[01:01:02.989] Pola Weiß: Yeah, speaking of Paperbirds, I thought it was very interesting. It reminded me a lot of Bloomy Eyes. I don't know how you felt. It was breathing gloomy eyes in and out in terms of the graphic style. But here, if you compare it maybe to Baba Yaga, the interactions didn't so much matter. They had another function. And I'm still trying to figure out which function they had. Maybe an emotional one, maybe something for the story. I just am curious to hear your opinion. Maybe just about the story, it's about a little short-sighted guy who is very talented in music. And he figures out one day that his sister got caught by the big shadow and now he needs to rescue her. But instead of doing it, he finds out something different.

[01:01:50.735] Kathryn Yu: So that's more or less... Unveils a family secret, I guess, if you want to keep it vague. Yeah, and that was another trend that I saw through a couple different pieces where it was clear that the creators wanted you to interact and they wanted you to pick things up or put them in certain places, but I wasn't exactly sure who I was in the story or why I was necessarily putting my hand in a specific target area.

[01:02:16.118] Kent Bye: It's another Baobab Studios produced piece with, I think, different directors than otherwise. But again, I think the design aesthetic, to be able to make it look as good as it did on the quest, all the optimizations. And I think for me, what's interesting about a piece like this is that very similar to like Alenia or Down the Rabbit Hole, where you're kind of going through like these different worlds and you're really traversing through this tabletop scale space and you're moving through it in a certain way, you kind of have the world's that are moving around you and rotating. And it's an aesthetic, I guess, of that tabletop scale where you have the smaller characters and they're moving around. But what it affords is an ability for you to really get a sense of a larger space and moving around very minimally as a user, but to move a lot further around and to like the space that you're exploring. And so I've very much appreciated the larger world building aspects that they had built out with the sets and going through these different rooms and That's the stuff that I really take away from that piece. And again, it sort of as a level of polish that starts to makes me think of Baobab as achieving the level of Pixar level quality experiences that we have within VR. And yeah, a little bit less interaction than other ones here.

[01:03:24.534] Pola Weiß: Yeah, also sound plays a very crucial role in Paper Birds. My friend Agnese Pietrobonne is going to publish a review very soon, and she was so blown away by the sound. I just can't say what she told me, because actually I tried to redo the experience with her eyes, and she told me that it actually was so accurate, the sound, being in a little Italian village or in a mountain village somewhere, that she got thrown back into her own childhood and really felt everything. Literally. And an experience can achieve that. I didn't have the experience, but if an experience can achieve that, yes, that's great.

[01:04:02.199] Kent Bye: So Paula, do you want to, are there ones that you want to choose?

[01:04:06.001] Pola Weiß: Yes, I do. I actually want to choose three, but I start with the comedies we have because we have two very, very, I think very funny experiences. And like I said, I appreciate when we not only have drama and serious things, but also like. entertainment and things to laugh about, which were Great Hoax, The Moon Landing, my second big surprise at this festival, and also Ajax, All Powerful. And these two experiences are very different and very interesting at the same time from a storytelling aspect. So what did you think about those? I'm biased.

[01:04:45.372] Kathryn Yu: My family's from Taiwan. So I was like, of course, this is amazing. Yes. And they had like little Easter eggs. I don't know if you've like been to Taipei before you recognize like some of the buildings they use in the skyline. I was like, Oh yeah, I've been there. I've been there. And then a little thing at the end where they're not showing the flag, like it's been censored.

[01:05:05.238] Kent Bye: Oh, interesting.

[01:05:06.998] Kathryn Yu: Nice little Easter egg. Yeah. So it's a thing that's very, In international contexts, often the name Taiwan and the Taiwanese flag is not displayed because they don't want to offend China.

[01:05:18.999] Kent Bye: Okay, yeah, there was each morning, what's happening at the Venice Film Festival morning here in the United States and evening in the Central European time zone, they have gatherings of different filmmakers and they have videos. And I missed the video that happened for The Great Hoax, but one of the docents of the room said, oh my God, I just watched the video. And that piece was so much more political than I had even imagined. Oh dear. And so like, there were certain parts that I really appreciated about that piece. There's certain actions that you're doing that are recorded and you get to watch later. I really liked that from a VR perspective in terms of like, this is your embodiment and you don't quite know that you're going to be able to see it later. And so to be able to see it later, it was like, okay, I would probably do this again and maybe like, Ham it up a little bit more and really like try to have a sense of my own personality. And, you know, cause there was a part of me that was like trying to break the experience of like, Hey, what if I don't do what he tells me what's going to happen? So it was like, then I see that and then that's recorded. And I'm like, okay, that's totally boring. Yeah. I should do something that's like, much more expressive. But there was also an element of the great hooks where I kind of appreciated it. But I think there was a whole layer of the deeper cultural context of that story that I may not have been ramped up on. And maybe sort of like you have to know a lot more context of relationship between Taiwan and China to maybe pick up on some stuff. So I don't Catherine, if you want to fill in some of the gaps in terms of why from you having family from Taiwan, if there were extra things within that experience that were really speaking to a larger dynamic of Taiwanese culture or Chinese culture.

[01:06:45.846] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, yeah. So definitely like the music video aspect. And then when you get paid, I don't know if you noticed that was a red envelope. And then, you know, the fireworks outside, certain buildings. I don't know if you went and looked out the window towards the end of the film. Yeah, so you do have to dig a little bit deeper. And I'm surprised, Kent, that you didn't notice that there was a video monitor when you're on stage. So you can actually see yourself in real time. No, I know.

[01:07:11.374] Kent Bye: I didn't know I was going to see it later.

[01:07:13.435] Kathryn Yu: But also it's like that mirror effect, right? That like plasticity of the mind, but they kind of turned it around and made it Hollywood. And I just laughed so hard.

[01:07:21.691] Pola Weiß: Yeah, me too. I didn't get so much of the political components or the cultural aspects, but it for me was just because we were speaking so much about interactivity and the different ways of interactivity this festival shows. And The Great Hoax is for me like a very funny Well, you actually have to be the hero of a fake moon landing, just to say that, and you can play the role. And it was a genius use of interactivity, I thought, which is very unique to virtual reality. And I really surprised, Ken, that you didn't guess it, because I figured that out. I was doing so much stupid things while shooting that. And the director is always like, yeah, you did great. That was fantastic. And at the end, you see yourself. And that was just brilliantly done. And that is one of the things VR is great for. And I think that is one of the things which reality can really bring this technology or this medium to the people in such kind of way, because it's unique to this medium. No other medium can do that in that way. So for me, it was really, really funny. And knowing that there is now a very political component to it makes me want to play it all over again.

[01:08:32.050] Kent Bye: Yeah, a technical note on my current situation is that one of my lighthouses is broken. And so I found a program afterwards to be able to switch the orientation and I need to do that. But for that, that entire experience, it didn't allow me to switch it around. So it was like losing tracking for a lot of it. So it sort of dampened my experience, but

[01:08:48.650] Kathryn Yu: Oh yeah, you gotta go back.

[01:08:50.151] Kent Bye: Gotta go back. I'll go back. I'll switch my Steam orientation around. But Ajax All-Powerful was one of my favorite VR comedies of all time. I just thought it was absolutely hilarious and such a brilliant execution of a story. And from a storytelling perspective of using the affordances, there was a nice switching of scale in different ways that you were changing scale throughout the experience to kind of like have different contrast and Yeah, I think the characters were very interesting and compelling, and I just, I'm hesitant to even say too much about it than just to go watch it, and it's just a joy to be able to see. In terms of the humor, it does have a little bit of curse words and stuff that's not necessarily like... It's animated, but not kid-friendly. Not kid-friendly, unfortunately. I think a lot of kids would love it. But you have to use your discretion as a parent if you want to show it to your kids. But it feels like the type of experience that kids would love if there was maybe a PG version, which maybe completely changed the whole character. Harry Winkler did a great job. And overall, it was just one of the most polished, funny VR comedies I've ever seen.

[01:09:53.505] Pola Weiß: Maybe something I really need to point out, I want to point out, it has a really good rhythm, this experience. Well, it's very round. It has a start. It has an ending. A lot of VR experience don't really have round ending, I think sometimes. So this has it all. It has the whole package. And it also has a very good rhythm. And the director, Eason Shafter, achieves it. I didn't really understand how. I hope I can talk with him this week or somewhere. But they have little triggers where you look at what you do. So the experience really can shift and scale as far as I understood it. So it's a kind of subconscious interactivity, which you really don't notice. But like you said before, Kent, in Bonfire, there's something going on. And you don't see it, but it's adapting to you. And I don't know yet in which level it is, but I'm sure it has to do something with the rhythm and also changes of scales they are doing, because sometimes you're big, sometimes you're small, and this is very organic. You don't really feel it, or it doesn't disrupt your immersion, which is so hard to achieve. It's not editing, it's kind of a scale editing, which I haven't seen before. So this piece is as simple as it looks, so innovative, and I'm really happy that I could see it in Venice.

[01:11:13.678] Kathryn Yu: I am now curious as to whether or not kids would get it because there's so many legal jokes. I'll just leave it at that. A lot of contract humor in this one.

[01:11:24.200] Kent Bye: All right, so let me look. There's that one. Okay, I'll do these two. Agents was probably one of my favorite experiences to come out of this festival, just because you start to have a certain level of AI that's integrated. And I did an interview with the creators as well, and they have this authorship split up into three different groups. They have creating the simulation, and as creators, they have the most ability to dictate what happens within the context of this simulation they're creating. Then you have the audience who's participating in this simulation as a game, and then you have the AI bots who have different levels of either heuristics or AI trained behaviors that you're not actively influencing over the course of the experience, but they've already been trained and they have a little bit more of a neural net intelligence. And so this whole experience is about you trying to do these actions and to see what happens. And then the narrative is like constructed in your mind. And then it ends and then it starts all over again. And you can play it again and try to try different things and see if you can invoke different behaviors. So I had an interview with them and it was just really fascinating to see how they were able to blend the language of like cinematic VR storytelling. Cause there's like this cinematic VR mode that's really like doing these hyper stylized cinematic cuts as you're doing it. You can turn that off and it's more of like you're in God mode and you just see things unfold. But you have different rules and boundaries of interactions that you're engaging with these AI bots, and you have the course of a three-part structure of a narrative that kind of unfolds, and it's a challenge to even know what that three-part structure is and how to trigger those, what the extent of your agency is, and also these bots being an expression of the agency of the creators. And it feels like it's a platform to be able to play with AI in a certain way and to play with the cross section of AI with storytelling, because eventually we'll have artificial general intelligence and we'll be speaking to other intelligent entities. But this is like the little pet version of like AI, which is like, that's where the AI is right now of like interacting with these somewhat sentient like beings that have somewhat unpredictable behaviors. I don't know, I just thought it was a delight and just to see how they start to blend the affordances of that gaming type of interactions with the aesthetics and affordances of storytelling. And I don't know, I just really enjoyed that. It's one of my favorite experiences that I saw here.

[01:13:42.362] Kathryn Yu: I just kept wanting to rescue my little guys when they fell down. Yeah, true. They kept falling off the planet.

[01:13:52.547] Pola Weiß: Yeah, but I had a lot of question marks when I was doing it the first time, then I did a second time and it became a little bit more clear. But as it is so new and so unknown so far, I would have needed, I think, more guidance at the beginning or just some tutorial that tells me what is it what I'm doing or what is it what I'm seeing here. Because if you just see it as a story, not knowing what's behind or which mechanics are behind it, it's It becomes a little bit frustrating at the beginning because you don't know why they keep falling off the planet and what are they supposed to do? Who are you? And after a while, it becomes clearer. But to fully appreciate all the innovation they have done, I think I would have needed more guidance at the beginning. So that is one of the experiences you need to read about before you do it. And that's also one of the disadvantages of doing it at home, because if we were at the festival, there probably would have been somebody just telling us, this is great stuff, do it because of this and this and this reason. And you use reinforcement mechanics on little creatures. So this is one of the experiences you can't just throw people into. You need to tell them what they are going to experience now.

[01:15:07.038] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, that makes sense. And especially for some of this stuff, you learn a lot by watching someone else do it first. And then you think to yourself, oh, would I have the same strategies? Why did they do this action instead of this other action? Is it because it wasn't possible or was it deliberate?

[01:15:22.980] Kent Bye: Yeah, for me, I did it maybe eight or nine different times and I was able to explore around and unlock different endings. And there are different triggers that you can do. And there is a bit of a type of puzzle element of like, what's the algorithm? What are the ways that you are interacting with this? And after talking to them, then I got a lot better sense of what actual, because reinforcement learning is all about training AI with implants. And so it's like, what's the implants to that? What were you using? to train these entities? What were the possible actions? And so now that I have a better sense of that probability space now, it'd be more interesting to go back and expand. And it's a type of experience that could be a platform to be able to have other people cooperate and do different trainings and different behaviors and Yeah, I think from AI and the future of AI and VR, it's very interesting as a experiment. And there's going to be a lot of people that learn a lot from this, especially from the AI community, being able to actually see an embodied result of training of AI and see how it unfolds within the context of a story. And I think it's actually going to drive certain aspects of the AI development itself to be able to better suit, how is this intersection between AI and storytelling going to come together? So it's very nascent, but for me, it's very promising in that sense.

[01:16:34.372] Pola Weiß: That's also maybe the same thing that I felt, that it wasn't necessarily made for the audience. It was more made to try this mechanics and to try that. It was a genius, which is wonderful. I think I didn't understand everything as you did, Kent, but it was a lot of fun to do that. But at the beginning, it really felt like it wasn't done for me. It was to try something, to prove something or to find something out and to experiment with some very new thing. I felt a little bit left over as an audience because I wasn't guided into that experience. I wasn't part of it. And it just came after a while. That's why I'm saying I would have needed a bit more onboarding. And then I would, I think also be more motivated to experiment more like you did, Kent.

[01:17:23.762] Kent Bye: Yeah, I have an interview with the creators. And so I want to listen to that and see if you might want to go back in. They're going to have a release of it here sometime in September, and it might have some more stuff there as well.

[01:17:33.626] Pola Weiß: Yeah, now I know. Now I want to go back in and try everything. Now I know what's possible, what I missed.

[01:17:40.938] Kent Bye: Um, yeah, the other one that I would just point out is something that was doing some interesting things from an affordance perspective was The Hangman at Home VR, which has a very nice 2.5D aesthetic. You're navigating around this space, but the sound design in this piece was extraordinary. In the credits, I saw that they actually had Foley artists that were like creating a whole soundscape, but I don't know, I like the fact that you can go into a VR space and even though it's not like fully 3D modeled, but there's a certain other things that emerge when it's like just a simple 2.5D aesthetic that kind of forces you to fill in the gaps a little bit. Also just these moments of an encounter of being looked at as an audience member and making me become present to some sort of shared shame or betrayal or being caught, you know, there's this reaction that we have with interacting with other people that we have this whole lifetime of interactions like that. And so to recreate that virtually and have those moments, it gave me such a visceral embodied experience of it. It's something that's really quite compelling and interesting there of what they're doing there. The Hangman at Home, again, by the National Film Board of Canada, which it also worked on agents. So, you know, the two I picked were happened to be from NFB They also did the Book of Distance, which we've talked about before, that was premiering back at Sundance and was at Tribeca as well. Again, the pieces that the National Film Board of Canada are doing are just, they're doing some really cutting edge innovations when it comes to the future of storytelling and VR, and really incrementally laying down the groundworks of people to see experiences like this and to be able to take elements of that and to be able to apply it to other projects in the future.

[01:19:24.053] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, in the very beginning, it took me a little while to figure out what I was supposed to be doing until I realized I could pick up the box of matches and open it. Like, it took me a little while to actually open it and take out a match. And then I thought, oh, well, I guess I have to light this match in VR. And so you see the illustration-like drawing, and then you hear the sound, and then the fire shows up, and the story progresses. And it just reminded me of how Far we have come from, like, press X to agree in a video game. And so these feel like the VR equivalent of these QuickTime moments, but they're so much more powerful that they're embodied and they're tactile and they're happening in three dimensions.

[01:20:07.958] Pola Weiß: I actually have one more thing. I think one of the most beautiful films I've seen so far in 360 degrees. It's Four Feet High. It's actually the second episode, I think, of a series. The first premiered one or two years in Venice. It was called Four Feet Blind Date. And it's about a young woman and she's sitting in a wheelchair and she is, well, her big subject is to explore her sexuality, which of course is not as easy when you are in a wheelchair. So she's doing first a blind date with somebody, with somebody who turns out to be a really nice young boy. And in this film we see here, she goes to another school, I think, and there she's just a teenager. She discovers all kinds of things about sexuality. And it's just very beautiful film, I think, which has to be mentioned here in this podcast, because they have this very unique language they speak. They have an actress who's doing everything and other actors who are playing that in the movie. And at the same time, they add little graphic elements to give you kind of an emotional state or just highlight some things. But in a very beautiful and stylish, simple way, also with a little bit of humor sometimes. It's not very serious. And that is one of the films I just love to watch, also in 360, because 360 gives you a feeling of, yeah, being at her side. And you're really at the same height, at the height of somebody being in a wheelchair. So you see everything from a slightly different perspective. And yeah, it was just a pleasure to see them again this year.

[01:21:48.155] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had a chance to see Four Foot Blind Date at Sundance last year and do an interview with the creators. And I actually ran into them at the Venice VR chat and kind of caught up and got a little bit more context as to what they're doing next. They're actually doing like 10 episodes, four of which I think are going to be in VR and six of them are going to be in 2D. And so they showed us two of those episodes back to back. So what we saw were two of the episodes of the four, and there's going to be another six that are 2D. And they recast the role, which I was happy to see because the original actress was not disabled. And they actually found a disabled person who had never acted before. And so this is her first time acting. And it's just really nice to see that level of authenticity within a piece like this over the course of the series and the fact that they were able to work with her and they actually shoot everything at four feet high to give you the perspective of what she sees as she goes around and great ensemble cast and compelling characters. And they're not like force feeding you everything. Sometimes in these experiences, it can be very explicit in terms of like telling you what to think, but I thought they did a great job of showing you the story and that there was a level of authenticity of the main writer of this piece. She's also in a wheelchair and she gave a TED talk and that's how this whole thing came about for them to make these VR movies. But there's a certain level of authenticity in a piece like this that Sometimes my problem with some of these VR pieces is that sometimes you get at the end and it feels like a bit of a tech demo or just like they're doing it because they can do it, but they don't really have anything interesting to say. I think this is a case where there's actually a lot of really compelling things to be said about ableism of a world that is not necessarily accessible for everybody and, you know, different situations and contexts where she has to actually deal with that. And so, yeah, I just think it's a great writing, great story, great characters. I really, really enjoyed the piece.

[01:23:36.338] Kathryn Yu: One more that I want to shout out, it's also an episodic series. This is episode two of four. It was a Queerskins arc. So they did a tiny little teaser at Cannes, and now you can actually see the full piece. And what I really appreciated and found out from one of the choreographers was that it is a dance piece, and it is volumetric capture. but dynamically changing the position of the dancers based upon your room size and the position of the viewer. But it's all kind of quietly being done in the back end. And there's a couple of moments where the dancers who are very abstract, like they've got that like particle thing going on, and they collide with you. But it doesn't feel weird in the way that it does in other pieces where like, you're like, Oh, no, I don't want to run into the environment. I don't want to run into the character. So it's just very lovely piece building upon the story of a very conservative family, I believe in the 80s, who has lost their son, who was a doctor and was also gay and living in Los Angeles. And this is the first episode was more voyeuristic in that you are overhearing a conversation between the husband and wife, and they had a box full of their son's belongings. And in this one, it's that blend of 360 video and then something that like looks a little bit more different. when you get into the mother's kind of internal world. And she is reading a diary of her son and dreaming up or visualizing what might have been happening between her son and her son's boyfriend through this diary entry. So it's a lot more about her inner world. And I just thought it was really nicely executed. And the relationship between dance and VR is something that's really powerful in terms of the way that you can use space and make it feel like the story is happening all around you, you know, building that world. So I'm always glad to see more stuff like this in festivals.

[01:25:33.106] Kent Bye: Yeah. And the queer skins actually has one of the most sophisticated installations in VR chat. Each experience has the opportunity to either create an installation, a 3d model or a behind the scenes video. And in the VR chat installation, they actually have like a whole interactable museum that they've built. So if you haven't seen that, I'd highly recommend checking that out as well. And yeah, I know that they had like a 360 video version of this at Tribeca and. Also, there's so much data there. And so it's already being compressed down and being delivered to us. And so I would love to see this in its original intention of a full space and full resolution as well to be able to see some of those other aspects. But yeah, that's the first piece I think is also available on Oculus for folks to check out the first episode if they want to check that out. And I wanted to give a couple of shout outs to other experiences that we haven't sort of popcorn style. Recording Entropia was a 360 video that I appreciated because most of the experiences you see in VR have this kind of like 3D model version where it's in Unity, it's Unreal Engine. And you have this certain aesthetic where it's like, okay, I can tell this is a Unity game. I can tell this is Unreal Engine. This is like more creative coding, exploring forms and shapes to see how can you start to tell a story without using any language at all. You're just using the language of modulating objects and mathematical forms and having things shift and kind of meld together. And the narrative is loose in terms of like kind of projecting it onto it. I thought it was a little weird that they used letters and it was like, okay, what's all that? Do you really need to sort of bring in the language elements? So there's parts of it that were like, okay, why are you doing that? But just in terms of a form, I feel like experimenting with the medium of VR without saying any words, how can you use the modulation of space to tell a story? I think experiments like recording in Tropia are really important to prototype different things and to see how those types of affordances could be sprinkled into other things that have maybe more of a fixed traditional narrative as well. I don't know if you have any thoughts on that, and I have another thought on another experience.

[01:27:31.698] Pola Weiß: You mentioned it all.

[01:27:35.118] Kent Bye: So the other experience that, I don't know if you each had a chance to try this out, it's called Terrain, and it's a VR chat world that has a number of different pods that you go into by, it's by Lily Baldwin and Sashka Unseld, and it's actually a 360 video, and it says it's 45 minutes, but I actually spent over two hours like seeing all the different content. And this is an example where you go in and you watch it, and there's a bunch of things mashed together, and they have a whole audio escape that unfolds that's quite dynamic and interesting to listen to. But the narrative, again, is very loose. It's very experimental in terms of these different characters, and the characters are kind of sprinkled out into all experiences. And sometimes you'll go in and be like, okay, this is just about this character. Sometimes they'll be like, we're just exploring this expression of agency in some way, or it has different things that they're focusing in on. I'm going to be talking to the creators just to help unpack it a little bit more to see, okay, what were you trying to say? Because my experience of it was very intrigued of like walking through a virtual museum installation, diving into each of these 360 videos and getting a taste of it. And then at the end, kind of trying to piece together, okay, what was that about? So kind of an experimental narrative, but using the melding again of 360 video affordances kind of flattened out and put into a VR chat world that you're able to navigate and move around and maybe only see it for 20 minutes. Or if you want to see everything, you know, spend two hours.

[01:28:55.316] Kathryn Yu: Yeah. I found it really disorienting the whole fragmented nature. I think like to your point, it starts out looking like you're entering some sort of museum or gallery space. And then all of a sudden everything's really dark. And there are some arrows that look like they're on the ground, but I couldn't really find a clear pathway. And so it was difficult for me to ascertain if I had been in this video bubble before, or if I was in a different video bubble, or maybe this third bubble was using like spliced video from the previous one. So I got very disoriented. And I think I spent maybe like 10, 15 minutes trying to figure out what was happening. But it's super fragmented, super nonlinear, super experimental.

[01:29:37.287] Pola Weiß: I unfortunately couldn't watch it because my VR chat app was very buggy at the time. So I saw it at a very, very low frame rate. And with all that movement in the videos, I wasn't able to stay that long. But it's definitely another way of telling a story, I think. So I would love to try it again with a better connection.

[01:29:59.225] Kent Bye: They do have a quest version that's native to VR chat and they say, this is broken, go watch this on a PC. So that could have been part of it as well. So the quest version of that doesn't work right now. And they, they recommend to me when I ran into Lily to see it on the PC, but there was actually another experience that had a similar level of fragmentation. It was one of the ones that you had to get access to the Oculus experiences. What was it called? It was called.

[01:30:23.902] Kathryn Yu: Oh, um, I can't pronounce it, but in English it's taste of hunger.

[01:30:28.285] Kent Bye: Oh yeah, there we go. A Taste of Hunger. Yeah, it's called A Taste of Hunger, where, again, it was a series of fragmented memories spread out across a space, and as you navigate through this space, as you move your virtual locomotion through this space, it also changes the memory that it evokes, but also if you move your hands around, it also changes it. So I found myself kind of moving and then also moving my body around to kind of edit. And then it became a game within itself to find all the memories, which I thought was a really compelling dynamic. I've seen that a few times at Sundance. It kind of reminds me of like a super hot type of thing, but you're navigating through a memory. But at the end of it, after I saw all the content, I was like, okay, it still feels a little bit fragmented. I'm not quite sure What that was exactly about. It was kind of fun to try to discover everything. But at the end of the day, it's kind of an interesting experiment, but I'm not sure if it necessarily works in terms of telling a coherent story.

[01:31:23.018] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, I ran into issues with my guardian and the size of my room because you're essentially on something that looks like a sundial and in order to see a different piece of the story, you can either move your body around or you can strafe around. And so I was trying to do it because I'm more comfortable moving my body around, but my guardian was smaller than the sundial. So I was trying to figure out, like, this is a really interesting method of navigating. And I really enjoyed the transitions, kind of similar to Superhot, like you see almost like glass or plastic pieces reconstitute the scene. And it's not supposed to be photorealistic. So I think that gave it a little bit of an edge over terrain. But at the same time, I was like, oh, well, all right, let me smooth locomote over here. And then I can walk around this corner. And let me smooth locomote over there. And then I can walk around this corner. So yeah, a lot of really interesting ideas. Not sure that they've necessarily solved that navigation problem. In a real festival setting, right, you'd be in like a 10 by 10 foot booth or, you know, the space would be much larger. So I'm trying to reconcile also how this would work better for like a home audience. I mean, for all of them, right, you want them to maybe be able to be potentially stationary or in a much smaller Guardian.

[01:32:38.184] Kent Bye: They did have a virtual navigation so that you could sort of move around with just the joystick. So that was what I ended up doing because I had a similar space constraint, but yeah, it's a lot different than being able to move your body through it. If I much prefer to have like a huge space to be able to walk through. Oh, yeah.

[01:32:53.473] Pola Weiß: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And also maybe in terms of the story, it's a story of a couple that starts to break or to live different lives, as far as I understood it. And I used the joystick and I walked really each field, which gives you another fragment of the story. And after doing that, it took me like, I don't know, 20, 25 minutes. I expected some really kind of phenomenal end or some scene that gave me the clue of understanding the fragments I've seen. And I didn't find that. And that was a little bit frustrating, to be honest, because it was so much effort to watch all these little fragments. And I really wanted to know what I did see. And like you said, Catherine, I also thought it was very interesting. But at the same time, I didn't know if it worked out in the terms of a story.

[01:33:47.633] Kent Bye: Yeah, we'll probably start to wrap up here.

[01:33:50.717] Pola Weiß: Maybe we can talk about the Collège. Are we through? No, we still have a few.

[01:33:57.004] Kent Bye: We have a number of ones. I'll sort of go through a couple other ones that I just want to mention and I'll let you if you want to mention. We can be completionist if we want. But we'll see. So, so another one that I, I really appreciated was a mirror, the signal, which I really loved the aesthetic and the polish, you know, the producers have produced a lot of VR pieces over the years is Atlas five or Atlas V. I've always forget, which is what they call it. So. But they sort of go by both, but you know, the level of production quality on this was really up there and a certain, I felt like it was just the beginning of something that's going to be much larger. And so I'm like hesitant to speak too much because it didn't feel like a complete piece. It felt like, okay, this is just like the first scene of a much larger piece. It's a prologue of something. Yeah. Yeah. So I want to see the whole thing, but you know, it's really compelling, you know, to be transported into this world and to, see the fidelity mashed up with sort of the point cloud representation. I see a lot of using point cloud representation as a conceit for looking at memories or whatever, like sort of things in the past. And so using that kind of blending of that point cloud representation, similar to what I saw in Queer Skins as a way of exploring a scene in a sort of hazy way. But I enjoyed that piece and my only complaint is I wanted to see more of it.

[01:35:14.416] Pola Weiß: The end of the experience is the start of the story, because everything we've seen so far is just the exposition to the story. Yep, absolutely.

[01:35:23.424] Kent Bye: Yeah, it was a provocative ending. I'll say that from my own experience. It grounded me into the experience in a way that I was surprised by, but it was really cool.

[01:35:30.851] Kathryn Yu: It left you wanting more.

[01:35:33.321] Pola Weiß: Yeah, it's just the exposition of a story. And I think there's coming more, or I hope at least. And it also reminded me a lot in the aesthetics and everything at The Great Sea. I don't know if you had that too.

[01:35:47.846] Kent Bye: The Great Sea. Wait, was this The Great Sea? Was that in this one? Or is that?

[01:35:51.887] Pola Weiß: No, that's already published. Oh. It's about that big computer who asks a small village each year to send one of their young men to answer three questions. The aesthetics are very similar, I thought. And it was interesting to see how they took the best of the great sea and formed it into another experience.

[01:36:13.271] Kent Bye: There's like a visual poem that was like hush, which was so dark, it was kind of hard to see what was happening. And then this is the type of experience that I went through it. And then I read the description. I was like, okay, that's what they were doing there. But there was sort of like this blending of like, what is real, what is not real. And I liked it as a visual poem. But again, there's this challenge of, you know, sometimes when I watch an immersive story, it's like, I feel like they're kind of handholding me and telling me every aspect. And it's like audio narration. This is like the opposite where there's very little of any of that. And they're just trying to use the affordances of a spatial medium to be able to tell a story. So it's either they're using some sort of symbolic dream logic to put you on an experience and you kind of have to interpret it like a dream. or it's something that has more traditional narratives. And so again, I think this is a piece that feels like they're exploring that spatial language in a way. And how much can you use what you're paying attention to? For me, I'm like, okay, what's changing? What's different? What should I be paying attention to right now? And I'm like looking for how this is changing and shifting. And so there is this treating it like a puzzle and a test of the patience. But by the end of it, I felt like it was like this very interesting, like poetic experiment. So I enjoyed it, but it was also like, yeah, I don't know if this is going to be necessary for everyone. And, you know, there might be some things that I would change to make it a little less oblique.

[01:37:33.521] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, it's interesting because for a lot of VR experiences, the first thing you see is a diagram and instructions as to what you can do. versus what you can't do. And so even though I've been doing VR for a really long time, like this festival is the first time I figured out like, hey dummy, look down and see if you have, oh, you don't have hands. Okay, cool, relax. I don't know if that's how you two deal with these things. Like, do I have agency? Can I teleport? Can I turn? I have no idea. Oh, I don't have controllers in this movie. Cool. I'm just going to sit back.

[01:38:05.321] Pola Weiß: I always have this like little questions. Is it linear? Is it non-linear? Is it interactive? Is it non-interactive? So I check that in the first 10 seconds, and then I kind of know what to expect. And sometimes you get surprised, but these are like the four things I put every experience in.

[01:38:23.051] Kent Bye: And additional for me is I'm using the valve index that isn't necessarily supported on all of Viveport. And so there's an additional layer is, is there something I should be doing, but can't do because the controllers are broken? And do I have to do this again on my other PC? So that's sort of a suboptimal thing to have to worry about. But as we do this all from home, we kind of have to worry about that.

[01:38:46.095] Kathryn Yu: One of the actors in Pandora X said, it's the Wild West. And yeah, VR definitely feels like we're living in the Wild West. We're on the edges of society sometimes.

[01:38:56.933] Kent Bye: Yeah. Well, I wanted to say one thing about an experience that gave me some annoyance when I went through it, but I think it's important to sort of name that we're at such an early phase that any project that finishes, it's going to give certain information. And sometimes there's experiences that I don't like that actually give me some deep experiential design insights into like what people should be doing. And this was the Fajant.

[01:39:23.235] Kathryn Yu: How do you say it in Italian?

[01:39:26.181] Kent Bye: A jaunt. A jaunt? This was an experience where it was like, there were certain aspects of the two characters that were annoying me. There were certain parts of the experience that was broken in terms of the uni interactions. And so I would try to do something that would be somewhat broken. And then certain aspects of like making a choice, but because the technology was broken, I would actually accidentally choose the wrong choice of things that I didn't want to actually do. And then on top of that, there were certain things that were annoying me along the way. The thing that they did really well was having eyeline with the character looking at me. And it's the type of experience where they say they're going to have like different endings to this experience. But yet, sometimes I think it'd be better just to like have a very clear trajectory and maybe take away some of my choices and like maybe tighten up the story that you're telling. Because at the end, I felt like it was worth it, that struggle. And I was surprised by the ending. I didn't know anything about the context or anything about it. And I felt like, oh, wow, that's, I felt like I was kind of transported into a historical moment that felt worth going through some of those frustrations. But there were certain aspects of the experience that were, I just wanted to rage quit it like 10 times. And because it was sort of like really testing my patience in certain ways. And then for me, it's like, okay, what would I prefer them to be doing? And how could this be different in a way that would allow me if you're going to give choices, then just kept going on and on and on. It was like, no, I really wanted to go this other path, but I didn't feel like it was being honored in that way. So I don't know. I felt like that was a type of experience that gave me frustration, but it also like to really explain why, I don't know if I can fully articulate it, which is interesting, because it's like, if I were to create it myself and create something that's different, I don't know if I could make something that was different or better.

[01:41:06.692] Kathryn Yu: I think, yeah, I think I liked it more than you did, and I echo some of the same concerns, which I think could have been alleviated by maybe some more testing, because there were certain things I could interact with that later I was like, oh, this is out of order, or I'm not even supposed to open this. And so something that we live here did really well was making sure that you knew what the next thing you were supposed to do was. So there's like an object, I think I must have picked it up five times, and it didn't become really important until maybe two-thirds of the way in. So which I'm like, oh, well, there's probably some other design choice you can make to not let me pick that up until the right moment, to not let me do a thing until the right moment. And just in terms of like, it's very dialogue heavy, right, because you hear one of the characters internal monologue, and then you hear the actual conversation. And so it was indicative of that emotional struggle. But even if it is more realistic to have a long winded circular emotional struggle with your significant other, maybe it doesn't play so well in an interactive experience.

[01:42:10.790] Pola Weiß: Yeah, well, I have to say I have a little bit more background maybe on the experience because we already published a long article about it. My co-writer Agnes, she is Italian, so she again has a very different access to the experience. It's about the Wajong Dam disaster where in the 1960s, a part of the mountain broke down into the lake created by the Wajan Dam. And that led to very, very massive tsunami that killed many people and flooded a lot of villages. So it's one of the Italian traumas we have here. So every Italian knows what this experience is about, probably. And it originally was supposed to be an installation, like a physical installation with actor. And due to COVID and this virtual only thing of Venice VR, they had to change the complete thing. So maybe that explains a bit the lack of testing because I had a lot of technical issues too when I did it at home. index controllers as well, which didn't work. The gaze thing didn't work so well. But still, this interactivity again, because we're speaking so much about interactive things, I think it wasn't the goal to give you like branching narratives, which at the end did well, a little branch, but it was to bring you more into the role. You play the wife and your role is to convince or not your husband to leave his parents' house he inherited and to leave his home due to the inherent danger that was obvious or that was foreseen that something catastrophe like that could happen. So the dialogue, which I also found a bit too long, but the dialogue has a different meaning. It's more about, Agnese wrote about it, like you need empathy. The key is empathy to understand what's going on in the two people. So it's not about giving you agency or something. It's about giving you the impression of how it must have felt to do that decision at that time. And I only could see the experience through her eyes. I myself probably wouldn't have understood it. But seeing it with Agnes' eyes gave me so much more context of the experience. So I absolutely would recommend to do it again and to see it maybe in this empathy way or this trying to really fully play the role you're supposed to play.

[01:44:30.865] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, I should note I did it with my Oculus Quest and Link hooked up to my gaming PC. I didn't have any of the technical issues. For me, it ran pretty well.

[01:44:39.000] Kent Bye: Yeah, it could have been that I was using index controllers and, you know, whatever else, but it was like, it, it both wasn't work. It took, yeah. I think that what you said, Catherine, in terms of like recreating the frustration of a partner, it was also, it was a type of experience that almost was like, maybe I shouldn't be playing this character because there was such a disconnect between what she was saying and what I was experiencing. And so by being embodied in her, it was like, it made me feel like, well, I'm supposed to be her, but that she's saying things that would be so different than what I would be thinking in that situation. And so I almost wonder if that would be a type of experience where you're like outside watching, but yeah, being the first person character, but having such a mismatch between what was being said and my experience of it was just like, ah, come on, let's just like, get out of here. And it was like, it didn't let me just get out of there. It was just kept going on and on and on.

[01:45:27.877] Kathryn Yu: What she was struggling with was that she didn't want to leave him behind. So you were feeling what they wanted. Yeah. Come on, Kent.

[01:45:35.540] Kent Bye: I know. I know. There's a certain amount of the experiential design that maybe recreated this whole experience in a way that was more powerful than I'm giving it credit for.

[01:45:43.282] Pola Weiß: And it was the 60s. So being a good wife doesn't mean leave your husband behind.

[01:45:47.524] Kent Bye: Yeah.

[01:45:50.785] Pola Weiß: Which you did, I hope. Not. You didn't leave him behind, did you?

[01:45:55.727] Kent Bye: No, I waited.

[01:45:57.586] Kathryn Yu: Let's emphasize these are fictional archetypes running through this scenario that happened in real life, but they weren't actual, like the people in the VR aren't actual people. They're characters that represent the perspectives.

[01:46:10.347] Kent Bye: Yeah. And for me, I, like I said, I like to go into these things without knowing anything. And so at the end of it, I was like, oh, wow, I have this connection to this part of Italian history now that I wouldn't have had I not gone through that. So that I really appreciated being connected to a deeper context that I was not aware of at all. And as I was going through it, I wasn't aware of it either. So that was interesting to see that context be connected. Um, we're at the stage of trying to like wind down, but if you want to do them all, we can.

[01:46:39.685] Kathryn Yu: I mean, I didn't watch, everything I watched was, I tended towards more the 6DOF and the Quest and Viveport stuff. Okay. So I didn't watch any of the 3DOF films.

[01:46:49.013] Kent Bye: Okay. Okay. And I, I saw all but The Blind Spot and maybe let's try to hit these other that are in competition for 6DOF and just try to complete those. Just 360 videos used to being forgotten and not taken. Oh, we spoke about a few. We spoke about a few. So, yeah, let's go through the last, and just to kind of be completionist about all the competitions, 6DoF, and then we'll sort of call it. So let's just go through the last part of the competition. There's 6DoF, there's 3DoF, and, you know, we're not going to cover every single last one, but just to do the ones that were in competition. There's one called Beat, which I thought was really sweet. Japanese produced cinematic, six-off experience where you're able to interact with the story, even though it's sort of just gated in terms of like, there's like one action you can do where you're just kind of triggering actions. But again, it's like this really cute robot that you're interacting with and the There's a rhythm in terms of the music and the haptics that are in this experience that I thought were really quite well done, but also the lighting in this piece I really appreciated, especially as how they were able to turn off and on the lighting to be able to reveal different aspects of these sets. And yeah, I just felt like the overall story of the interactions of these characters were also just kind of a sweet.

[01:48:02.812] Kathryn Yu: Heartwarming tale of robot friendship. Yeah. You're more of an observer than anything though.

[01:48:09.554] Pola Weiß: Yeah. And also one you could show a child. That was one of the only experiences you could really give a child to experience virtual reality for the first time. It doesn't have dialogue. It's very intuitive. Even the interactivity, I think, can be learned very quickly. So that is a piece that's definitely recommended for a little bit older child.

[01:48:30.030] Kent Bye: Yeah. And technically, it's very well done in terms of just how it looks. Very polished. Yeah, I enjoyed it. And it wasn't a type of piece that just like completely blew me out of the water just because I think I've seen a lot of these pieces and I'm really looking for myself just sort of like what's new, what's different. And yeah.

[01:48:48.415] Kathryn Yu: We didn't really say that much about it. It wasn't that it didn't go that deep. Right.

[01:48:56.100] Kent Bye: Yeah.

[01:48:57.031] Pola Weiß: It's cute. It's nice. We need these. We need these little tales to give us back the joy of virtual reality without breaking into tears or without seeing the big innovation. We need these little well-done stories in virtual reality. This is exactly what you need.

[01:49:13.017] Kathryn Yu: Similar to Mr. Octopus. Goodbye, Mr. Octopus. Well-rendered, beautiful animation, beautiful characters. You're more of a ghost or an observer. And it's a nice, short story.

[01:49:26.691] Kent Bye: Yeah, and some of these, like something like Mr. Octopus and the robot, there's like, sometimes in a story like this, there's no like skin in the game that's maybe connected to the larger context of what's happening in the world. And sometimes when I see those, that disconnect between a story that's sort of like agnostic for when you could see it, you could see this film like 100 years from now or 200 years from now. There's a certain lack of immediacy in terms of being connected to what's happening around us. Part of my problem with Hello Mr. Octopus was that it was almost like these characters were so disconnected from anything that was grounded in reality that you're in this person's room and all the posters that are there are completely erased out. And so it was like, I'm trying to get connected to something that this character feels real and grounded, but yet it feels like a caricature and a story that's playing out. But there's something about like a piece like that that doesn't land as much for me because it just felt in some ways like an exploration of the technology And what can the technology do? And the technology was beautiful. But I don't leave with anything of like, oh, wow, that felt like a real story. Even if it was a real story, it just felt like safe enough that it wasn't, I didn't connect to it in a way.

[01:50:35.423] Pola Weiß: I think it was a short story that could have worked also as a normal short film. Right, 2D. Yeah.

[01:50:42.159] Kathryn Yu: I end up feeling something similar to a lot of the tabletop scale stuff that I'm kind of hovering above. I'm not in the world with the characters, but I think my preference is usually more for the human scale things.

[01:50:57.945] Pola Weiß: Yeah, all the changing, the changement between like Battlescar does or like we also have seen in here one of the best off projects down the rabbit hole where they change a bit from this puppet house style to the more human scales too, but I agree.

[01:51:13.857] Kathryn Yu: All right. Let's talk about DMZ.

[01:51:16.579] Kent Bye: Yeah. Does anybody want to, Dreaming Zone, does anybody have any initial thoughts on Dreaming Zone?

[01:51:21.866] Kathryn Yu: So I was really struggling as to whether or not this was fantasy or reality and nothing really clicked for me until the end when they actually revealed the nature of the world and then it all made sense. But I had a lot of trouble, similar to what you were saying about some of the other pieces, grounding myself in where I am and what is happening and why it's happening. A lot of the visuals are very beautiful. I found the pacing a little slow as well.

[01:51:50.397] Pola Weiß: I had to watch it two times or to experience it two times to get the story because this middle scene where you all are in this fantasy world, which is very nice. It is also quite long, that scene. They don't change. You don't go to a different place. So it becomes a bit long and the rhythm is very, very long, especially if you come from Ajax or Powerful or another very fast experience. I think the problem was that they gave you at the beginning a role where you had to do little interactive things and then you went to becoming the little girl. So you played basically the hero, but without so much interaction. And then they switched again into third person view where you see the little girl, which you played like a minute ago before. So that kind of confused you as a viewer where you were and what you've played or what's your role in all that. And that kind of, I thought was a bit sad because I really loved the visuals and the story was beautiful. And if I weren't so confused, I would have enjoyed the story much better.

[01:52:56.123] Kent Bye: Yeah, this is an example of an experience that I went through and got through maybe a third of it. And then there was something that wasn't working on my controller. So then I had to do it again. And the thing that I noticed that I appreciated about this experience was that there's a lot of shifts in color. Like there was a scene where they just turned everything red. And when they do that playing with color, they're able to, I think, really bring about a certain vibe of, you know, in this case, war. But also a challenge for me sometimes is if I just go back and think about what the story was based upon what I was seeing in the experience, I kind of lose what the story even was because it was like so much of the story is being driven by the audio. And then I'm just trying to figure out what is happening. And like you said, Paul, you had to go through and watch it again. And, you know, I'm sort of just seeing what I can get from the technology side. And then like, it didn't feel like I felt motivated to go back and do it all again, just to kind of figure it out. or to be able to say anything intelligible about the story right now. So it's sort of sometimes when I watch like 44 experiences and I tend to have these embodied memories that I remember different moments of like this turning into a tank and the stork transforming and the colors shifting and the sound design. But sometimes it can be challenging to cohere all of that because your sensory experience is being bombarded by all this stuff and I like to see ways to use what happens visually to tell the story. And sometimes there can be a disconnect between whether or not you could tell the whole story by just listening to a podcast and what you're seeing is kind of like help modulating it, but it's not necessarily critical. So I don't know that there's parts of it that I have to go watch again, just to be able to even remember it all.

[01:54:31.765] Pola Weiß: But it might also be a cultural thing because it's about a little girl in South Korea who is crossing the border actually to North Korea to find her lost father, who is a musician. And that happens in a very uncommon way. like she ends up in a fantasy world. So I felt that a lot of these graphics were very symbolic and I didn't get them. A lot of them were obvious because they were about war and about conflict, but some also were like I would have needed more context to understand them. So maybe that's also creating this feeling of disconnecting when we have, I always feel that when I'm doing experiences made by Asian directors for an Asian community, they use much more, well, they use a different language basically, which we necessarily, well, we not always understand.

[01:55:20.746] Kent Bye: Yeah. There's a piece last year at Venice called Bodyless that had a lot of both dream logic imagery from the culture and dream logic imagery from his personal life. And the conversation I was able to like sift out, okay, what does this mean? What does this mean? I feel like there's a certain dream-like quality to this as well. I mentioned very briefly here, but it's worth calling out that I think this experience originally was intended to be an installation where you're walking around it, but it was recontextualized to be just standing in place because it's telling the story of one location and all these families that were living in this home over 100 years. And going back to like billions of years, but I really enjoyed staying in one place and seeing different portal views into the past. And again, this is kind of like telling the story of a place rather than telling the story of the people that are there. And so just finding different ways of playing with time and time-lapse over like that large of a scale of time to see all these different events that happen. I would have liked to see more things happen that weren't so happy. Cause it was a little bit of like, Hey, everybody's just like, Oh, happy all the time. But like. sort of the full range of human emotion rather than just everything being like the peak experiences.

[01:56:29.252] Pola Weiß: Well, I liked the idea of time-lapse as well, the story of the place, of that one house. But I also felt that it's not using the full potential of virtual reality, because you're always looking at this 2D screen or a scene of the same room, just in a different time. But you can't do anything with it. And you can't really feel it, because it's just on a, it stays flat. But it explains when you say it was supposed to be an installation. that explains that very well. And I would have loved to see a more spatial dimension to it.

[01:57:01.004] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, at one point I turned around to be like, well, what's behind me? And it turned out to be nothing.

[01:57:07.311] Kent Bye: Yeah, to be able to walk through the space, I imagine it's going to be a lot different. And plus it was shot on Intel Capture Studio. So that's like a big giant dome. So I think they actually kind of like were able to do it in a way that would maybe different than other volumetric capture. I don't know exactly how, because it seems like it could have been another volumetric solutions, but the fact that Intel was involved with it is also interesting. So just going through the rest of the pieces in competition, there's the Man Under Bridge. It's a Swedish name. I can't necessarily pronounce it, but the English version is Man Under Bridge. This is another example of 2.5D exploration of telling a story. And I think for me, when I watch a piece like this, It's a bit of like, it feels like almost like storyboarding of an experience. And sometimes it's enough that that's all you need is to be able to tell this type of story. And it felt like, I'm not sure if this type of experience would have benefited much more from having a whole spatialized way, but I like it as an aesthetic that is accessible for people to start to experiment with different things. And it's about a man who is dealing with different levels of alcoholism and alcohol and it, it kind of is going through these different scenes of his life. But I'm not sure if you guys have other thoughts on that piece.

[01:58:18.338] Pola Weiß: Yeah, it's also a documentary because this man really existed, and it's his original voice. That's why it makes sense to make it subtitles. I usually don't like subtitles in virtual reality, but sometimes it makes sense, like in this case, because it was him who did the original recordings. And he's talking about his life under the bridge in Helsinki in the 60s or 70s, I think. So it must have been quite harsh to live like that. And it's also interesting how they used the graphics to, yeah, The style, it says, is a little bit the style he draws in his journals or something. So it's quite his experience. The only criticism I had is that it's too short. It ends when I start to feel in this world and I would have loved to see more.

[01:59:05.909] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, I would echo that and just add on that there Even though it is in this blocky chalk art illustration style, when some of the other characters in this animated film are looking at you, you get that same kind of eye contact vibe that just works so well in VR.

[01:59:26.709] Kent Bye: We got two more experiences to talk about, then we can kind of wrap up here. The El Dubio, this is a, again, a part of the special selection. It wasn't in competition, but this piece, I had a problem on my original PC because I couldn't light the candle and I sat there for like, and then. And then I had to do it on the other PC and I could light it. But my initial reaction was like, I was spending like five minutes, like I can't light the candle. So then I did it, but this experience, it feels like the type of experience that they're really playing with lighting again, where you are using your agency to light these different areas. And again, you're not really making a choice. You're just told what to light, but it sort of goes from the era of DaVinci to this contemporary artist and exploring different aspects of doubt. And it reminds me of a piece that Francesca Panetta did called Six by Nine. One of the things she said was, Six by Nine was about solitary confinement. And there was a thing she said that when she did it, she originally had other people talking about their experiences of solitary confinement. She found that didn't work. And that what really worked was saying, when you're in solitary confinement, you're gonna feel this, you're gonna feel all these other things, you're gonna see this. And so all the talking helped you connect to your own experience of what it would be like to do that. And this is a type of experience where other people are talking about their experiences of doubt, but I'm not sure I had necessarily any direct experiences of that. And as a medium, I'm thinking, okay, what is the thing that I'm really getting out of VR and being embodied here? So there's certain things that, Well, I appreciated different aspects of lighting. The first part, there's other parts that was like jumping between these two different stories. And, you know, I don't, I'm not sure if I'm like walking away with like, okay, that was a brilliant exploration of this concept. I really get this feeling of doubt.

[02:01:10.497] Kathryn Yu: Yeah, it felt like two pieces and I was struggling to figure out how these two different things connected because in the first one, you're almost just eavesdropping on Da Vinci. He's never really addressing you. He's just angry at himself. You hear him mumbling. And then in the second part, it feels like the more contemporary artist is walking you through his creative process and addressing you more directly. And I was trying to reconcile those two.

[02:01:37.513] Kent Bye: Yeah.

[02:01:38.615] Kathryn Yu: Okay. That's it. That's all there is to say.

[02:01:42.508] Kent Bye: And then the final one we'll, we'll talk about is minimum mass, which I saw at Tribeca, kind of like this tabletop scale. You're rotating it around. Um, actually did an interview with the creators. Cause I think again, they're doing lots of really interesting thing with lighting and exploring a topic. That's very intense. I didn't check it out here because I don't know if there's been an update or anything. So sometimes when I see an experience like this, I was like, Oh, I've seen that already. So I don't know if you guys watched it again, or if you have any other thoughts on it.

[02:02:08.102] Pola Weiß: Well, we already talked about it. I rewatched it here in Venice because I was curious. And yeah, again, we still have this puppet style or puppet house style. Like we said before, I would have loved to go more into the scenes and have the different scaling. But yeah, we already talked about it. Otherwise, it's a very beautifully done voice acting as well, which pulls you into the story.

[02:02:32.848] Kathryn Yu: it's something we touched on earlier and I hate to keep bringing up being like human scale but Book of Distance does it so well and it teaches you your level of interactivity and you're like you're coming to the world and you do some very lightweight things and then you know the creator Randall starts to open up about his family history and it feels like like a friend inviting you in or like you feel like you're on the same level as him So if you didn't catch it at any of its previous showings, try to catch it now before it goes away again.

[02:03:07.206] Pola Weiß: We actually still have like three documentaries, I think we didn't talk about.

[02:03:11.348] Kent Bye: Oh, we did?

[02:03:12.069] Pola Weiß: Oh, which ones? It's Om Devi, Shira's Revolution. Oh, okay. One more minute that has been shot in China at the beginning of the pandemic situation. And we have Meet Motala, one of the Biennale College projects.

[02:03:29.125] Kent Bye: Okay, great. Yeah, let's power through. Let's do it. We've come this far.

[02:03:33.128] Kathryn Yu: I didn't watch these.

[02:03:36.210] Kent Bye: Okay, so we're to the 360 degree videos and Paul and I are just going to like talk about our experiences of these first step I saw at Tribeca other things that that's a great photogrammetry going back through history and also all the different missions to the moon.

[02:03:51.548] Pola Weiß: Maybe a little addition to the first step because the producer and creator is German and I met her the other day in the garden. We were both there drinking, having a virtual drink. And then she told me that they are going to prepare an app for first and second step for both parts of the experience, which hopefully will be released soon. So that will be available in the future. Well, for Germans, it already is, but you need to click through different apps. But also for the international audience.

[02:04:24.221] Kent Bye: Yeah. The second step came first and then the first step came second. So it's a little follow the links, Google. But yeah, those are great pieces. And Home, I also saw at Tribeca, being an exploration of Chinese culture of one matriarch of the family who's dying, and you have this immersed experience of all these people of your family interacting with you. And I think we talked about both of those before. So yeah, let's talk about these other ones. One of my favorites is Om Devi Shri Rose Revolution, which covers women who suffered from acid attacks and really just diving into their experiences of that and the different generations of sexism within India, which I thought was a really powerful story that they're featuring women who have suffered this and then they've come together to be able to have these shared experiences. And again, introducing me to this whole world that you know, I've never been directly exposed to. So it was just interesting to hear these women's stories of what they had to go through and how they're coping with that.

[02:05:26.232] Pola Weiß: Yeah, it's a very classic documentary where you have three protagonists with three different stories, each bringing a different aspect into the story. So I was thinking a long time why it had to be shot in virtual reality or in 360. which is, it is, by the way, in a very good quality. And the point is at the end that you can watch the people in the eyes, the protagonist, which is, yeah, I know a very common reason to shoot in 360, but in this experience, it really made sense for me because otherwise, well, I had the feeling to know the women afterwards. And that's something 360 documentaries don't always achieve. And this one did. So it, for me as well, was a very strong piece.

[02:06:07.730] Kent Bye: Yeah, and you're really transported to these different locations within India as well, which I appreciated. So the One More Minute, it's a Chinese production that is looking at the very early days of the coronavirus and the reaction in different places. And I think in some ways, it's sort of a document of this era, this time, and going into just seeing how folks are dealing with it. Yeah, for me, I thought it was a great capturing of what's happening in China, different locations. There's always a part of me that thinks, does this have to go through Chinese censors? How much of the story are we not hearing? Anything that's coming out of China, there's a certain amount of me being like, okay. For me, there's a big sense of, Chinese people coming together to help each other, which I think actually is a big part of maybe why more communitarian centered Asian cultures are maybe able to have a little bit more resilience when it comes to dealing with a global pandemic is because the United States were so concerned about our individual freedoms that it's sort of like it's harder to have everybody do the same thing. But in this documentary, it showed a number of examples of that compliance of serving the larger whole of that collective experience and how that was playing out in China in different ways. And so I watched it and I was like, actually kind of sad because it was like, I wish that we could do a lot of that type of stuff here and have that same type of sense of shared purpose and shared vision of what even the truth and reality was. But at the same time, still questioning of how much of the story am I not hearing, since it is lots of different restrictions of whatever comes out of a Chinese context.

[02:07:45.300] Pola Weiß: I think the nice stories were at the end, where we have these family stories, these little things. For example, a husband who has now very long hair because he couldn't go to get his hair cut, and his wife is trying her very best now, and he's taking it with a lot of humour. So that are very nice little stories I'd like to hear more. instead of hearing how great the government is dealing with the pandemic or something. And these little stories also connect me to the Chinese people because I know them from my home. So when we were here with like horrible hair and couldn't go out and we're in lockdown. So these little stories I would have loved to see more. And these stories make also the experience quite precious to me to see that yeah, these family stories or long-term relationship where you can't see each other and have to FaceTime all the time, that those experiences make us connected, even though if we are from different cultures and different continents.

[02:08:41.762] Kent Bye: Yeah. And the last two, we have meet Mortaza. What was your thoughts on that?

[02:08:46.152] Pola Weiß: Well, again, it's an example how we achieve a good story with little means. It's about a refugee who went from Afghanistan, I think, to Paris a couple of years ago, so already 10 or 13 years ago. And he tells basically about his journey, which we've seen in this and this context a lot of times. But re-seeing it in virtual reality is always worth it, I think. And we never see a re-enactment of people actually doing the voyage, are in these trains or something. We only see the spaces. And that's a very good way of telling the story without adding an extra level of re-enactment or something that doesn't make it as authentic as it can be.

[02:09:33.284] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a part of that experience that I remember is his journey that he has to take and he's having to escape and do things that are kind of off book or he's going and doing ways he doesn't have proper documentation. He's trying to avoid being caught. So just the journey of what it took for him to get from Afghanistan and to become a refugee in France. Yeah, just that experience of how they were able to recreate some of that feeling as well. And. where he's landed now and really helping receive people that are coming in. And he's able to give the people what he didn't necessarily was able to get when he came. So, and again, that, that type of experience, it felt like, okay, that could have been a 2D film. I'm not sure if there's anything specific that I remember in my memory of it. I sort of recall from it, but it's one of those, again, that doesn't like necessarily jump out at me like, oh, wow, that was really like, I got so much more out of the spatialization of that story versus, you know, seeing a 2D version. And maybe the last one is in the land of the flabby schnook, which is a bit of a cartoon in some sense, animation, almost like a kid's piece. What do you have to say about that?

[02:10:33.057] Pola Weiß: I just, well, it was a nice story that again, could have worked in 2D as well for me, but I noticed this paper cut style or this silhouette style. They also used sometimes in Baba Yaga. So that seems to become a trend to play around with that in virtual reality.

[02:10:49.802] Kent Bye: Hmm. Yeah, I thought, you know, it feels like a story meant for kids. So I watch it and I have a similar reaction to some of the other ones that are kid friendly in the sense that they don't sort of like stick with me in a way. It's sort of like, okay, that was interesting and nice. And it's good for some people, but that's not necessarily, I like the documentaries. I like getting a taste of reality. But, okay. So the last section here, just to give a shout out to these experiences, a lot of them are available, like Down the Rabbit Hole, Soundself, The Room VR, and Blindspot. Those are all been released. Gravity VR, that was at Tribeca. Actually it was before that, it was at the Hamburg festival that I originally saw it. And then Soundself is amazing sort of technodelic where you use your voice to be able to modulate your experience. It's kind of a very meditative experience. It's one that Robin Arnott had been working on for eight years, and I did three or four interviews with him over that time period as well. And that's a project that I highly recommend people check out. And the Book of Distance, for me, that's like a number one recommendation for people to try to check out in terms of the future of immersive narrative. I saw that at Sundance, and I have an interview with the creators. And for me, that's the bar is set with the Book of Distance in terms of immersive narrative. And some of these other ones, like the puzzle games, I played a little bit. I didn't play all the way through But they have this kind of traditional trope of solving puzzles in these different rooms, like down the rabbit hole, as well as the room VR. It's like escape room puzzle game. I don't know. It's like a certain genre of the story being delivered to you after you solve a puzzle. But for me, I think Catherine, you said this is not the type of experience that I typically like to see at a festival, just because it's more of like a game you spend two or three hours playing. And, you know, I like the sort of bite sized stories I can see. And there's a lot of like, Solving puzzles that then at the end, you get a little bit of the narrative rather than the other way around of getting the narrative and having a little bit of puzzle. Catherine, if you had anything else to add on any of that, otherwise we'll kind of wrap it up.

[02:12:36.383] Kathryn Yu: Uh, no, let's wrap it up.

[02:12:38.045] Kent Bye: Okay. Well, that was quite a deep dive into all of the experiences. I think between all of us, we saw all these different experiences and yeah. Is there any other sort of takeaways that you have from this year's selection?

[02:12:50.337] Kathryn Yu: it seemed really strong to me. Like if you were to ask me to name one as my favorite, I'd just sit there probably with like five or six being like, oh yeah, this one is really good for this reason and this one is really good for that reason. So kudos to everyone who's in the fest and kudos to the curators who've worked extremely hard. And despite technical difficulties for you, Kent, at least my experience, the vast majority of stuff was pretty seamless once I got Viveport installed.

[02:13:21.232] Pola Weiß: Yeah, well, I spent a lot of time troubleshooting different things, but that's another story. It's not particularly to Venice VR. Venice VR is my favorite festival in terms of virtual reality because of one reason. they always try to give you as much diversity of this medium as they can. So it shows you as many colors as virtual reality has, like from the art side to documentary to games. And this year, I thought, with that goal in mind, was the best selection I've seen so far, because it really shows you everything that's possible in virtual reality right now at this moment, from innovation to classic, from animation to real time. So, I really appreciate this work that has been done.

[02:14:11.035] Kent Bye: For me, my biggest complaint is more logistical, which is that for these virtual conferences, I'd almost wish that there was another week for people to have access to it because it took all of us this long to be able to get through 15 to 17 hours with the content to see it all, to then just start to talk about it. as journalists covering this space, it's really difficult to then release this podcast when there's only three days left for people to even see any of these experiences and sit through a three hour podcast listening to all the different recommendations. And so the feedback loop cycle between us talking about these experiences and people having a chance to see it is still completely broken because it's hard for me to be as agile to like see all the experiences, do the interviews, get it out and still leave people enough time So the distribution channels of these is, you know, some of these may not be available for another year or they may never come out. But I still think that seeing them is worth it because there's so many different technological innovations that are small and different. It could be that you see something and you gives you some insight into something you're trying to do, or it'll be something that seeps into your unconscious and that you draw from later because they solve this problem and that they are able to address it. And so As a medium, there's all these incremental innovations that are happening. And some of them that really stand out for me in terms of like agents and other experiences that are just like, wow, that was really amazing. And I could see where this is going to go to really push the medium forward and all these new and interesting directions. But I think it's just, it's sad that we're at a state where it's still difficult for a lot of these creators to put all this time and energy to create it. And it's still so difficult to really feel like they're able to connect to the larger audience. And so I just like to see more effort to maybe extend some of these virtual conferences. There's all these technical difficulties. We can't completely set aside all of our lives and just dedicate our undivided attention to be able to see it. Really, Kent? I was at Burning Man for 25 hours over this last week. So there's a lot of, like even me, I was having a hard time fully dedicating myself into seeing it. But yeah, that's sort of my takeaway is that there's so much interesting and strong pieces in it. It's sometimes hard for me to know what's gonna land and what people are gonna like. I know what I like and I'm, you know, try to break down the different aspects of what I find interesting about different pieces, but. Yeah, I'm just glad that we all got a chance to see between all of us all the different pieces and to have more conversations like this, because I think that's the other thing that's really lacking at virtual conferences is the kind of casual, let's get together and talk about these experiences, because that can't always happen in these virtual spaces to kind of do these deep dives like this. And so I'm hoping to see more of that in the future of more of a critical discourse of watching these pieces and then talking about it. Cause I think that's a big part of it, seeing a piece and then talking to somebody else who saw it and kind of like testing your own, what you saw, what they saw and realizing that you're not seeing everything. And yeah, I just think that these pieces are the start of a conversation. I wish more people had access to be able to do that and have more time or space to be able to, to see everything and then be able to talk about it.

[02:17:16.331] Kathryn Yu: Well, you know, as William Gibson once said, the future is here. It's just not evenly distributed. And I don't know, at least for me, Voices of VR helps distribute it a little bit more.

[02:17:28.368] Kent Bye: Yeah. Is there any other thing that's left unsaid that each of you would like to say?

[02:17:34.838] Pola Weiß: In terms of distribution, I mean, Venice was inventing this satellite venue network all over the world in 15 cities on three continents, I think, just to give the people the chance to see if they don't have the time to troubleshoot their setups or don't have a gaming PC or a VR headset at home. It's not ideal, neither because there were only 15 cities around the world during a pandemic, but it is a start.

[02:18:04.630] Kent Bye: Yeah, the only one location it was at is in Portland, Oregon, which is where I live, but... I was like, do I want to go potentially risk getting coronavirus to see stuff that I could see at home? And the answer to that was no, I don't think it's worth the risk for me personally. So, and, um, even if I didn't have the VR gear, I'd still be a little bit hesitant. They're using clean boxes. I'm sure there's probably elements that it's safe, but it's good to see that there, and other places around the world, it may be a little bit easier to feel a little bit more confident that it may be okay to put something on your face that other people put on their face during a pandemic. So.

[02:18:36.851] Kathryn Yu: Well, it seems to me that after the success of this and CAN, the virtual festival model, while not ideal when you have to stand it up so quickly, is not something that is going to go away because now we've all had a taste.

[02:18:52.417] Kent Bye: Hmm. Yeah, I hope I mean the throughput issues that these festivals are facing I'm really hoping that there will be continued to be a virtual component because in some ways the experience is better And I think that over time all these technical glitches will get worked out and it'll be easier I mean we'll all be still facing some of these issues because it's hard for these independent creators to create experiences that will work on every computer every instance every platform, but At least this is a start. I'm just very grateful for both of you, Paula and Catherine, to get together and to do this deep dive. I really enjoyed hearing each of your perspectives. Hopefully, we put this out there and have more conversations in the future and with the wider community. Thank each of you for joining me today on the podcast.

[02:19:37.346] Kathryn Yu: Thank you, Kent. Thank you so much. That was fun.

[02:19:41.289] Pola Weiß: Yeah.

[02:19:42.647] Kent Bye: So that was Paula Weiss. She does the VR Stories blog based out of Germany, as well as Catherine Yu. She's the executive editor at No Proscenium. So I have a number of takeaways about this conversation is that, first of all, well, I think as time has gone on, I tend to not put a lot of weight into my own opinions and perspectives. And I really appreciate being able to not only talk to the directors themselves and ask them questions, but to have conversations like this where I try to hold my own opinions and perspectives pretty lightly. And actually, in the course of the conversation, there's a lot of my opinions and decisions about things that are changed, or it makes me realize that I've missed something and I need to go back and try it again. And so I just really appreciate these different types of conversations because it's like this calibration process that helps me to listen to what other people say but also to be able to share some of my own direct experiences. I just like this dialectic process where I usually like to be in direct dialogue with the directors and I have been doing different interviews with directors over the course of the week and I will be able to release more of those interviews but it's a lot different than being at a festival where a lot of these different types of conversations happen within the hallways and that's where I have this calibration process that happens where you get a bit of the buzz of what's happening at the festival And the Venice Film Festival this year was doing a lot of gatherings within VRChat, but there was like this VIP exclusive area. And they have certain times where people gather there each day, like two times a day, which ends up being Pacific Coast time, like 1am as well as like 9am. and you get these directors together, but they usually show these director videos and then take photos and that type of casual hallway conversations has been harder to recreate this year. So that's just something that I've been missing and hopefully this podcast will be able to help fill in some of those gaps for folks that wanted to really talk about the experiences, but there's nothing to really replace being able to talk to somebody in real time after they've had a shared experience. And yeah, I mean, just the other note is that, you know, this is a process that's evolving. I think I learned a lot from trying to do this with two other people and how to, like, moderate a conversation. I think moving forward would be nice to maybe do a little bit of prep work and see if people have, like, a general thumbs up, thumbs down. Because I do think that there's interesting dialectics to be had with people maybe making an argument for or talk about things that they didn't like and just have that level of critical discourse where you know have a little bit more of a guided conversation with different people presenting a summary of synopsis as well as what they really liked about it and then just being able to have a broader discussion and structure it in a way that it is possible to cover a big swath of these experiences and For me personally, I was doing a lot of it from memory. And so a lot of next time I'd want to like go back and maybe make better annotations as I am going through these experiences so that as we have discussions like this, then I'm able to pull on all the different levels of both my experience, the story and the context and all these other aspects as well. So. I think having a conversation like this actually motivated each of us to be able to get through as much as we did as well, to be able to focus on the conversation. And, you know, again, and one of my frustrations is that there's not that much time for folks, if you're listening to it now to be able to start to dive in. So I'd like to see a little bit more. really access for the press to be able to see it and to be able to like once the festival launches then you may have like a conversation like this to then help guide you explore all the different experiences because it is 15 to 17 hours worth of content and that's quite a lot to ask of anyone over the course of 10 or 11 days to be able to get through So it helps to be able to have a little bit more guidance to see like what you may or may not like if you don't have the opportunity to be able to see everything. Of course, I think it's great for people to see everything because it's hard for me to make a recommendation as to what is going to really resonate with you or what's going to be able to give you a deep insight that you need to be able to continue to do the work that you're doing. So that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a list of supported podcasts, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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