#1121: Venice Immersive 2022 Competition Recap: 30+ Reviews of Immersive Stories

Venice Immersive 2022 featured 30 immersive stories in competition with some of the fiercest competition yet. I’m joined by Pola Weiß to break down, analyze, & critique each one of the 30 experiences in competition starting with the three winners: Special Jury Prize [3rd place] Eggscape, Grand Jury Prize [2nd place] From the Main Square, and Best Immersive Experience [1st place] The Man Who Couldn’t Leave.

We then make our way through the 27 other experiences organized by which quality of presence it emphasized the most, whether it’s active presence focusing on interactivity & agency, emotional presence focusing on passive storytelling, embodied & environmental presence focusing on cultivating embodied experiences, or focusing on environmental storytelling, or spatial design, and then finally mental & social presence experiences focusing on puzzles, escape rooms, social dynamics, and text-based projects that play with expectations or imagination.

We spend on average around 5 minutes talking about each of the 30 immersive stories in competition (sometimes more and sometimes less), and you can find the timecodes down below to jump around.

I recorded over 20 interviews at Venice Immersive, and so stay tuned for deeper dives into over half of the pieces in competition, but this podcast should give a pretty comprehensive overview of this year’s selection. I don’t envy the jury who had to make some really tough choices for the top three, but hopefully this conversation can help highlight the entirety of the selection with a lot of innovations and refining on the crafts of immersive storytelling.

00:11Introductions 04:22Eggscape 09:04From the Main Square 15:01The Man Who Couldn’t Leave 24:09ACTIVE PRESENCE 25:58Rock Paper Scissors 31:38Fight Back 37:48Peaky Blinders 44:23EMOTIONAL PRESENCE 44:45All That Remains 49:22Reimagined: Vol 1 Nyssa 52:28Sorella’s Story 56:43Red Tail 61:50Kindred 65:56Darkening 72:47Thank You for Sharing Your World 76:46EMBODIED and ENVIRONMENTAL PRESENCE 76:56Rencontre(s) 82:54Eurydice: Descent into Infinity 90:08Dazzle: Reassembly of Bodies 95:46Framerate: Pulse of the Earth 99:54Éternelle Notre-Dame 107:10Uncanny Alley 111:07Namuanki 112:52Stay Alive, My Son 121:22MENTAL and SOCIAL PRESENCE 121:41Ascenders 124:52Mrs Benz 128:43Treasure Heist 131:35Typeman 135:11Gumball Dreams 139:13Mandala 144:35All Unsaved Progress Will Be Lost 146:24Poet’s Room 149:35Okawari 156:18College Bienalle: Elele, Chroma 11, and Mono 159:42Concluding Thoughts

Here’s my Twitter thread with some real-time reactions:

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

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 in today's episode is going to be a epic and comprehensive recap of all the different pieces and competition at the Venice Immersive 2022. Now, obviously, it's preferable for you to have seen all these pieces already. But even if you do go to Venice Immersive, then it's difficult to see all the different pieces. And I don't know at what point each of these different projects will make it out into wider distribution. And so, just as a way of documenting and reflecting upon and critiquing different pieces that are there, I got together with Paula Weiss, who in the past has written as a blogger and a journalist and as a critic. She's now moved on into a new job role where she's working for the media board Berlin-Brandenburg which is a funding organization that has funded at least a couple of projects that are here in this year's selection, but that was before her time there. But we just have a conversation of each of the different 30 pieces in competition. We spend about, on average, five minutes on each, and so it's about a two-and-a-half-hour conversation just to talk about those and then some more just to kind of wrap up and talk about some of the different trends and everything else within this year's program. A really, really strong selection. I'll be digging into more of these different individual pieces with 20 plus interviews with the different creators. And so this will hopefully give you a bit of an overview of the competition selection of this year's Venice immersive 2022. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:36.320] Pola Weiß: Yes, hi Kent. Thank you very much for the invitation. I think it's the third time we're doing that. So my name is Paula, Paula Weiss. I'm coming from Berlin, Germany. I've been writing for the last three, four years as content writer and journalist and blogger about virtual reality and especially about virtual reality storytelling, which is my real passion. And I love finding about new works and new things there in the XR spaces. And recently I joined the Medium Board Berlin Brandenburg as a funding advisor for XR. Well, officially it's called for Innovative Audiovisual Content, which is like a very, very long expression. And it means gaming, XR, mixed reality, virtual reality, augmented reality, and also serial content as serial shows. And this is really exciting because now I have a whole different perspective on the project. And we also had two funded projects in the competition that were funded before my time. So I am biased, but I can't really say a lot about that. But of course, that was an exciting time today for the watchers and watching them.

[00:02:45.055] Kent Bye: Yeah, so we just got back from the Venice Immersive, formerly called the Venice VR Expanded, but Liz and Michelle are translating what they used to do with the VR selection and go beyond just the technology and really focus on the storytelling. And so they have overall 75 total experiences and 30 plus VR chat worlds. They had 30 pieces that were there that were in competition, and so I had a chance to see all of them in competition. You also had a chance to see all the ones in competition, so I wanted to get together with you, even though you're not necessarily a critic anymore, you're now a funder, and some of the pieces were actually funded by your organization, that you are limited with how much you can share about all your thoughts on those due to various conflicts of interest. But they just had the award ceremony for the entirety of the Venice Film Festival, starting with the Venice Immersive. They have three prizes. essentially bronze, silver, and gold, although they have different names for the first, second, and third place. So the third place is the Special Jury Prize, the second place was a Grand Jury Prize, and the first place was the Best Immersive Experience, which is a little confusing because usually Grand Jury Prize is first place, but in this case the Best Immersive Experience is the first place. So

[00:03:54.678] Pola Weiß: Yeah, they rebranded the whole section from Venice VR to Venice Expander to Venice Immersive now this year. And they also rebranded the awards. I think in the early days, they still separated between linear and interactive stories. And they didn't do that anymore, which I really appreciate because of course, an interactive story is a story as well. And a story that is interactive also has a storyline. So that became really, really fluent. And so I think that's also why they changed it.

[00:04:22.005] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe we'll start there. The third place special jury prize was Eggscape, which was a mixed reality piece by 3DAR, Hermann Haller. That was surprising to me. I actually, I think Hermann was also a little surprised just because it was a little bit more of an interactive game and also a little bit more of a prototype. It was still in development. There's still a lot that they have to do, but I think for me, in terms of the agency and the mixed reality experiences and the ways that it must have really made an impression on the jurors that It's such a new frontier of where we're moving into the next frontiers of mixed reality and interactive gaming. And so also if I was thinking about from the jury perspective, trying to give a diverse range of all the different types of experiences there, trying to emphasize the different degrees of agency. And I think of all the different pieces, this was probably the one that was really emphasizing agency the most in terms of the interactivity. So yeah, I'd love to hear any thoughts that you have on Eggscape.

[00:05:17.375] Pola Weiß: Well, for me, it was definitely the experience that was most fun in the whole competition. So I think we can say that there weren't so many fun games or fun experiences. There were a few, but that one really was the cutest and the one where the people came out giggling and talking about afterwards. And I honestly was also surprised, but we can only speculate here right now because we are not in the heads of the jury, but As you said, I think we see that in the competition. It became really hard to be innovative in virtual reality because so much has been done. So many things, so many angles have been tried and versus mixed reality right now and using the path through function of the headsets is something that hasn't been done so far for a broad audience and maybe only in experimental pieces so far. So I think that's something they probably wanted to show. And I think it also shows how broad that medium is, how many diverse approaches you can have in the mixed reality, virtual reality world.

[00:06:18.578] Kent Bye: Yeah, I listened to the jury press conference afterwards and May Abdallah, who was the president of the jury, because Enneagram's experience last year called Goliath was the overall winner. And so they had May as the president of the jury. She said it was a real battle just going back and forth in terms of the different experiences. And after I watched all the different pieces in competition, that was a little bit of my takeaway as well, is that it was such a strong competition this year that it was really almost like a toss up for which ones you were going to award an award based upon whatever you're valuing in terms of the different qualities of presence. I think because you have both the agency and emotion and embodiment and social dynamics, I mean, depending on what center of gravity you're focusing on, there's a whole wide range of different types of experiences that are optimizing on the different qualities of presence. But there's a half a dozen of other experiences that could have very easily been in the top three that we can talk about. And I'm glad that we have a chance to unpack it a little bit more to really dig into this year's selection, because I think for me, at least, it's one of the strongest that I've seen so far.

[00:07:22.916] Pola Weiß: Yeah, for me too. For me too. And again, it's the same challenge every year. You're also as a critic, also as somebody who's just a visitor. You are there and you have to compare a game to a virtual reality film, to a 360 film. Then you have something interactive and a social VR space comparing to something very tragic, a personal story to something that's more gamey. So it is really hard and I really don't envy the jury for having to make that kind of decision. But just staying with Xscape, That was one of the pieces whenever somebody came to the island, to the virtual reality island and asked, what should I watch? People said, watch Xscape. This is really fun. This is a good entrance point for you to try something in mixed reality. And I think because it's so much fun, because you can play a little bit, because you can die many times and it doesn't have consequences, it's really great for beginners to try out this medium and all that it has to offer.

[00:08:19.768] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I have an interview with Hermann Höller who talks about how they're going to add a lot of other story elements. And so I look forward to seeing how this continues to develop and be released, because I think it's like a platformer game, very similar to what I'd say Lucky's Tale in a sense of different game mechanics, but being in mixed reality. I think for me, it gives you a sense of actually putting your body in a space and you feel a lot more present to the world around you. And at least for me, when I play, a lot more fluidity for me moving around because I know where the boundaries are and you can see the outside world in black and white and overlay it on top of it. So yeah, as Project Cambria comes out next month, then we'll see color pass through and the different ways that creators are starting to experiment with mixed reality as a medium, really blending the virtual and the physical in a way. Let's move on to the second place which is the grand jury prize from the main square by Pedro Aras which for me this was a favorite especially after I talked to Pedro because Pedro got his degree in film he went back and got a degree in philosophy and then went back and embedded a lot of his political and sociological philosophies into this piece which I'll explain it since this is a piece that your organization was involved with funding with. I'd love to hear any thoughts that you may have on it. But for me, this was a piece that was an environmental storytelling. It's from a single perspective, but you're watching a city get built around you. And it's animated. And the amazing thing about this piece is that have individual characters that you follow throughout the entire piece. I didn't realize that until I talked to Pedro afterwards, but that you can actually follow the trajectory of individual characters if you want to. It's a little hard right now to do that because it's so much more of like a lot of change blindness, a lot of things that's happening, and you will start to see recurring characters, but for me the overall takeaway was that using the medium of VR to really dive in to tell a collective story a story of a city, but through the actions of individuals and this polarized dynamic. And there's a lot of embedded references to what's happening in Brazil right now, kind of similar to what was happening maybe in the United States in terms of one of the leaders trying to potentially discredit an election that they may lose and having this authoritarian rise and this polarization within the culture, really a piece of the moment reflecting what's happening in the culture right now and projecting out where this may be headed. And I think the fact that you were actually triggering events by what direction you're looking at, this is a much more interactive piece than I realized from doing it the first time. But after talking to Pedro, saying that I was like, oh, I could have just watched one angle of this area just to watch how it unfolds. And he said, actually, you wouldn't have had the piece progress. You need to actually look around this piece. And so this piece encourages you to look around and interact. And the story's been folding over time in that way. So an animated piece that at the end of it, I think, is doing a lot of really interesting things in terms of environmental storytelling and the ways of telling a larger story through the actions of individuals, but also showing architecturally what's happening in a space. that is also telling a story. So really sophisticated, a lot of really deep thoughts that I look forward to unpacking with Pedro in my conversation with him. But yeah, I'd love to hear any of your personal thoughts on this piece as you're watching it.

[00:11:22.179] Pola Weiß: I mean, that is one of the projects that you have to see a few times, not only one or two times, but really a few times to really discover everything about it. As I said, the decision to fund it was before my time, but I know Pedro for probably a couple of years. So I had a little bit of a chance. Well, he went back after being in Germany. This actually is a graduation project at the Film Universität Babelsberg. This is maybe important because That was a whole team of also students. So they really worked on that together. And then he went back to Brazil and I lost the track. And then I just covered the project back when he was in Venice and a little bit before that, actually. That was really exciting for me because I heard about the first idea and was really, really skeptical when he said, yeah, we have 2D animations in a 3D virtual reality environment. I was like, I don't know if that can work. That sounds a little bit, I don't know, maybe not something you want to do in a 3D, 360 space. And then I saw the finished project. And I was like, Oh, wow, this really works. It does. And it does because it's so rich, and because he's telling so many levels of the story. And what I absolutely appreciate is that we have the knowledge that he is Brazilian, he's coming from Brazil, and a lot of things are happening there. But when you look closely, you can see a lot of religious things. You can see a lot of things, I think, that's what I read about climate change. So a lot of all these crises we see right now in the world, we can see in that piece. So it's not really local. So it covers the whole world and everything that we're going through. And at the end, I don't want to spoil the experience, but It shows us what can happen if we don't take action right now, or if we take action in the wrong way. And the interactions as well, I've been really critical. I said, I don't know, why should I snap with my fingers now? Or why should I pull the trigger right now? And then I did what I always do when I watch an experience. I didn't do what was expected from me. So I just We're sitting there and sitting there and nothing happened. So I really need to be active to now unfold this story. And it became more and more obvious to me that he forced us to be active because we are an active part and we're playing an active part in that experience. And that was so well thought. And I really liked that. So again, I don't have the insight. That's what I saw as an interested audience member. And that is a piece I think you definitely need to give it some time to really stick with you. And that's exactly what after playing it the first time, I was thinking about it. And then I did a second time, then it all came to the surface. And I started to see what's there.

[00:14:15.330] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's one of those pieces where there's a lot more agency that's happening there than you realize, because depending on what direction you're looking will trigger things that's happening behind you. So you have this change blindness effect where you have the evolution of the space and you have to really pay attention to stuff as you're looking all around as things are slowly evolving. And so, yeah, it's a piece that I only had a chance to see once, but I could go back again and again. And Pedro said that there's individual characters that you could also track and eventually in the future, being able to track individual characters. And so what would be the interface for you to be able to pick some characters to follow and then be able to keep in touch with them and see the individual journey? So yeah, very sophisticated piece. I'm really glad to see it. When there was a speech that he made there that's also referencing the moment as well, I think is worth checking out. But maybe let's move to the first place, the best immersive experience. The man who couldn't leave a 360 video piece by singing Chen. Maybe you could set up this piece a little bit.

[00:15:11.116] Pola Weiß: Yeah, that one actually was when I was at the VR island in Venice. And people always ask, what's your favorite? What's your favorite? I was like, I don't know. I haven't seen everything. But you absolutely should see The Man Who Doesn't Leave. And This is one of the pieces that I think a lot of people didn't see or didn't go to see because they thought, oh, it's 360. I want to see something interactive. It's not interactive. So that was a little bit that reaction that I got when I recommended that. And I think that the festival integrated the 360 movies. There were like three this year. They integrated them really into the exhibition. They weren't at a separated space like 2019 and 2018. And that was very, very good because people came in by surprise, I think. And this virtual reality piece, you can see everything the medium can offer. I can see that it really can be an empathy machine, although I really don't like that expression, because it's not automatically more empathetic. It's not automatically more emotional, only because it's in virtual reality. But if you use the medium correctly, and if you use every potential that the medium has to offer, then it can evoke such strong emotions, which that piece did. I've seen so many things. I don't cry often in headsets. After that experience, I was a little bit ashamed because I gave back the headset very, very wet. And they achieved that. I think it's really worth also watching the making of video, which the Biennale has published on the website. You can see how they did it. Rehearsed it like endlessly, every scene, and they did it with real actors. They had a real focus on staging, on lightening, and also on camera movement. And it was giving a lot of thought of how to film, what, when, and where to put the audience. everything in that is also filmed in a very, very good quality. So it achieves this absolute immersion that you want to achieve with a virtual reality film.

[00:17:23.107] Kent Bye: Yeah, I agree that this was on my shortlist of favorite experiences very early on, The Man Who Couldn't Leave, because the emotional impact of the story is really strong. You walk out of it and it really hits you. And I think what they were able to achieve with both the dramatic lighting, with the theatrical staging, with the ability to have these long scenes that are coordinated with all these people interacting in different ways. In the making of video, they say they think it's probably one of the most complicated 360 videos ever made. And I have to agree with that in terms of the scope of the production quality and just the innovation of the language of VR. You know, the story itself is about in Taiwan, a time period where there's political prisoners and these political prisoners trying to communicate with their family. In the interview that I did with Singing Chin, I got a little bit more context as to how this project came about because she was saying that there was different letters that were being sent by these political prisoners back to their families, but that they were also being censored if they had sensitive information or if they were sharing too much. They were actually confiscated by the government. So she actually got a hold of a bunch of these letters that were made public for the first time to really dig into the dynamics of what was happening with these political prisoners. And so drawing on that documentary evidence, and then starting in this wax museum and the 360 quality of these cameras that are being built by Phonique based out of Taiwan, some of the best stereoscopic VR that I've seen as well. So you have this really high quality 360 video that's telling a really emotionally evocative story of these political prisoners taking you into these prison situations and people wanting to communicate with their families. And just really emotional to see both sides of it. The wives looking on the billboard, seeing if their husbands are still alive. And yeah, the ending scene, really powerful zoom shot that takes you through a lot of statues that are still, but the motion of the camera gives this feeling of that being animated because you're moving amongst this dynamic scene that these themes of polarization of these two factions that are really at odds with each other and battling and reflecting a moment of the time. And also, there's just a lot of stuff that's happening in Taiwan right now that also is reflecting different dimensions of what's being talked about in this piece. And so, yeah, overall, just amazing innovations in this piece. And at the end of the day, really hit me emotionally. And I think as I was evaluating all the different pieces, the pieces that move me emotionally are ones that jump to the top of my list in terms of a story that's really well told and using the medium to take me to these places and situate me into what it must have been like to have been in these situations with these political prisoners and their communication with the family. So yeah, overall, just a really strong piece and happy to see that come out as the best immersive experience this year at Venice Immersive.

[00:20:08.420] Pola Weiß: Yes, absolutely. I agree. Maybe we can go a little bit into details. I wrote down two scenes that were really standing out in terms of storytelling. And I thought that might be interesting to mention them. First, I don't know if you had the same feeling, but the whole experience start you being in this wax museum where all the figures are around you and you meet an older man and he presents himself as a former prisoner. So far so good. And you think, okay, probably more educational experience. And he will tell me now about the history and he will maybe give me a tour through the museum because I'm in this wax museum and maybe through the prison. I didn't, didn't expect much. So the first scene is kind of a little bit long, and I liked very much how the director played with the expectations of her audiences. And then it really starts. Yeah, like it really has an absolute quick rhythm after that, after that long start scene. And the wax figures, I hope I can say that without spoiling the experience, but they start to become alive. And that's something, when I saw that, I asked myself, why has never ever done that? Or I haven't seen that because it's so obvious in virtual reality. It fits the medium so well. And it was also a moment of surprise. And that was when she caught my attention and when she really got me focused in the experience. And what she did then was, of course, what we said, all the playing with the staging and the lighting, but she also mixed the time levels very well. So we always were jumping back and forth between the times. And she used the letters that you mentioned to tell that. So when one of the prisoners, who's like the main character, writes letters to his wife, and she just gave birth to his daughter that he has never seen so far. And these letters guide you a little bit to change the place and the time. And then these two time levels and also the location start to melt into each other, gradually, time by time. And that's something that is a big part of what makes this piece so immersive, because you get step by step drawn into that whole experience of being in prison somewhere, timeless, and thinking constantly about your loved ones. And she mixes all these scenes, more like a dream experience, but of course a very bad dream.

[00:22:38.769] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a lot of poetic interpretations of stuff that happened, but how to translate that into more of a symbol of what was happening above and beyond the literal happenings of that. And so just ways of exaggerating things, but not in a way that is above and beyond what actually happened, but just what is going to translate well into the cinematic medium of 360 video. And Yeah, I remember there was a scene where there was something happening in front of me. When I looked to the left and right, then there was these long boards, like contrasting what the experience was of the husband and the wife was in another place. And you kind of see those both in the same moment, but juxtaposed in a way that you kind of have to turn your head and see as the woman is looking on these billboards to see if her husband is still alive, then the husband actually going through different levels of torture or about to be executed. yeah i think watching the behind the scenes i think will give a little bit more flavor of this piece especially if you saw it or if you haven't seen it you can still get a little bit of a sneak peek and hopefully yeah folks will have an opportunity to see these pieces because yeah it's definitely worth watching on its own right

[00:23:41.841] Pola Weiß: Something you also see in the making of video is the director when she stands during rehearsal in the middle of all the actors, she uses her hands to simulate VR headsets. So she was really focusing on how people will see that using a virtual reality headset. And I like that. I haven't seen that so far.

[00:24:01.443] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had some other creators that I was talking to mentioned that as well. Craig Quintero from All That Remains. But yeah, maybe, uh, I'm going to set a little bit of a context for how I start to make sense of this selection, because there is so many different, amazing different pieces. And for me, there's different qualities of presence that are all happening all at the same time, but. some of the pieces are a center of gravity of one of those qualities of presence. So you have active presence, the degree that you're interacting and taking actions, expressing your will. These are more game-like experiences. And then you have mental and social presence, which is a little bit more of the social dynamics and number of experiences that have group experiences or puzzle type of experiences, like creating this mental friction that is asking you to use your mind in different ways. One piece that had a lot of text that you're reading, and so the experience is that you're reading the text but also experiencing the spatial dimensions of that as it's unfolding. And then the emotional presence, which I think is most like the film cinematic medium, which is much more of a passive experience, meaning there's nothing that you do as you're watching it that's changing the experience. It's really focusing on the emotional intensity of the story that's being told, that's using different cinematic ways of building and releasing tension or using lighting and staging to kind of build that tension. And then the embodied and environmental presence, some of the different pieces that were much more focused on either your embodiment or creating a sense of environmental presence, a lot of the VR chat worlds or different places that use mixed reality in different ways that really give you the sense of being in another place, but also really focusing on your body. So that's how at least I started to break up the different types of experiences. And so maybe let's start with the active presence, since there were only four or five experiences that were at the center of gravity. And again, just to remind folks is that each of these experiences have all of these different dimensions to different degrees, but there tends to be a little bit of a center of gravity of each of these pieces. So like eggscape as an example is active presence, which we talked about much more about you playing a game. But another piece that I thought was using that type of agency in a really effective way of tying that agency back into the story was rock, paper, scissors. Maybe you could set up that experience and that story that's being told through this degree of interactivity that you are using your hands and hand tracking to be able to tell this larger story of this relationship between the mother and daughter.

[00:26:17.265] Pola Weiß: Yeah. I mean, we all know that game, right? And not having to use a controller also is very practical for immersing yourself into the story, because you have that barrier gone. And this game, as we all know that, at least here in the Western world, I don't know how it is in other parts of the world, but it gives, from the beginning on, from the first moment on, a sense of familiar things, of familiar gestures, of being able to connect with the people. So I thought it was a really genius way to pull you into the story. Although you are not a character, you're like a bystander, you're a visitor of the family while the daughter tells you her story. And it is, to be honest, quite a short experience and If there weren't that experience of me being able to be part of the family life with this little game with my hands, I wouldn't be involved so much into the story. So it really fulfilled its purpose there. And we have one moment, and I wanted to ask you, because I only tried one variant, where you can choose between two different paths. No, you had to play the game. Exactly. You had to play the game. And I was losing, so I had to do one thing, or the daughter had to do one thing, and I could only follow one part of the story. So I was wondering if there would be room to branch the story. And I think this mechanic they invented that would make it possible to have a really branching storyline to give you some agency that depends on luck or depends how you play the game. And that brings a very interesting aspect for the story as well.

[00:27:57.815] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's a game of luck in some ways, but there's also, if you study the statistics behind it, there's certain human dynamics that make it a little bit different than just a coin flip. So I was talking to the creator, Alex Rule, who was talking about how when you play rock, paper, scissors, most people don't tend to do the same motion the same time so they can use that psychological hack kind of drive the direction of the narrative to some extent. Because you are listening to a story that's using essentially a game of chance to react to whatever the outcome of this game of rock, paper, scissors, then to some degree they can know some of those social dynamics and kind of nudge the viewer in a certain way. But yeah, I'm trying to remember if I asked her if there was other branches, because there is a moment where There's a big decision that's being made and to what degree are they forcing it to be a certain outcome? Because essentially it's a dynamic between a mother and daughter. They're using this game of rock, paper, scissors to be a little bit more of a equal decider of the fates of what is going to happen in terms of the parenting style. So if there's certain decisions that the mother wants to make it feel like there's a little bit more agency, but still kind of leave it up to the game of chance, then they'll play this game to see what direction it goes in. I was talking to Alex Rule, the creator, and it used to be starting with a lot more about larger inequities in society, but then decided to make it much more of a personal story rather than a collective story, which I think was a good decision because I think it really lands with this personal relationship of this mother and daughter. And yeah, I think it's a short experience and also the mechanic just works really, really well. And so because the mechanic works, it gives you the sense of embodiment within the piece, but also somewhat of an agency. So you feel like as you do this games of chance with rock, paper, scissors, then whatever the outcome of those are, then it very seamlessly takes the story in different directions that feel like you're actually engaging and helping direct the outcomes of the stories. But I think it largely is because there's either three outcomes of win, lose, or draw. then they have the possibility to collide the story back to, for most people, having pretty much the same experience as what my impression was after doing it. But there may be some variations that are allowing some different outcomes based upon whatever you decide to play within this game of chance.

[00:30:13.979] Pola Weiß: I mean, even if they aren't, that is like a blueprint for other experiences to kind of find their way, not necessarily with the same mechanics, but using that kind of game that is based in the story. So it works because the mother and the daughter play this game and you play it now as well. So that's why it works so well, because it really is grounded into the story. And if creators can find more of these mechanics and more of these little games, maybe that could be a really nice way to integrate some interactivity without destroying the emotion. That's always the fine line you cross here when putting interaction into the game, that when the interaction isn't really based into the story, or if it doesn't really make sense to do that right now in the story or in the story world, that you can lose your feeling of immersion and your feeling of presence there. Of course, you have a feeling of agency maybe, but that's not really what you want to experience. You want to be immersed, right? And that only happens when the interaction is based on the story. And that's why it works so well, I think. And for me, I'm always looking for some things we can find to build this language of virtual reality storytelling or mixed reality storytelling. And for me, that was a really nice way of doing it, of integrating one simple, always the same mechanic, but based on the storyline.

[00:31:37.095] Kent Bye: Yeah. And maybe as we move on to another experience that has a lot of the interactions being a key part of the story, Fight Back is an example by Celine Tricart and her new company that is building games. And so this is a narrative game that has a lot of hand interactions that are really designed to have basic self-defense motions that are three main motions of pushing your hands outward from a triangle to give more space, to crossing your hands for self-defense, and also punching. And so I'd love to hear your experience with this, because I had a little bit of technical difficulties with the hand tracking for me as I went through it a couple times, but I'd love to hear what your experience of this piece was.

[00:32:19.798] Pola Weiß: Unfortunately, I had the experience too. I think maybe the lightning was not good enough. I don't know what was the problem, but maybe just coming back to the story. The story is that you are a newborn star. So something happened and you awake in the middle of a beautiful universe and become a star. And there are all the stars coming towards you and explain to you what you have to do, what's expected from you as a newborn star. And they teach you how to fight some dark entities called the shadows. So you are in this dual dialectic between the light and the shadow. And you, as light, have to fight the shadow. So far, so simple, right? But then, of course, you have to become really active. And I appreciate very, very much that this game is targeted to female audience. And I think there should be way more games who have like women and especially probably young women in mind to teach them something or to show them something, because most of the experiences aren't. And that was something I absolutely appreciated. But then I, me too, had a little bit of bad luck and the gestures didn't work so well. And at one point I became, to be honest, a little bit frustrated because it didn't work. And I, um, I stopped fighting the shadows and then they luckily could bring me a little bit forward in the story so that I could see the ending. And then it all became clear because like with the key, it has a surprising end. And I think at the time when, as soon as the mechanic really works well, I think that could be quite a powerful experience, especially maybe for young women to have some fun. while maybe boosting a bit their self-defense knowledge or their abilities to self-defend and also to maybe enhance a little bit their self-esteem. I don't want to talk about the ending, but the ending for me was the best part of the experience because then it really made sense. And I honestly wanted to hear a little bit more about the stories we had at the end and the ending. What I really loved at that experience was the ending and all the work I had to do to come there. For my opinion, it was a little bit too long. I would appreciate it to hear more about the stories or have it a little bit more integrated at the beginning, but I absolutely can see why they did it and really wanted to give you a fine gaming experience beforehand. For my taste, loving stories, I would have loved to hear more about the stories you hear at the end.

[00:34:54.380] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, I agree that the ending and the whole story aspect really made the frustrations that I had with the mechanics not quite working, which some of them were technical aspects and some of them were the way that they had coded it. And I had a chance to talk to Selene Tricart about it. And they, they're aware of a lot of the things that are going to change. I think one of the things I had with a lot of nested if statements where you have to have like certain conditions met, and then if you missed one of those conditions, then the gesture wouldn't always work. And so there's a lot of getting things to trigger and then not getting it to be able to fully trigger. which as these shadows are coming at you it's really intense to have these entities coming up all into your personal space and you want them to get away and when the actions weren't working quite right then it becomes a little overwhelming in that sense and it's also one of those things where I would love to see it once they get a little bit more fine-tuned just to see the balance between the game mechanic and the story because the way in which that it was difficult to know how much you were killing the shadows. I didn't know how far along or progressing I was making. And so there was a little bit of lack of feedback of how I was progressing. And that's another feedback that I think they took back that they're going to integrate in terms of giving the user a little bit more feedback that you are actually moving forward and making progress. because you're a little bit in the dark as to how far along you are with defeating each of these shadows and so just giving more feedback of progress but also fine-tuning the gestures but also the gesture controls generally within oculus are still sensitive and to environmental conditions and so there's probably still a lot of stuff on the back end in terms of just the hand tracking technology may not be fully ready for an experience like this so there bit ahead of their time. And so once the hand tracking is ready, then they'll be able to release this as an experience. And you're right in the sense that they are targeting the female audience to be able to go through this as an experience. And I think once everything is sort of fleshed out on both their coding and the technical side, and if they get more funding to be able to finish it all, then I look forward to seeing the final version of this. Because I do think that overall, the balance between the interactions and the embodiment that you get with actually using your hands has got these deeper messages around self-defense that I think is really worth getting out there into the world. So yeah, I have an interview with Celine where she starts to unpack each of those dimensions as well.

[00:37:07.653] Pola Weiß: Yeah, you can see that it's also quite personal when you're playing the game, but lacking a bit was the motivation. You're kind of given the motivation to kill the shadows from another star. She tells you that, but I didn't have the internal motivation to do that. And I found that at the end, and I think I would have been so much more motivated to do all this fight and everything. And I'm absolutely looking forward to the game when it's finished, when it's fully polished. And I will play that because I really want to see how it all will fit together with the story and the mechanics and everything.

[00:37:43.065] Kent Bye: Who the shadows are, you get to learn more about that as you move forward. Let's move on to the last experience that I have marked as focused on agency, which was Peaky Blinders, which for me, this was the most game-like experience, which is it's going to be a narrative game that's released and it's in the realm of Peaky Blinders, which apparently is a show that is in the UK, which is a lot of the criminal, gangster, underworld type of dynamics. So you're embodying in live action role playing as a criminal. There's a really intense scene at the very beginning of this piece where you're asked to essentially murder someone in a closed room. And usually when you do first person shooters, you're at a distance, they're kind of dehumanized. But this was like, one of the more intense situations I've been in and where you're being asked to murder somebody. I know there's probably been other VR games that have saints and sinners and people have talked about similar kind of scenes, but I think in the context of Venice Immersive, it may have been a little intense for that audience. I know it was intense for me and I can only imagine other folks and I actually finished to the end and when I got out the docent said that I was only the second person that they had seen that made it to that end. So I don't know what your experience was of this piece. I'd love to hear any thoughts and I'll share some more of my reflections on it as a piece.

[00:38:57.802] Pola Weiß: I think I did pretty good, but I didn't make it to the end, which wasn't my fault. There was some kind of bug. I was really unlucky that day. I don't know. I had that radiation crushing all the headsets or something. But I think I came blind into the story because I haven't seen the show. first. And second, as non English native speakers, you may all hear, I really, really had trouble to understand the characters. They weren't subtitled, they had like heavy accents, Irish, I think, and others. So I kind of walked blind through the space. And I was like, Oh, what do I have to do? So I was like, really walking at places where nobody would have expected me to walk because I just didn't know what to do. And that disadvantage became an advantage because when I had that scene, when I was in that scene that you mentioned, I just didn't know what was expected from me. Nobody taught me, oh, you need to call that person or you need to do something. I, I knew that I should trigger some information, but I didn't know how. So I found my own way. And I think I got the information I needed. And it was An interesting thing, because I didn't have one thought of killing that person. I did it without, maybe I can say that. I didn't kill that person. And because I did not understand at all anything that was said before that scene, I was like, Oh, I'm doing fine. That is good. I got the information I needed. Game goes on. So for me, it wasn't that shocking, but I absolutely can see because I honestly, I haven't seen that in that brutality, let's say. Maybe we can call it that in another virtual reality game before. The people tend to be very cautious about shooting human looking creatures. And that is something that might be scary for some people. But I think if you play it with that in mind that you are in that universe of Peaky Blindness, I think it becomes a little bit more fun.

[00:41:01.743] Kent Bye: Yeah, this is a type of experience that definitely feels like the first chapter of a 20 chapter immersive narrative game. So it's always difficult for me to get a sense of something just from, it's like watching a Netflix show, just like the pilot episode and trying to give a sense of the entirety of a piece. This feels like it's the first episode of a much larger story that's being told. And so it's a little hard to know where it's going to go because there's a lot of mechanics where you're collecting things and the don't end up ever doing anything with anything that you're collecting because it's like you're kind of getting clues to a puzzle that you're putting together but you really don't get any answers to it and just what they were able to show in a brief experience at the festival so it feels like you know I'll have probably more to say after experiencing the full game but it does show some of the early possibilities for blending this more adventure game type of dynamic with the narrative and different people coming in. And subtitles is a challenge, I think, especially some of the different pieces that I saw this year. The lack of subtitles can make it a little bit difficult to track a story. And if the story is leaning so much on what's being said and it doesn't have much help for you to either rewind or see it again, then you can very easily get lost in a story. There's certainly some experiences that that happened to me this year. But yeah, I think having some standards for subtitling would be good just for these different types of experiences, just so that you can still catch everything that's being said and not feel like you're getting lost. This experience in particular, because I have some very thick United Kingdom accent that's being used here within this piece.

[00:42:40.647] Pola Weiß: I mean, if that game is fully released in different markets, they probably will also change the language. So they will do voiceovers or just change the voice actors. I think that could be also really helpful. Something I maybe want to mention because we always have... I'm not a game expert, but in virtual reality games, we always have this problem of the inventory. We don't really know how to put that, where to put that, how to get access to it, how to get an overview, what's inside it. And they introduced the mechanic of having the inventory over your shoulder, which we have seen in quite early virtual reality games, I think. I'm thinking of the gallery and so on. So I was wondering if they want to work on it, how they chose to do that. I think it worked. For me, it worked. But at some points I wanted just to see what's in there and what I collected, as you said. And we had this book, Let's Play As We Can, look at everything. I thought that was a great idea to give you an overview of where you were standing, what notes you collected, what things you achieved. But still, I was kind of missing something that helped me a little bit more. But again, I was really lost in that experience because of the language barrier. But then there was something interesting to see that people are still working on the same problem that we've seen a few years ago.

[00:44:02.629] Kent Bye: Yeah, and this will be released sometime soon for folks to be able to see the full experience. And yeah, I'll be interested in playing the full game once it comes out, just to see.

[00:44:11.213] Pola Weiß: It was really fun, actually. I was really enjoying the time there. It was the first experience I did in Venice there.

[00:44:17.775] Kent Bye: Oh, wow. First one. Yeah. Yeah. So there's some first person shooter dynamics in there as well. Well, let's move on to the next quality of presence, which is the emotional presence. These are all the different experiences that are really focused on the story that's being told and trying to evoke different emotions. less so about you interacting and engaging and much more about you kind of receiving a story that's being told. We mentioned already The Man Who Couldn't Leave, which was the winner of the Best Immersive Experience at Venice Immersive. And another one is from also Taiwan was All That Remains, which when you start to think about the 360 video as a medium, This was a piece that was really trying to take a one-on-one immersive theater interaction and try to capture the essence of that encounter that you see. And so in talking to the creator, Craig Quintero, there's a lot of really interesting process that they have and constantly subverting your expectations as to what was happening next. And so I found myself in this state of awe and wonder, kind of like this WTF what's happening type of moment, but also this being taken on a journey that was using the medium of VR to take me to a place that I've never been before. And so I really appreciated how they were really able to cultivate these liminal spaces and this quality of awe and wonder, but also the power of having these really intimate one-on-one interactions with the actors who were given these different things that they were blending together. So this mixture of expressions and emotionality that I was seeing within the actors' faces that was also really quite provocative. So yeah, I'd love to hear any of your thoughts of this adventure through all these different liminal spaces that you're being taken on with All That Remains.

[00:45:58.166] Pola Weiß: Well, first, I was absolutely blown away by the quality. It is a 360 video in a quality I have probably not seen before. It's so clear crystal. It's I don't know which K probably very high. Do you know that? Um, I think it's around 10K. 10K, yeah. Something really, really high. And you see that. It's like as if you were really there. It's very intense, but it's also intense because as you mentioned, the actors are using a lot of immersive theater techniques, like looking into the eyes, guiding your attention very well with just very small movements of their face. And talking about the story, I didn't really understand it because for me it's a piece of art. It's more like a performance than a story, which is absolutely fine. And there are some pictures you keep in mind, like for example, the last scene, I think it was, where a man disappears in a pregnant woman's belly, which I thought was a really, really powerful image. And this kind of grounding the audience in the story just with the power of the actors and what they know of acting and how they play with you. I thought that was really remarkable at that piece. Yeah.

[00:47:14.123] Kent Bye: Yeah. It's one of those things that is trying to deconstruct the process of story making. It is trying to much more focus of creating a moment or creating an experience within the viewer. And I have a really interesting conversation with the director and learning a lot about how they're taking all these many years of lessons of doing these one-on-one immersive theater experiences. And so this piece was taking all those lessons from those one-on-one interactions that they had been doing for 11 years since 2011, I think is when they started their one-on-one immersive theater, So yeah, just a lot of ways they're trying to evoke a feeling that is more like a dream logic, I'd say, like something that is trying to use symbols or interactions that is open enough for you to project yourself onto it. And so that's kind of what I take away is that there's this branch of immersive storytelling that is much more in this dream logic. It's not exactly clear what it means, but you can watch it and get a feeling and project yourself into the experience in different ways.

[00:48:14.637] Pola Weiß: And again, at the beginning we have this, maybe that's something we can also already say as a conclusion for this year's competition. The creators played a lot with our expectations and Peaky Blinders. We had this expectation. I didn't know at the beginning where it was going. Was it more a puzzle? Was it more a crime scene that I have to solve? At the end, it became a really fun shooting game. And The Man Who Doesn't Leave, we had that very long opening scene and I thought it becomes an educational piece. And here we had this very long first, very intense scene where I was absolutely sure that I am in a horror experience. And I wasn't. And I was warned by the people and the others. They said, okay, you have to stay in the first scene. You have to make your way after the first scene, then it's fine because I'm really, really scared of horror in virtual reality. And knowing that I'm on the safe side of things, I could enjoy this first scene. And I was really interested how the creators played with the expectation of me thinking I am in a horror experience, but I wasn't at the end. And I saw that at quite a lot of experiences this year.

[00:49:21.935] Kent Bye: Yeah, another piece that's focusing on emotional presence, I'd say, is reimagined volume one, Nisa. Maybe you could set this experience up.

[00:49:30.794] Pola Weiß: This is a very classically told story, I'd say. It's a story about a young witch, and she is going to search her best friend, who is, what is the English name? A broom? A broom, exactly. She's looking for a broom. And she ends up fighting one of the most scariest creatures in the universe. And yeah, that was a very classically told story, painted in quill, I think. And I really loved the idea of the story. I would have loved to have more of a role, more of an active role, even though experience doesn't need to be interactive. But Me as a user, I didn't really have a role, so I was watching the characters unfold their story, which was interesting. But at one point I really wanted to join the story and I couldn't. That's why I say it's a really classic story. I think it could also have worked in 2D as a classic animation short.

[00:50:30.326] Kent Bye: Yeah, this is going to be an anthology series. This is volume one. There's going to be at least two more volumes that are coming out. And so reinterpreting existing fairy tales, but with female protagonists in them. And so in talking to the creators, it was interesting to hear the way that they were using the elements of how Nisa as a character is really starting off in this flighty air element, but needs to, throughout the course of the story, learn how to be grounded and use her intuition. as a piece it's using quill as a platform and i think they were actually working either directly with the platform creators or pushing for these much more cinematic movements of the camera within quill it's something that is relatively new from what i've seen other previous pieces do which is usually has a fairly static camera as you're watching some of these and so starting to play with moving the camera through these 360 scenes. Most of the time, Quill pieces are 180, so a lot of these scenes were 360, but most of the action's happening in front of you, and so you can treat it as a 180 piece, which I think as I watched it, I experienced it more as a 180. But there is some, I guess, agency for you to kind of look around a little bit as you're being immersed into these places. But yeah, you're right in the sense that it is more of a a story that is being passively told. It could potentially be as a 2D, but I think I appreciated being immersed in the 3D version of it. It allowed me to feel immersed into this spatial world, to have that story come alive in that sense. Yeah, I look forward to seeing it.

[00:51:56.070] Pola Weiß: I think that's one of the examples that can work in both media, which is interesting.

[00:52:00.833] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. And I think that's a theme that I saw come up in terms of other storytellers starting to explore transmedium way of starting to tell or expand on different stories. And we'll get to that here in a bit. Mrs. Benz in particular.

[00:52:14.601] Pola Weiß: I absolutely love the graphics. You could really see that they put a lot of thought in all the colors and everything they chose.

[00:52:22.261] Kent Bye: Yeah, so look forward to seeing the rest of that series of Reimagined come out. But another 360 video that I think is worth talking about is Sorella's Story, which was a piece that was taking a photo that was an actual photo that was happening right before a massacre of Latvian Jewish women during World War II. and taking that as a starting point and then expanding out all the different points leading up to that moment and really trying to set a broader context. So yeah, I guess stylistically this piece was interesting in the sense that it was 360 video, but sometimes they would blot out things where nothing was happening and then they would slowly reveal different aspects of what was happening in front of you and behind you. So you see this dynamic between these German soldiers and Latvian women who were being rounded up for a massacre that happened. So it's a really visceral moment in history and I think just to be able to give this a little bit more context using the 360 video as a medium to really explore this horrific scene that's a bit of a terror or horror moving towards this massacre. And yeah, just before these women were massacred, they take these photos. And so starting from those photos that were taken right before that, and then going back in time and trying to flesh out that moment. So yeah, emotionally evocative piece that's digging into this moment in history.

[00:53:49.825] Pola Weiß: Yeah, when it touched me, being a German, I think I had a different access to it. And it really touched me because we grew up with old pictures, with similar pictures we see during our whole education. We have the World War II a lot at school, which is right, and still knowing so many of those pictures, it really, really got to be seeing that scene at the end, where maybe I can give a little bit more context. During the massacre, almost 4,000 women and children of Latvia were killed at a beach. So they had to put off their clothes and go almost naked to the beach side, a beautiful beach with a beautiful ocean, where this horrible, horrible scene afterwards happened, where they got shot. And you actually don't see the massacre. What you see and what really is, I think, the picture that stayed in my mind for a couple of days is seeing these women almost naked, only with their underwear, bare feet, standing there waiting for them to get led to the beach and shot. And they had to make the pictures, so the Nazis wanted to picture them. And these pictures, they exist, and they were also the starting point of the director to do that piece. And the scene, I think, works very well in virtual reality. I'm not sure if, well, it would have worked, of course, in every other medium, because they are so strong, these pictures, and they give you so, so much goosebumps and show you the horror in one picture. But in virtual reality, imagine you're standing in front of these women, watching them in the eyes, and you're standing in the same environment, and you have clothes on. You're fully aware of that. You're not facing the danger of being shot, like in the next five minutes. And this feeling in virtual reality, I think, gave me that extra empathy or something. I don't really know how you could call it, but I think it was much stronger than just seeing it in a documentary, for example. And the director said in the making of video that was published by Biennale that now genocide is digestible. And I think that really gives you a lot of context what he wanted to achieve with that movie. It is quite a simple 360 film. It was shot, I think, in one day. And it is told by one of the victims, by an 11 year old little girl. So it is really simple virtual reality film, if I can say like that. But using that picture that works so well in virtual reality, gives it a really, really strong message.

[00:56:32.720] Kent Bye: Yeah, so Cirilla's story done by a filmmaker, I think it's his first 360 video as well, so you can get the behind the scenes to get a little bit more context as to that story. So yeah, let's move on to the next piece, which was Redtail, which was an animated piece, which I think as I was talking a little bit to one of the VR supervisors of the piece, who worked on three total pieces there at Venice. He was saying that this was actually creating these as 3D statues. And then from those statues, they were then digitizing them and then animating them. So there's a little bit of a mixed medium in this piece that is an animated piece about a boy who's going on an adventure. He's chasing for something. So I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on this piece, and I'll share some of my thoughts.

[00:57:18.815] Pola Weiß: I've seen the first episode at one of the previous festivals. I don't remember which one. I saw that online and was really left alone with the story because I didn't have an ending at the point. It was only the first five or seven minutes. And now that was the first time I saw the whole story. And it's still complex. I'm still not sure if I really got it, to be honest. But what I think was really remarkable with that piece is that the animation plays a lot with the space. So they really use the virtual reality medium as what it is, as a medium of space. So for example, we are going with this little boy. The whole experience starts with us flying through the clouds. And it's an experience about traveling and finding your way in a dream-like world. And this boy, he's entering a train. And in the train, we have all kinds of different creatures. We have giant insects and ghost people. And it's really a really nice fantasy world. And he's going into one of the big, big suitcases because he's scared and he wants to hide. And all these little elements play with space. And this goes on in the experience. Later on, we see a big boy, well, the same boy, but in a very big scale. And then we see the little boy and they kind of interact with each other. And that becomes really interesting. And you see that they put a lot of thought in how to use the virtual reality medium as a spatial medium.

[00:58:44.898] Kent Bye: Yeah, this is a piece that I had also saw the first episode, and so I had an impression that I had already seen it, but then there was the other episodes that I had not seen, and so to be able to see the full piece... It's a piece that, when I came out of it, I also didn't quite know what the story was about, and I had to talk to one of the VR engineers to help clarify what was happening there. I think part of the challenge of a piece like this is that the narration that they have has like a poetic tone to it, so there's a little bit of trying to interpret this poetic narration for what's happening while you're being immersed into this world that can be so surreal and overwhelming to try to digest everything that's happening visually on top of trying to interpret this poetic narration. So it was hard for me to kind of understand fully what the story was about until I talked to the creator who helped to explain a little bit in terms of like this boy is chasing after something, but eventually realizes at some point that he already has it within himself. And so I think that's kind of like one of the themes that you take away from it. But as I watched the piece, it wasn't so clear as I was watching it in the moment. There's some beautiful animation aspects and moments and lighting that really take you on this surreal dreamlike journey, but I do see that this is a challenge sometimes of a piece like this where if you were to just look at the spatial things that were happening in the piece, the spatial dimensions don't tell the full story. So you actually have to understand what's being said to you in the narration, and the narration is plugging the gaps to big parts of the story that are unfolding. And so whenever that happens for me, sometimes the cognitive load of like taking in what's happening in the world can be more dominant than what's happening from what's said. Especially if the narration has a poetic quality, which is then a whole other layer of trying to interpret the poetry of something that's happening at the same time. So that was some of the challenges that I had in watching this piece. I think the visually, the aesthetic's beautiful and it's got a look and feel that is unlike anything else I've seen in VR, but I am left at the end of it being somewhat confused and having to have a little bit explained to me And this may be an example where I don't know if subtitles would help or if it just is a matter of kind of watching it multiple times to get a gist of where the overall arc is going and then to watch it again to get what's actually trying to be communicated within the context of the story.

[01:00:53.438] Pola Weiß: Yes, sometimes the people who helped putting on the whole headset and controllers and so on, they gave me a little bit of a backstory in that particular experience that didn't happen, but in other experience like, well, we'll talk about them later. And even though it probably wasn't meant to be like that by the creators, it's always helped me. So this kind of an onboarding situation always helps with these dreamlike stories. To be honest, I'm still, as you are, a little bit conflicted when it comes to these dream stories, because I absolutely love to see them. And I think virtual reality is made for this kind of virtual dream-like world. But at the same time, I'm looking for a story. And as you say, when it's hard to find, your mind drifts a little bit away, right? So this onboarding situation helped me a lot of times. And this is also an advantage to be on place at a festival where you have people who can tell you something about the experience you're going to see.

[01:01:50.577] Kent Bye: Yeah, let's move on to the next experience called Kindred, which is an animated story. It's LGBTQ plus themed in terms of an adoption story. And yeah, this was a piece that I just had a chance to talk to the director of this piece and it's a short brief piece. There's only like five or six or seven scenes. And so I did a bit of a scene by scene breakdown of this piece to unpack it a little bit more, but I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on Kindred and then I'd share more about the piece from my perspective.

[01:02:20.277] Pola Weiß: Well, I would have loved to see the piece a second time, because I only saw it one time, and it was, like you mentioned, really short. But I really liked that because it was a personal story told by somebody you see as an animated person. That always works, I think, very well in virtual reality. And we see that often, these personal stories that are told, like a personal layer to explain what you're seeing. And this worked really well for me.

[01:02:48.830] Kent Bye: Yeah, I actually reached out to the director and got a build of the piece to be able to watch it a second time because I had a sense of what the story was about, but I needed to watch it again to see how it unfolded. Because one of the things that I noticed the second time was that you don't learn until the very last scene. And this may be a spoiler, so spoiler alert that the person that is being talked about is a non-binary transgender person who is adopting a gender questioning child. But the way the story is told is that you just hear this as a person trying to go through this process of adopting a child and discovering that they wanted to adopt a child. And there was a lot of switching between first-person and third-person perspective. And so sometimes you're watching this from a third-person perspective, but sometimes when you're engaging with a child, you move into the first-person perspective. And so there's a perspective shift, which I think is also interesting in terms of paralleling the full spectrum of gender expression. And so the sourcing of this story was actually from archives of oral history. So they're starting with oral history of these LGBTQ plus stories that are being told, and then being able to translate this into a spatial experience that is telling a very human story. And at the end, you learn the full context The other thing I'd mentioned about this story is that it's bookended by archival footage from the British Film Institute and the BBC that is showing the changes of the reaction to LGBTQ issues in the 80s and then in more contemporary times from 2010 to 2020. So you are primed in this experience that this is going to be around those issues, but you don't really understand until the very end of the final scene where it's revealed to you that this main protagonist Part of the reasons why they had so many issues through the process of adoption was because of the potential discrimination that was happening in their overall system. And then you kind of end with seeing a little bit more eclipse. But overall, it feels like a poetic experience and my impressions of it left me with a feeling and I had to go back and watch it the second time to deconstruct everything that was happening.

[01:04:48.530] Pola Weiß: I think, like you say, the real dynamic, everything that happened is only revealed at the end. And I think that's also one of the strongest side of that experience, because you relive the whole emotional experience of adoption, not knowing why they have such difficulties. You just think everybody has difficulties to adopt. It's a really hard process. So you rely to the protagonist and to the characters in the story, to the child as well, to the adopting parent. And this makes the experience that you later on know and hear what it's really about so much stronger because you had been given time to connect on a personal level with a child and the adoptive parent.

[01:05:32.112] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah. And in the piece, it's also doing a lot of spatial transitions that I think are unique. And you begin with the main protagonist on a seesaw by themselves, and then at the end with the child that they had adopted. And so then you have this kind of equanimity that's reached by the end. So yeah, it's a short and brief poetic piece. And yeah, that's Kindred. Let's move on to Temani, which is Darkening. This was a piece that was about depression. Maybe you could set up this piece in this experience.

[01:06:04.475] Pola Weiß: Yeah, well, Full Transparency, it is also funded by the MedianBot Berlin-Brandenburg, because they have a Berlin co-producer, Nowhere Media. It's a Czech-German co-production. But again, that was all decided before my time. So I think I can say that I really like that piece, like almost everything in that competition. And it's a piece about depression. And I think what was really unique with that piece, when you hear about, OK, that's about depression, you think you come out depressed, right? to say it really flat. But that's not the case because the intention of the director was, so my impression, that he really wanted to inform you how it is living with depression and how he found his means of defeating it. And he's doing that in a very neutral voice. He's telling it himself. He has a voice over I was able to watch it in Germany, I think, so that probably was an actor, but he's doing it really in a really neutral, really educating way, just telling you that. And I absolutely appreciated it because it gave me a way to understand that whole situation better and what it means to be fighting your whole life against such horrible phases and episodes that can knock you.

[01:07:16.417] Kent Bye: yeah i thought it was a really interesting way of spatially representing these dark sides of depression that he's going through and you actually end up using your voice quite a bit in this experience where you're asked to use your voice to engage and there's a dynamic part of how your voice interacts with the world around you and his own personal journey of recovery is through this voice therapy. And so you're really asked to use your voice to engage with this in experience, which I thought was really effective, especially in the sense of how how you would do a voice action and then he would talk about his embodied experience of that and what that felt like for him. And then you're listening to your own embodied experience and it allowed me to connect for what I was feeling in my body with what he was feeling in his body. But also you're going through this entire spatial journey of walking through this village that has different buildings in each of those buildings. You're going on to a little bit of a dreamlike journey representing different dimensions of his lifelong experiences with depression. But I thought another thing that I thought was really unique about this experience, at least in the festival context, was that the offboarding was an opportunity to sit down with the creator after hearing this very personal memoir of the inner depths of his soul and psyche as he's struggling with these different aspects of depression and he's facilitating a group discussion as you pick a card and each of these cards are symbolically representing one of the characters that are in the film. And that he was able to facilitate a group discussion by unpacking each of these different dimensions, but really listening to how the story connected to each of the audience members. And so I actually thought that a big part of this piece that really helped it land for me, it was at least the off-boarding to understand how other people received it, but also how it was related to my own life of the people that I'm close to and love that have dealt with different aspects of depression.

[01:09:06.431] Pola Weiß: I think he did that for all 10 days, right? So it was really, that was a real challenge, like several times a day, 10 days in a row. But something you haven't mentioned so far is that in the festival context, there were three people in the same space doing the same experience at the same time. And they tried their best to synchronize the experience that didn't really work because you can have your time, you can take your time to watch certain aspects of the story, and then it only goes on. But what you do is you hear the other people doing these sounds like or yelling or singing or doing something, whatever they asked to do. And I imagine if you do that at the same time, like if it's really synchronized, yeah, that could be really powerful. In my case, it was we were only two and I was a little bit quicker, I think, doing the experience. So I knew whatever sound I'll do, she will hear it. And then she knows that I'm waiting to hear what she does. So This kind of became a little bit uncomfortable because we felt a little bit controlled. I think she said some similar things, but I think that can be a very, very powerful tool in terms of having that kind of installation. I personally would have loved to do it. Tom can really scream and really sing and really get into every aspect of using the voice that the director is telling me to do. And what helped him to deal with his depression, I was a little bit scared in that social context, but I guess that depends on the personality a lot. And I'm wondering why not more experiences work with that voice interaction, because it's so easy. You don't need triggers, you don't need controllers, nothing. It's just something you use every day. And it's so natural. So I think it's a really nice way of pulling somebody into a story.

[01:10:52.163] Kent Bye: Yeah, there was some interactive triggers that were happening in this experience that you could have a variance. And so they tried to start everybody at the same time, but then because there was enough variance in the interactions, it meant that it was very quickly coming out of sync. And I do agree that it would have been easier if everybody was doing those voice interactions exactly at the same time. I would have felt less self-conscious of screaming or using my voice to its full capacity. Cause I, I don't know, there's something about. disrupting someone else's experience or if everybody's doing at the same time that there's a level of synchrony that happens. So there's a whole other meta layer of social dynamics that are happening with the other people that are in the same room as you, even though you're each individually in your own VR experience, you're all watching this at the same time. And so, yeah, I think it would have required removing some of the interactivity to make it more of a passive experience that it would have maybe still had the interactive aspects of the voice that was maybe still could have done that, but have it timed such that everybody was beginning and ending at the same time, which then you have to begin all the people at the same time. And you still have the challenge of, you know, having four headsets that are synchronized in that sense, which you probably would ultimately need a software solution to make sure that you don't have any variants of people pushing the start button, even milliseconds difference. But yeah, I think it would have made it a little bit less self-conscious for myself watching it as well.

[01:12:11.749] Pola Weiß: Yeah, you're totally right. That would have taken away a lot of the agency you have in that experience. And that would be sad too. So, but I thought it was really interesting. Like you say, it added a whole meta level of social interactions to it without even seeing each other. That was quite funny. And you said also at the end discussion about the director asked us that question, would you have preferred to do it at home or did you like it to do it here in the social space? And I think he got really different answers.

[01:12:40.845] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah, and there's different people who are on the different spectrum of being self-conscious or not. But maybe let's move on to the last experience here that's really focused on emotional presence. I'd say, thank you for sharing your world, which was a lot of ways remind me of different aspects of Notes on Blindness, which is a piece about blindness. And so this is another piece about blindness. But in this case, it's about a blind boy and his relationship with another boy who is on the autistic spectrum. different dimensions of being left behind in this piece. So you start the piece with having a little bit of sight, but then it slowly starts to go away and to the point where you only have really limited vision in this piece. And so, for me at least, it became a lot about the sound design of this piece as you're moving around. But the experience of being led by someone who is sighted, who can see, But then you get left behind and you have this feeling of being lost or confused or frustrated. And so, you know, in some ways that was recreating that feeling of being frustrated and being lost. And yeah, it kind of ends with this contrast of having these really vivid psychedelic visions almost. So for me, I didn't like this piece as much as Notes on Blindness. I thought that the actor who was on the autistic spectrum was a little bit grating. I mean, it was by design to be that way. but it was recreating those feelings of frustration. And so I kind of like, there were certain aspects that felt frustrating to me, but maybe that was part of the whole experiential design was to recreate those aspects of being lost, confused, and frustrated.

[01:14:13.209] Pola Weiß: Yeah, I had so many feelings. I really liked the experience because for me, it was a break between all those very emotional, very rhythmic pieces. I was sitting there closing my eyes. I closed my eyes for the most part of the experience. I just tried to follow it with my ears and my other senses, like the vibrator controller when I was holding the stick to walk around. Yeah, that was a really interesting break for me. I think I absolutely loved the experience, me walking with a stick around. That was well done, I think, because I got a feeling how it is to just feel the world around you. You know, they did put a lot of effort into sound design, so I could hear when I'm walking at some place where I shouldn't. So I really experimented with that stick around where I was going to go. I had the same expression with the friend of the man where I'm playing the main protagonist and he's the blind boy and his friend is on the autism spectrum. And I thought that were two stories in one. You know what I mean? So I would have loved to see the world in the eyes of the other boy, of the friend, which I didn't, of course. In a way, I did, because he's telling me what he sees, and he's guiding me through his world. And at the end, it's exactly where I also wanted to be. And so they become closer and closer. But what I was missing was Yeah, I really wanted to hear more about that. And he was actually played quite intense. So he was always present with his voice and so on. So he was really present without being the main character. And that kind of somehow created that wish to follow him more than to follow the character I was playing.

[01:15:56.234] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think the notes on blindness is really focused on the individual protagonist, but you're right in the sense that this is an experience that really has those two characters, one that you're embodying and the one that is also being featured. I also thought the ending, you're basically spending the entire experience not being able to see much, and then the end was such a vivid contrast, but I didn't know if it really fit with the story that was being told. I appreciated how it was looking, but it just didn't make as much sense for why I was seeing such vivid things after not being seen as much throughout the piece. So I thought that the ending part was a little confusing in terms of how they were able to make that leap from not being able to see the whole experience. And then all of a sudden you see everything in these psychedelic vividness of everything in the world, which I don't know if it was quite earned from the overall arc of the story. And it was kind of surprising that it ended in that way, I guess. But let's move on to the embodied and environmental presence. These are the experiences that had a strong sense of really being embodied in another place or using the environment in a way to help tell the story. And so the first piece is Recontraire. It's a piece by Chanel where you are actually kind of walking into this space that is got an immersive theater actor who's introducing you. You walk down this big black hallway with all these voices and then you meet another immersive theater actor who takes you in to meet the Coco Chanel and you're embodying a character in this piece where you have five different fragrances that you're going to share with Coco Chanel and it's actually the number five that ends up being the one that is the famous Chanel number five. so this was a piece that was sponsored by chanel and i think the part of this experience that really stuck with me was that moment of putting on the headset and walking into this world and seeing this animated reality but it's matched one-to-one to the room that you're in and you're able to walk around and touch things and so you have this passive haptic feedback that really grounded me and my body into this experience. If it were up to me, I would have really loved to smell the first four smells because they didn't have smells except for number five. And so the logistics of that, but also I think they were really trying to just focus on Chanel number five, but because it was an experience when you were smelling these things the fact that i wasn't smelling them actually kind of took me out of the experience because i didn't know if something was broken with the experience and also i was expecting to smell something and then i wasn't and then i did eventually smell something but i felt like i would have liked to have smelled all five of the different fragrances of this as a piece but other than that i think the ability of The MediQuest 2 headset, to be able to track that entire space and to match it one-to-one so seamlessly, at least when I did it, really gave me this sense of being transported into another place. After you smell each of the other four that are the failures, you have these little vignettes of trying to set a time and a place of what was happening in that story. I don't exactly remember each of those vignettes. For me, what I remember is the embodiment and the smell, but I sort of walk away with the experience going back into the immersive theater space that you're introduced in and you pick a card. Really great onboarding, offboarding, and really deep sense of embodiment of this mixed reality presence, but less so much the story that was sticking with me rather than the sort of whole embodied and environmental experience of it all.

[01:19:07.302] Pola Weiß: Yeah, exactly. I had a similar experience. I really loved it. And it reminded me a lot what Matthias Schellbuch, the director did, I think in 2018, with Jack at the Tribeca Festival, where they had also like a whole set. And everything that was in that set was matched in the virtual world. So I could sit on the bed, I can sit everywhere I could cook a tea on the stove, and there was a live actor playing with me. And they used the same principle this time. And also, I think 2019 and 2018 in Venice, we had a few of those kinds of experiences that were really merging between immersive theater and virtual reality, mostly coming from France, actually, I think. So that was a principle I knew and I really loved and I was absolutely looking forward to that experience. And I think, as you say, the onboarding was really well. It just works because you can feel the piano, you can feel the couch where you want to sit on. And that's actually what I did. I spent a lot of time in that room and wanted to explore it. But at the same time, I had the problem that the story got unfolded and the virtual reality experience started. And I met Chanel. And she was talking to me. And me, personally, I think I embodied the perfume master, whatever that is called. And he brought these five samples. And during the meeting, she was supposed to decide which one she want to use as her Chanel perfume. So yeah, like you, it was a little bit sad. I couldn't smell the other four. I think they are probably not known anymore after all those years. And when I finally smelled that perfume, I kind of got a little bit disappointed because the expectations again, the expectation management was so high and it was such a great smell. It is wonderful perfume, you know, but at that little moment I was like, Oh, that was sudden. So it kind of got me by surprise. And then I was there and it was like, give me a little bit more time to smell that. And I was sitting on the sofa and try to just embrace that moment and smell that. And I think this moment could have been even more glamorous and great because it was a very critical moment for Chanel. She did this brave decision not just to take that scent, but also just named it like it was the scent number five. So that became the name of the perfume, which was a really modern and brave decision at that time.

[01:21:35.184] Kent Bye: Yeah, it reminds me of the Cosmos Within Us, which was another piece from 2019, where they actually had smell docents, where they would have little sticks that someone that was in the room would come up and stick something up to your nose. Because editing smell is a challenge. Once a smell is in a room, it's hard to edit it out. And so when you have four smells, plus the limited time and budget, I think they didn't have time to really develop these smells that were lost to the history. But yeah, I think overall, it's a piece that I would have loved to have seen again, but it was a 10-minute piece, short and sweet, and that it probably is going to work well for what Chanel's trying to do, which would maybe tell a larger backstory. And the fact that they were contracting out to an independent creator and giving Matthias a lot of leeway to direct the direction of this piece.

[01:22:18.570] Pola Weiß: Yeah, same. I think for the marketing point of view, this works really well because it's a really, really interesting experience when you feel and see everything that's inside and especially people who haven't touched virtual reality so often in their lives. I think they absolutely will remember that experience because it's really, really nice, nicely done, well executed. And I think for me, it's one of those examples where brand and creator, a storyteller can work together very well and create something really nice.

[01:22:46.378] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. It's a 10-minute experience, so they'll be able to deal with throughput. I'd be curious to see where they end up taking it. But moving on to Yuridiche, Descent Into Affinity. Love to hear some of your thoughts on this piece.

[01:23:00.188] Pola Weiß: Ah, Jodici. That was one of the bigger installations that were in Venice this year, again, together with Roncontra. So Roncontra, Okawari, and Dazzle and Aridis were the big installations, I think. I haven't forgotten anybody. And I was absolutely looking forward to it because I love those kind of installations. That piece, I think, turned out very interesting. You enter a room and the helping hand there told me the backstory of Eurydice and Odysseus finding their way, this love story where she dies and he has to find her in the labyrinth in the underworld. And he can't turn around, otherwise she's dying for good this time. And that was really helpful that he told me that story again, because I've heard it, but I've forgotten it. And you know, like all the details. Then I entered the room and I thought it was an art piece, a small performance and a music piece, I think. And you see a woman lying on the ground and you walk on a similar ground in real time. So again, we have this merge between the physical world and the virtual world. You walk on little stones, making also sounds you hear through your headphones, which increases your sense of presence there. And you see the body disappearing and there coming a soul out of the body of that young woman. You see a dark shadow, which is probably the soul, and you have to follow that shadow in the underworld. And then the real journey begins, because you are constantly walking and walking and walking in circles one way or the other, and going really deep in the underworld. And the world is full of sounds, and it changes while you're going down. And at one point, you're standing going up again. And you would expect that something happens in between, but it doesn't. So you're constantly walking, walking, walking, I think, They also took some inspiration, at least I would expect that some inspiration from Labyrinthos, which we saw, I think, two years ago, last year in the Biennale Collège program, where they had like a similar mechanic. And that was really interesting, because after a while, when I was expecting a story or something to happen at the end, I started to understand that this wasn't supposed to be a story, that it was all my experience of walking and following an endless way. And how I changed during that, I don't know, what was that 20 minutes? It could have been also two hours. I don't know. I totally lost any sense of time. And And as soon as I understood that, it was really fine for me. But I was walking really hopefully, and I was like, if something will happen, I know that. And after a while, I think I can say that I changed during the whole path through the underworld. And I think that was exactly the effect that the creators wanted.

[01:25:51.658] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had a chance to do this experience and then talk to the creator unpacking different aspects. There is this part of the myth that you have with Yuridichi and Orpheus. In the original myth, Orpheus looks back and is not able to recover his loved one because he sort of is not able to follow the temptation of delaying gratification of looking back. So it's a lot about the consequences of looking back. But in this case, they're kind of switching the story and trying to give Euridice more agency. So Euridice is in front of you, but you're chasing Euridice and also giving Euridice a voice. And so she's singing this beautiful opera. And so

[01:26:33.646] Pola Weiß: And she's not looking back at you. That's also a very important point. She's not looking back.

[01:26:38.732] Kent Bye: She's not looking back. So I think even though they switched their perspectives and changed the agency, I don't think they were able to really give a similar poignant impact of the actual story. Because I think part of that original myth is that he's not supposed to look back when he looks back. And this, you're in the mind and then the other character has a voice, but yet there doesn't seem to be a resolution of what the story actually was. So I had a similar kind of feeling of wanting to have some payoff to the story, but not being able to find it. But also it was much more of an embodied experience of going on this whole journey for me, which is why I have it in more of the embodied and environmental presence because this real deep sense of feeling like I was walking for a really, really long time. There's a moment where they do switch into an impossible space and there's an opportunity to go back up, but I'm like, this is a descent into infinity, so I want to keep on descending. I want to see what's at the end of it. But they really recreated that sense of descent into infinity because you just keep on looping and looping and looping and talking to the creator there's actually four different phases that's a point cloud environment so you're walking through and you're walking flat but you're walking down in vr and so they have to kind of like push the VR down a little bit, which for me is a little bit of a proprioceptive disconnects that happen that can make some people motion sick. It made me a little nauseous, but not too much because I knew it was happening. So I kind of squinted my eyes a little bit whenever that was happening. But you are still descending and keep on walking and walking and walking. And I think this is made by a theater maker that's really trying to exalt different aspects of opera. So these different phases are timed to the sense where you could have just stood there and wait for the opera to finish and then you could have walked down so you could have like minimized how much you were walking. But I didn't know that. I just kept walking forever. So there's a sense of like wanting to see some visual variance because there was only four phases and I was like walking anywhere from 10 to 20 times around the same thing. But eventually I saw that it was changing. But when it did switch into the impossible space where I didn't know if I was supposed to go up or down, I decided to go down and I ended up making it to the very end. But there wasn't a narrative payoff, but there was like this embodied feeling like I had just gone on this incredible journey. And it gave me this real sense of this role. sense of presence with my body of being in this place. So that's what I was taking away from it. And yeah, talking to the creator, it was interesting just to hear her intentions. And that was kind of the intent, you know, in some sense of like, the name is literally Descent Into Infinity. So what else would you expect other than the experience of that infinite descent, but also thinking about how to take an opera piece and give someone an embodied experience that tries to replicate different aspects of what is being talked about in either that myth or that opera.

[01:29:17.507] Pola Weiß: Yeah, it's interesting for me to see that you could actually reach the ground because I decided to go up again. I thought it was supposed to be so I didn't really see the crossroad there. I just walked. I'm a bit afraid of altitudes and when the space changed and you're kind of afraid that everything breaks down, you know, that point. So I decided, okay, I'll go up then I'm safe. That I think was a little bit my thought. And as you say, it was a little bit difficult when you tend to get motion sick because the altitude of the path changed and you were walking on a flat space all the time. So this kind of required some adaptation from your side.

[01:29:58.102] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah, so that was a 20-minute plus installation piece that was on gravel. So yeah, that's Yuridiche, Descent Into Affinity. The next one I have on the list in terms of embodied and environmental presence was Dazzle, A Reassembly of Bodies. So maybe I'll set this piece up. This was a dance piece that was made by four co-directors on this piece that was a couple of creators from more of fashion sense and another from more the choreography and technology side and really taking you to another place in time in 1919. And this concept of dazzle, which was the opposite of camouflage. Camouflage is created for you to be hidden. And this was taking the concept of this dazzle aesthetic and creating entire worlds that were replicating this black and white aesthetic, but also with these different dancers that were very simple polygonal shapes, but also were replicating in different ways, and so having like a chorus line type of experience. And as the audience, you had a choice of three different places to see it. You could either be embodied with the dancers, you could be embodied virtually but not co-present with the physical dancers that were doing motion capture and then there's an option to watch it from the side where you saw both the dancers as well as the people that were in VR but you were watching everything on a LCD screen. I personally was watching it embodied with the dancers which was a lot of fun because it was really immersive for me to be able to be with these other dancers and it felt like a dance party and just the ability to see the different dancers that were being replicated with different variants. And so it gave this real sense of choreography that was changing based upon having the spatial replication of these bodies throughout the space, which was really quite interesting. And you go through a number of different scenes and you embody as an avatar. And I actually had a chance to dance with one of the dancers at the end, which was a lot of fun as well. So I'm not sure where you were watching this from and what perspective or some of your thoughts on Dazzle.

[01:31:58.346] Pola Weiß: I was in VR. So you were too, right?

[01:32:01.248] Kent Bye: Yeah, I was in VR in the same room as the dancers. So you were the same.

[01:32:06.050] Pola Weiß: Yeah, I was in VR, but not in the same room. So I was in the virtual reality side room. So, okay. For me, I did not know anything about that experience. I thought it was a really great onboarding process because you had to wear some of these black and white funny clothes. And that was really, really fun. And they made it like a party. Try on that. Try on that. Oh, you can try on that. Go to the mirror and see how it looks like. So that became really fun. And everybody was joking around. And we were in the headsets in virtual reality. I'm not a real dancer and I feel very insecure when I'm supposed to dance. I wasn't sure what to do. And I didn't know, honestly, I didn't know that it was with live dancers because I haven't read anything about it. I haven't spoken with anybody because I did it at one of the first days I've been on the island. So I didn't notice it until the very end because the dancers didn't really react with me. I think I was a little bit at the wrong place. And I loved the world. I loved the graphics. It also reminded me a lot of Oskar Schlemmer and his ballads. So this was really great. But I was absolutely surprised when at the end, well, I had the thought, is it live or not? But at the end, when I really found out after the virtual reality experience, you're guided to the other room and you see all the dancers and the motion cap suits and you realize, okay, that actually was a live dance. And I didn't know, so it was a surprise for me. And I think I would have preferred it, especially me feeling unsecure of dancing or how to move and what to do, if somebody would have reacted more with me and tagged me by the virtual hand and danced with me a little bit around. So for me, that wasn't really feelable or noticeable. This was a live experience, but I think that absolutely depends on from where, from which angle you experience it and which headset you are, and also how much you want to engage. Maybe they just thought that I didn't want to engage, so I don't know that. And it reminded me a lot of Cosmos within us, the experience you also mentioned, but she's a little bit the same principle. They did like a whole backstage show out of the experience where you see the musician, the narrator, somebody who's spraying the smell, the sense, the perfume at people, somebody who's like, holding the fresh air in your face so that you can feel the wind and everything. And you could experience that experience in virtual reality and also as a passive spectator. And they offer the same possibility. And as much as I appreciate that, I think that's a really great idea. I also think that it would have been not good if I've seen it the first time from backstage, you know, because then it would have taken some of the magic out of it.

[01:34:42.610] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And when you were dancing, did you have a virtual body meant or not? Were you a ghost?

[01:34:48.698] Pola Weiß: That's a good question. I think I, I think I had a body, but I don't remember now.

[01:34:54.324] Kent Bye: OK, yeah, because I had a body and I was I knew the dancers were there because I could see them. And for me, they were mirroring me at the very beginning. And so that gave me a deep sense of the liveness of the live, which I know that a lot of the previous types of live dance performances, it's always difficult to interrogate the liveness of the life. But at least for me, when I did it, I had a very visceral experience of it being live because I was not only being mirrored by them in the beginning, but at the end, I was actually able to dance with one of the dancers. So it took it to the next level for me. So yeah, lots of really interesting backstory for that piece that I talked to the creators about as well, because they're doing lots of stuff in terms of the different inspirations and bringing different aspects of fashion as you're in that experience in the costume, but also all these other motion capture technology that were turned more into jewelry and also the fashion that was internal to the experience as well. So there was a multi-channel video installation called Frame Rate, Pulse of the Earth, that I first had a chance to see in South by Southwest, but it was a 24-minute loop, and maybe you could set this piece up a little bit.

[01:36:00.009] Pola Weiß: I haven't seen that. I spent, I think, five or ten minutes inside as a break. There were these big pillows where you can just lay down and enjoy the installation. It was a really nice installation. It was a really nice break from the whole festival stress you have. But yeah, I didn't spend too much time in there, unfortunately.

[01:36:22.908] Kent Bye: Yeah, I saw the full loop at South by Southwest and then stayed for a full 24-minute loop here at Venice. This is a piece where you didn't need a ticket, but essentially ScanLab projects did LiDAR time-lapse, where they would take these LiDAR images of scenes, everything from a quarry, from the beach, to the cityscapes, to cows, lots of different places they were going around, and they were able to take a time lapse and then show different perspectives of one LiDAR scan from multiple different perspectives. And then in this room, there was, I don't know, like six or seven or eight different TV screens, some on the floor, some of the ceiling on each of the walls. And you're able to kind of take in these multiple perspectives of this one time lapse. And so, yeah, I did an interview with Matthew Shaw from South by Southwest talking about this as an experience. But this was some extended scenes that were there. And the differences from those scenes, I think, were a little bit more rhythm that they were using, so playing with rhythm and music to dig into different dimensions of the different scenes that they were showing there, but it's a real meditation of time. You're just watching these different scenes unfold and watching these different plants grow or watching the changing quarry or animals or group dynamics of people walking down the street. and showing what you can do with the LiDAR scans. And some of them were black and white. Most of them were black and white. Some of them had color that were added to them through different textures that they were able to take from DSLRs. But the process, it was really interesting to talk to Matthew at Southwest Southwest, where they would actually have people, almost like monks, go to those places each and every day and take a scan and a capture. So just the process of doing a time lapse, a volumetric time lapse, And it's all being projected in 2D. I would love to eventually see a project like this in 3D to be actually immersed in some of these spatial time lapses. But the amount of data that's involved is so huge that you would have to do cloud rendering or something like that. They're kind of point cloud aesthetics in some ways, but also fleshed out in some ways that made it feel like it was actually volumetric. But yeah, a real poetic piece, I'd say. It's real relaxing and also a piece that is really encouraging you to see the same scene from multiple perspectives at the same time, which I think is also provocative when you're in this multi-channel video installation room that has different modulations of sometimes all of the screens go off and you'll have just one screen come on. And so there's a kind of a rhythmic nature to this installation as well.

[01:38:49.248] Pola Weiß: And maybe I can add that this was the only project of that kind at Venice. And I think, well, me personally, I would love to see more of this immersive installations, either with a story or as an art form or something at festivals, because it is part of the immersive tech spectrum. You know, it is part, even though it is not virtual reality with a headset, it is immersive and it is immersive installation. I feel that we kind of see those in the art world, like in museums, sometimes these huge installations at galleries and so on, and that we have all the other experiences at film festivals, and I would love to see them merge a little bit more.

[01:39:29.394] Kent Bye: Yeah. I had a chance to go to the Art Biennale one of the days for about eight hours and see a bunch of different art exhibits, and this would fit very well with the Art Biennale, but yeah, to see this more crossover between pulling in more of those spatial art projects. And also not having a required a ticket. So this was probably the most accessible piece in that sense where people can just drop by. Really happy to see a piece like that there. The next piece was Eternal Notre Dame, which is actually a location based experience that's been playing in Paris. But maybe you could set this experience up a little bit.

[01:40:02.155] Pola Weiß: Well, I think we all remember that evening when we got the news that Notre Dame is burning, right? Well, at least in Europe, that was a real, yeah, everybody screamed, especially for France. It was a really horrible evening, but whole Europe kind of was shocked. I don't know if that was the starting point of the project. I haven't spoken with the creators, but I think based on that experience, a lot of the fascination for the building is built on because I personally, even though I knew Notre Dame and I've been there, I only heard after that big fire how sophisticated the building was and how fragile as well. So the whole building process became much more interesting after it was destroyed, as ironic as that is. And there's experience of Notre Dame. I think it is a multiplayer installation on a huge space, probably in Paris. I don't know that. But it is already there for the public and people can enter it with virtual reality headsets as a little group. And I think what I like very much is that you are reliving the different episodes of the building process of Notre Dame. So the whole experience starts in the 13th century, so at 1240, I think, and it goes on until today during, well, you see the restoration process after the fire. So I think what they did really well was taking you through all these different historic points and historic phases without really having these big cuts or big breaks where everything changes. But it was a really fluent and really nice transition. from one period to the other. So I absolutely like that. And at the same time, you can go to places that either have never been open to the public during these last years or that are just not accessible. For example, you can like going really high in the building and see this window roses from very close. And I think that probably has never been possible in real life. So that is something I really liked. Saying that, I thought the whole experience was an educational one. So it was less focused on the story. It was more about telling you something about the building, about the creators, about the architect, about all the process of building it throughout the centuries. And that is something But I felt a little bit back at school. So I think that was also mostly probably the target group, like people have really wanted to learn about the building. And I would have loved to learn more about the building. But I didn't want to feel like be back at school someday. So I focused more on this great view, seeing the cathedral, seeing these beautiful windows of the church, looking at the surroundings. So and not listening too much. I don't know what did, but I thought it was a really, really nice educational experience. I just think it would have been good to communicate in a group or being there in a group. I was alone in Venice. We had to do that alone.

[01:43:02.728] Kent Bye: Yeah, seeing some of the screenshots, it does look like there's a group dynamic to this experience that I only experienced it as a solo experience. You know, when you go to different places, you sometimes want to just take a guided tour of a place and get a docent who tells you the story of a place. And I felt like this was like the most epic guided tour of Notre Dame you could possibly ask for because it's going back in time. So it's a guided tour through space and time. And I think actually the medium of VR is really effective at telling these types of guided tours because they're able to actually take you to what the church looked like through different periods. And so looking at the historic evolution, so I saw this as a bit of an archaeological record from an architectural perspective of how this building has evolved over time, which I found really fascinating. But also there's a whole other dimension of the symbols and the meanings of what each of the symbols meant in terms of You know, here's the different glass and here's what they're trying to communicate. Here's this area that you would not be able to go to. So there's all these restricted areas that you're able to go into that you wouldn't be able to go to if you were actually there physically. So I felt like the use of the medium of VR was really well used in terms of this as a guided tour. But you're right in the sense that it does end up having this kind of didactic educational feel. even though for me I just really appreciated going through all these different moments through a history. One of the aspects from a VR design perspective is that sometimes they would allow you to move around and then all of a sudden they would force you into a certain perspective. And so I constantly felt like I wanted to kind of just have my agency to look wherever I was looking, but sometimes I felt like punished by going to a certain place because then they would take me back to wherever they wanted. So there's a way of them directing attention to everybody even though they give you these big vast spaces to explore sometimes they would kind of revert you back at these different cuts and I found that that gave me a little bit of disjunctive experience because it was like interrupting my own sense of what I was chasing my own curiosities because you can still hear whatever the guy is saying of the tour guide but then they would take you to a forced perspective now i don't know what that would look like with the overall group experience maybe that would make sense like if everybody's like looking around but yeah i just found that a little bit of a disruption where i personally would have loved smooth locomotion rather than teleportation because i'm comfortable with that i feel like teleportation breaks my sense of embodied presence in a place and this is a type of experience that you really want to preserve your sense of embodied presence so not being able to move around with a smooth locomotion i thought was you know it's obviously more comfortable for most people but If there's different beginner, intermediate, and advanced users, if there's people that can self-identify, if they're used to VR, and to maybe not have everybody in the same bucket of those forced perspectives or one specific type of locomotion that they're giving the audience. Those were my feedback. I really enjoyed this overall though as a piece because I just really appreciated being able to take the most epic guided tour through space and time that I would never be able to have an equivalent physical experience because there's so much vastness of this architectural piece of history that they're taking me back in history and showing me how this place was also connected to different aspects of French history and the people that were also in this space, so.

[01:46:11.562] Pola Weiß: Yes, absolutely. I think as a solo experience, you probably would have wanted the exploration character a little bit more. making that possible to explore it more. For example, you are at one point in the church and they're coming like a lot of monks, I think, to pray. And you see that like, I think for 10 minutes, you see them, you're listening to your tour guide, and then you have to leave. And I really want to like stay a little bit, which in reality is not possible, because you're not allowed to be there. I was dying to stay there and finally see what it is to stay there during the whole mass. And I couldn't. So I was like, I wanted to explore a little bit more as you say that as well. But I think this is because it is meant as a group experience. Maybe they just need to do different modalities in the future. But I absolutely appreciate it because that is something for an educational content. This is something VR is made for.

[01:47:10.071] Kent Bye: So moving on to some of the different VR chat worlds, we have Uncanny Alley, which was a public VR chat world by Metarik that you kind of go through these different spaces that are inspired by different Metaverse novels. And so you go into different scenes, like the Black Sun is one of the rooms you go into, but also a lot of larger commentary around the corporate owned Metaverse, like You know, they have crypto avatar that's being let off because a lot of the cryptocurrencies are not allowed in a lot of the social VR platforms like VRChat, but also people running out of data and kind of more of these dystopic takes of surveillance and going through portals that are toilets. And so a lot of really poetic interpretations of this cyberpunk world. But your goal is to find this hidden character named Ghost. and then it ends up at the end that you actually have to go off to another website where Ghost is at because Ghost has escaped. When I did the tour, they were not doing the jump from one VRChat world to the more WebXR open web types of worlds, but I was able to see it after actually they they did bring it up on the screen afterwards. And then when I did it here at home, also going to the website that they give within the context of the experience, you can go to that world and see the completion of finding ghosts and interacting with ghosts there. But yeah, I'd love to hear any other thoughts that you have on this experience of Uncanny Alley, which is one of the three VR chat worlds that was in competition.

[01:48:38.777] Pola Weiß: Yeah, exactly. Well, I did the guided tour in Venice, so I didn't try it at home. And what I thought was really interesting, well, I was guided by the tour guide, right? And that evening I was really, that was my first evening, I think I was really hungry, thirsty. I came directly from my flight and I still kept falling off the world and they had to collect me somewhere. And it still got so soaked in that world that was really impressive, despite all these factors that probably would have done an immersion quite impossible, but it still worked. And I think from a storyteller's perspective, I think storytellers can learn really nicely what it means to tell a story through the environment. So environmental storytelling, because they are all these hidden links or these hidden signs where you have to go, what you have to find, where you can get some background stories in some computer screens or at some other places, you see some signs at the walls. And so that was really very well executed example, I think, of environmental storytelling. And therefore, I really liked it. But I think Without having the tour, I probably wouldn't have discovered so much by myself.

[01:49:56.080] Kent Bye: There are certain moments where you have to jump off a ledge, as an example, to find the underground hacker space. At least at that point, there's a thing that takes off. It's like a drone, but it leaves a trail for where you should go that takes you to the ending. yeah like it may have taken me longer or may have not discovered all the different aspects because you do have to look at the different posters and you have to read the different clues in order to know where to go next and so but it's a pretty small world overall but there are some moments where you have to take a leap of faith of jumping off a ledge to kind of find the next bit for where you need to go. But yeah, just a lot of posters and references to pop culture and videos and trailers that you can watch as well. And yeah, a good example of building out a world that's trying to tell a story. Like you said, I also was being led through this experience by the creator, and so that creator was able to tell me that story. But in the absence of that creator, then it may be more difficult to pick up on all the full nuances of a piece like this, because it is so much about you being taken through a place and kind of understanding all the clues that are embedded within the world.

[01:50:59.754] Pola Weiß: I mean, when do you jump through a toilet, right? All by yourself. I don't know.

[01:51:07.159] Kent Bye: All right. Well, the next VRChat World that's really focused on this sense of environmental design is Kevin Mack's Nama Unkui. So maybe you want to set up this piece, or you want me to, or did you see it?

[01:51:19.273] Pola Weiß: Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see it because I missed my spot and I didn't have time. So I'm really, really sorry.

[01:51:25.657] Kent Bye: Okay. Well, I had a chance to do it and did an interview with Kevin and Kevin Mack has done previous experiences called Blortasia and Anandala. And in those experiences, you're really transported into interacting with these different spatial art that he's created. His process involves communicating with these AI entities from the future, that he's had these almost like psychedelically induced, or sometimes not even using psychedelics, but this kind of induced virtual experiences that he's had throughout his lifetime, that he's in contact with these future entities, that he's translating those messages into these spatial art. And so he's taking Sumerian deities to create these different gods that you're interacting with throughout the course of this piece, but he takes you on a whole spatial journey that He's using his very unique shader style to build these different worlds. And it's really a transportive journey. Last I heard, he may or may not keep this up after the festival, but if it is available, highly recommend it. And be sure not to miss the opportunity to go underground to see the ice world and the whole lava world. Yeah, this real sense of vastness that he's able to create. But yeah, real satisfying spatial journey as you go through these. different spaces and you can interact with these boards and get visions and go into these psychedelic visions. So yeah, my episode 1120 with Kevin Mac dives much more into his own process and journey into creating this piece. So I recommend checking that out. The last experience in this section of an embodied environmental storytelling is Stay Alive, My Son. Maybe you want to set this experience up.

[01:53:00.241] Pola Weiß: Well, let me just, here, my notes. So I've taken quite a lot of notes on that one, because for me, as usual, I didn't know a lot about the experience going in. It is done by Victoria Bustis, and it tells the story of Yatai, who is an eight-years-old man. He's a father, and he's the author of quite a famous book of the same name, Tu vis Bramanson, or Stay Alive, My Son. It's also translated in German, I think, so I've seen some old books. And he tells the story of his family being imprisoned during the regime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, which, as we probably all know, was really a real horror at that time. But to be honest, I didn't know how much of horror it was before doing that experience. I would have honestly appreciated kind of a warning. And I think this experience was, together with two or three other experiences we already mentioned, one of the most outstanding experiences in terms of emotional presence or emotional involvement there. It is a very dramatic story. It is sixed off. It is interactive. And having that kind of a story told with game mechanics, I thought, at the beginning, oh, this is not going to work. This is turning into a game or something. This is not going to work. But it did surprisingly well. And I'm still trying to figure out why it did so well. And the thing is, I really like the beginning, maybe just let me tell the beginning, you're standing in front of a house, you just walk to the door, you ring the bell, you wait a little bit. So it's all feels like really, really real. And there comes an old man, he's opening the door and he's like, oh, hello. That's so nice that you're here. Welcome. So he's really friendly. He looks into your eyes. And then he's telling you something about a newspaper. So you're supposed to give him the newspaper. So in the first five minutes, you already created like three or four interactions with him, but really, really very natural, very intuitive interactions. And that already brings you very close to him. And during the experience, during some magic powers of a prayer, I think you turn into him and you discover his story and you relive his story through a very dream-like fantasy world. And even though you never see really violence, you hear it, you feel it, you relive it. And it is a really, really hard experience. And you need a break after that, to be honest, but it's also a very changing experience.

[01:55:33.641] Kent Bye: Yeah, I really appreciated the degree of innovation of storytelling forms that are contained into Stay Alive, My Son, because it is a dense experience. There's a lot that happens in this experience, and there's a lot of mixing of modalities in this experience. But like you said, there is these puzzle-like components, but it's more of gating the story rather than having to make too many choices. It's more of you get a key and there's only one key or there's one puzzle piece and you kind of do things one at a time. So it's really a linear experience in that sense. But through that linear journey, you're going through a real translation of what's being said in the story into a spatial architecture, which I think is a real key. Why I put it under the environmental storytelling, because there's a big part of this piece. It does have a quite big emotional impact, but there's a lot of interactivity and agency as you're moving through this as a piece you really get this sense of being transported into this symbolic translation of the story through this series of different places that are kind of like in one ways metaphorically representing the author's mind and then at the end representing author's heart as you go into this temple-like space. And so there's a lot of using of symbols in this piece of trying to translate into metaphors the deeper aspect of the story. There are literal aspects of the story, but trying to translate the feeling of the separation and this prison that's been created through all the horrors of this experience. And so it's also mixing together different aspects of spatial volumetric storytelling, but then in talking to Victoria, actually a lot of the creators were based in Ukraine. And so with the war breaking out, it actually was a big disruption for what this experience perhaps would have been without this war, without the disruption. So they kind of had to cut back into more of a 2D representation of some of those volumetric scenes that are in the context of a spatial realm. But each of these different moments that you're solving a puzzle or interacting with the piece, you go back in time into a memory and those memories are given to you through this process of the film. And so sometimes there was different aspects of things that were communicated in that that I didn't quite catch what was said. It was maybe either a little muddled, I didn't hear everything, or I could have benefited from subtitles, but there were certain aspects of the narrative that were in that story that I missed and I had to unpack with the director. So the overall experience of the piece was that it is a lot of stuff to digest and a lot of stuff to interpret and that there's certain aspects of cognitive load of how much your mind can really digest and process and because it is so innovative and trying to push forward different aspects of the story and the story ends up being through these episodic memories and you kind of have to piece it together and so if there's any one critique it's It's pushing the medium forward, but it could be sort of overwhelming for people as they go through it to digest everything that's happening within the context of the story. So that was kind of my takeaways. But in terms of innovation, I think this is probably one of the more innovative pieces that we have this year and really pushing forward what's possible with this translation of a story into a spatial architecture.

[01:58:34.869] Pola Weiß: Yeah, absolutely. I agree. There are probably two examples I want to add to what you just said. You're entering a prison, and there in earlier times when that was an actual prison, now that is all in ruins. And there were of course guards, and you don't see a guard because they are not there anymore, but you see at one point a smoking cigarette. So you really feel the presence of the guards being there. At the same time, you hear all the sounds, all the voices, also the guard's voice, voices of children and so on, that really adds up to a very, very rich environmental experience. And maybe from an emotional standpoint, that was one of the most emotional experiences I had in Venice together with the man who doesn't leave. Two very dramatic stories. It is about a very hard decision because maybe I can say that without spoiling the experience, the father and the author of the book, and his wife, they end up in prison, and they have two sons. And one of the sons, he has to do forced labor in the fields, and he dies. This is very dramatic. And you don't see that, you just hear that and get that a little bit. Well, you need to take your own conclusions at one point. And then they have the little son, and at one point, they are forced to leave him in the care of a lady who works in the hospital, I think. And this decision, me being a mother myself, is impossible to make. Well, I was thrown from one feeding to the other, would never leave my child there. But at the other hand, they knew that they would die a certain death when they stayed in prison. So leaving would be their only option to stay alive and help their son after a while. So there's impossible choice for a parent, really impossible choice, which would either way cause so much harm and so much pain. The director put me through that whole experiences of this feeling through guilt, through hope, through sadness and everything. And she really achieved that with unfolding all the memories you told us about. And I think that is really, really brilliantly done, because even though it is already in its core, a very emotional story, and it can evoke some emotions, telling them in a way that you really get the whole spectrum of emotion, the whole feelings all between guilt and love. is, I think, real achievement.

[02:00:57.100] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah. And I feel like this was a piece that would have been, at least in my short list of ones that could have very easily been in the top three, because I think there is a lot of innovations that's happening here. And it is, at the end of the day, a really powerful story that's being told. And I think, yeah, maybe there's other things that need to be cleaned up over time. And so looking forward to it getting out. And like I said, the production process was highly disrupted by the war in Ukraine. Well, that's all of the embodied and environmental stories. We got the last section here with eight more experiences. We have the mental and social presence. And so these are all the different either puzzle-like games or experiences that were asking you to read and focus on what was being communicated through the text or social presence of creating these group experiences. So Ascenders was like a puzzle game, but it was like more of a spatial adventure, an odyssey where you're going up a mountain And then you have two teams of two who are collaborating, but they're kind of competing at first, but eventually you're collaborating. And you're going to this top of this mountain, and it's really cool to go on the spatialized aspect of the journey. But the core mechanics of the different puzzles were kind of like, at a certain point, they started to get to be very similar, very same, and a bit repetitive for me, at least. And then in terms of the game progression curve, you kind of have this very easy, easy, easy. And at some point it just takes this quantum leap into being like really extremely difficult to try to like solve this group puzzle that I didn't quite understand how at the end of the day, that how we actually ended up solving it. Cause it takes a little bit of like communication and coordination for how to actually solve whatever puzzle. And I didn't understand what was happening. So I was confused and it kept repeating. And so it was like a frustrating thing where, you know, you have to do something on some order, but it's not exactly clear for what we were doing wrong. And eventually we just kind of like got it right, or maybe they had sympathy on us and they just let us go past. But we did make it to the end. It was also an experience where you have full body avatars. So you have this full sense of embodiment with other people. So you have a cohort that you're working alongside with, but also two other people that you're also collaborating with. And so there's a lot of like collaboration and coordination as you went through this journey. So I appreciated the spatial journey, but there was certain aspects of the experience that got a little repetitive for me.

[02:03:08.700] Pola Weiß: Yeah, I had the same feeling. And plus, I'm afraid of heights. And if you're afraid of heights, then I was grabbing the shoulder of my co-players. And he was a little bit confused by that. Because I was like, oh, I'm falling off. I had a lot of fun. Like in Peaky Blinders, I had a lot of fun without putting too much focus on the story, to be honest. But I think what they did really well was giving you this kind of pressure, because you see a very, very big wave coming towards you. And what I would have loved is to have like some in between clues or something, how close that danger is, you know, because I already, well, I knew we don't have a lot of time. So I was pressuring you to like, go, go, go, go, we need to do that. We need to do that. And after a while, I like, okay, the wave is not here yet. So okay, we have time, you know. I really love those arcade games. It's really classic arcade game where you can enter with a group of friends. I think that that makes a lot. And I think COVID really had an influence on those kind of games in terms of that they couldn't make their revenues seem that they expected so much. So I really appreciate it having such a game appear in Venice and I hope to see more again after COVID or now. during the next COVID years that we can, despite all the challenges, see more of those arcade games. Because that was, before COVID, a real great way for us as retailers and creators to actually have a revenue stream, or kind of a business model.

[02:04:37.578] Kent Bye: Yeah, this would be a great LBE escape room type of experience to do with your friends.

[02:04:42.719] Pola Weiß: I mean, it is, because it's the same company that did Eclipse a couple of years ago, and I think they were quite successful with that.

[02:04:49.649] Kent Bye: Yeah, Black Light from Paris. Yeah, the next puzzle type game was Mrs. Benz, A Voyage of Discovery, which was the story of the wife of the founder of Mercedes-Benz, Mrs. Benz, Bertha Benz. So she goes on their world's first road trip and she takes her husband's car. And I think in this piece, there's a lot of puzzle-like mechanics. So you end up having to put together this car. which helps you understand the underlying mechanics of how the very first car was built. So I think there's a good parity there between the motivation for the puzzles that you're solving and how it's connected to the overall narrative. It's not always true that the puzzles you're solving is connected to the narrative, but in this case I think it does have a nice tightly coupled correlation. And I think the other thing that really stuck out to this piece was the degree that they had done the environmental design of this workshop that just was really fun to look around and to pick up different clues about who these different characters were based upon what kind of artifacts were laying around in there and just getting a little bit more flavor They also had a really amazing reconstruction of an archival film that doesn't exist of a moment of Mr. Benz crashing this car, something done completely in VR, that had a really great look and feel but was able to really transport you into this moment of the early days of creating some of the first cars. Yeah, a lot of stuff that is set up in this experience and talking to the creators, they actually have a lot of plans for telling more of the story in other media. So a film and a podcast and other types of transmedia integration. So I feel like this is a good introduction to this overall world of telling the story of Mrs. Benz. But I feel like there's also quite a lot of the other aspects of the story that have yet to be told. And I'm looking forward to how they tell those other aspects of the story and other media as they continue to expand this out into the podcast and the film.

[02:06:41.791] Pola Weiß: Okay, that makes sense. I didn't know that they were planning with other parts of the bigger project that makes absolute sense, because there you have like an interactive spatial part, where I can actually play through the whole key scene, I'd say of the whole story of Mrs. Vance and the vehicle, and then have the great content and probably a documentary at another time, if this makes sense. I really like that. But I think it is more for people who are in VR, who are virtual reality beginners, because you get told every piece of the puzzle where it has to go. So it is quite easy if you're used to playing some virtual reality games. So I was done, I think, in 15 minutes. It was fun. But I think if I were like doing it for the first time, it would have been much more fun for me because it would give me, like you say, it's visually stunning. It is really well done. It's really well executed. It's one of the perfect experiences I'd send somebody who hasn't done yet so much virtual reality. I'd set them in and tell them to do that. It's a great introduction to virtual reality and what that medium can do.

[02:07:47.127] Kent Bye: Yeah, in terms of the puzzle, it's much more of a linear experience than that. You have a lot of handholding in terms of what you need to do next. I took a lot of time to look around the space and not always pay attention to those clues because I just wanted to take in what they had done with the world. But yeah, you kind of solve the puzzle and you do get to take a little bit of a ride on the car, which was fun as well, and then see the ending part. Yeah, it's an experience that, like I said, there's much more of these characters that are very interesting that I think we'll get more information about them in other media because here you're embodying Mrs. Benz and you hear all the information about Mr. Benz is coming through the voiceover and the interactions that they have. more in her head or with the environmental design. So I feel like having a film depiction of this will get it a little bit more flavor in terms of the larger dynamics. This is more about you being embodied into this time and place and understanding that moment and then the other media will be able to flesh it out a little bit more. But going on to another experience that maybe had a little bit more medium to intermediate puzzles would be Treasure Heist by Finns. So I don't know if you had a chance to do this and make it to the end.

[02:08:53.398] Pola Weiß: No, I did the first half and then I got motion sick, unfortunately, because I'm not used to so much locomotion. And I think it's an experience really, really beautiful. I was really stunned by that whole world. But it is a multiplayer puzzle game. I think we can say that or it has those elements. And it probably would have taken me two, three hours to play that. And I did the tour. So the tour had to do that in one hour. And they were really rushing from one point to the other, which is fine. But just because it was so quickly, I got motion sick and had to leave after 30 minutes. Unfortunately, I'm so sorry. I would have loved to see the ending.

[02:09:31.462] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think there's going to be more parts of the ending once you do get to the ending, but our session got started a half hour late and we were still able to get through all of it in 45 minutes. But with a lot of help from Fens, who was the creator who was there, it would have taken easily two to three times longer had he not been there. But yeah, I feel like when talking to Fens, he said that there's balancing the difficulty of puzzles is really difficult because the VR chat audience is so much more advanced in the type of puzzles they want versus the type of puzzles that more of a cinematic or passive audience, people that aren't used to as many different escape routes or puzzles. So. Had I been alone or with VRChat audiences, it would have taken a lot longer than 45 minutes, probably at least an hour and a half or two hours to get through it. And then maybe we would have potentially gotten stuck on some of them because that is a little bit more difficult to know what the puzzles were. But there is this blending between solving the puzzles and getting a little bit of spatial narrative that's unfolding and different things that are happening with the main guide of this experience who ends up being a little bit more scared and kind of like the first one to kind of run away when something difficult happens. And so, yeah, just different ways of telling this larger story in the context of this space. So, yeah, I have an interview with Fens that impacts it more, but it's available as a VR chat world that you can go check out. And I think there's actually going to be the final part that's more similar to his magic heist world, which is a ride that takes you on a more of a spatial journey to end it up. But I think he's still working on that and maybe we'll have that ready by the time that rain dance comes around.

[02:11:02.272] Pola Weiß: Oh, that's so cool. Yeah, I love the ideas he had, like putting little hats on sculptures. They were some really great ideas. And I was really sad that I had to leave. So I'm looking forward to do that in my time, but longer, I think.

[02:11:18.024] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's the Holoport locomotion, which is different than the smooth locomotion. I think they had everything by default on smooth locomotion and that can make people motion sick. So I've personally gotten used to it and I prefer it, but I understand that other people, it is a motion sickness trigger. So sounds like that might've been your case. But let's move on to Type Man, which is an immersive theater piece. Maybe you could set this piece up.

[02:11:39.928] Pola Weiß: Well, Tapman is, let's say, very simple, but very cute story about walking tap right up. And it is a multiplayer experience as well. You get to play a little bit with the other players. And it is also an experience with a live actor. So the person who is playing the Tapman, is actually a live actor in the space, which makes it very special. And this combination actually I haven't seen so much because he doesn't speak. He's interacting with you through gestures and also some sounds and he gives you things and he kind of guides you, but he doesn't speak with you. And every experience I've seen so far with live actors were something where the people were able to speak with each other, with the actors and vice versa. So I thought it was really unique in that sense. And it brought a very interesting way of communications because we all knew it was live and we tried to interact with each other. And I was talking the whole time, but I knew that nobody could hear me, only people standing around my little virtual reality booth in Venice. And it is about reality theater. It is quite nice done because there are different chapters and you start the chapters with typing. Well, it makes sense, right? And you don't know what the name of the chapter is. You just get the letters and then you need to type the letters in the right order, which is kind of a little cute game. And I really like the idea to involve you as a visitor into the start of a new chapter while writing it, you know?

[02:13:16.801] Kent Bye: Yeah, from the group that I went in, there was people that would just push the buttons without knowing what the word is. And so it was, I knew what the word is and I was trying to type it out, but then someone else would put a wrong letter in. So you still could progress even if you had the wrong chapter name, but. For me, this was a piece that was very much like you said, like this immersive theater actor who's guiding you through this whole piece. There have been previous pieces that have not had speaking like Scarecrow that was at Sundance, which had a VR chat translation. So there have been other precedents of having immersive theater actors that are relying more upon the embodied movements. But in this piece in particular, there's a lot of text and a lot of words that are happening in this piece. And so I guess some of the other themes of this piece that I picked up on is just way in which technology evolves and it gets obsolete or deprecated and so what does it mean to embody one of these technologies that are on the edge of being deprecated and how do we use these technologies to communicate to each other through letters and creating a group social dynamic experience where you are able to kind of engage with these media that is maybe of another time and place. You know, when's the last time you received a typewritten letter, for example. So you have the experience of receiving some of those letters and what's it like to receive a communication like that. So I really appreciated that. And also the ending of this piece, having a way in which that they have these typewriter buttons that then become these percussive elements. And so then it ends up in this multi-layered dance scene where you're able to participate in the music that's unfolding, but also builds up and builds up and builds up into, finally comes up into this musical climax. And so I thought it was a really effective way to end a piece like that. So there was a dimension of feeling present with the other people, but also engaging with these technologies that are on the road to being more antiquated or deprecated. So another piece that I think was really focused on this sense of social presence was the Gumball Dreams, the immersive theater piece, which was based upon a world by Screaming Color that the Ferryman Collective adapted into this immersive theater piece that has, at least when I saw it ahead of South by Southwest, three audience members and then one main actor who is playing this alien queen. And The thing that I thought was the new and innovative part of this piece was that you kind of send off two of the audience members to go solve a puzzle and then there's an opportunity for the alien queen to have these one-on-one interactions with whoever is left behind. So you have this opportunity to kind of really connect deeply with a character and that's sense of a larger story that's being told. And yeah, this world by Streaming Color has all these really amazing shaders and this great immersive music, and it's a really transportive world within its own right. And then to kind of translate that within the context of an immersive theater piece. So yeah, I'd love to hear some of your reactions to Gumball Dreams.

[02:16:11.197] Pola Weiß: Well, I didn't do it this time in Venice. I have done it a few months ago, I think when they had the national US premiere. And I had the same feeling. So we were three people entering and two were, I don't know, getting lost on the way. So I was the only person staying inside the experience. So I had a little bit more than just one one to one experience. And it was really remarkable, because this one to one experience, they not only playing something at you, like you've probably have seen in other experiences, and other immersive theater experiences, or virtual reality pieces, but they asking you personal questions. And I think that's a bit the point. And All that while being in a worldwide pandemic where you don't see so many people, where you can't talk with so many people, I felt it was really powerful that somebody asked me some, I don't remember really the questions, but they were really personal. And it was my choice if I wanted to lie or just telling some fantasy stories, if I wanted to tell the truth, I decided to do kind of a mix, telling something really personal, but leaving the details a little bit to the fantasy. for feeling safe there in that space. And that really gave me a very, very strong bonding to the story. And at the same time, it was a bit silly, because having this deep connection with the story, but it's at the same time a really funny story. And it has like these playful puzzle games. So this created a really interesting mix of feelings, because I was involved, like ready for having like this really deep, dramatic story. And then It was a really fun and nice story and I absolutely enjoyed it being there. But I went through a whole mix of feelings and then that was interesting. I think this way of working together with the audience has also the potential of telling more dramatic stories.

[02:18:05.005] Kent Bye: Yeah, and just in terms of the process of them being able to put this on, I saw them at South by Southwest and did an interview with Deirdre Lyons and Screaming Color. And then here at Venice, they actually had each of the rooms had a screen so that they could actually be communicating through a back channel via Discord to be able to communicate additional information for what was happening with each of the different people. evolving their own processes for how to run a live immersive theater piece while being co-present with them because most of the time they either weren't co-present or they don't always get a deep insight as to what they're seeing or doing and so to be able to see the level of coordination that they were having this year from the setup that they had with these different rooms with a TV screen and everything. So it'll be interesting to see how that may be able to have them help evolve their own process as they move forward to keeping tabs of each of the different people that are doing this experience. So yeah, an immersive theater piece by Fairman Collective, they've been doing lots of different experiments. And so, yeah, like I said, I saw this ahead of South by Southwest and also didn't see it here, but was able to get a little bit more context of their latest innovations and insights as they were showing it there at Venice. there's a social experience called mandala a brief moment in time maybe you want to set this experience up

[02:19:19.248] Pola Weiß: Well, I'd like to compare it with Gumball Dreams because it's also multiplayer experience. It has also life actor in it and you have to work in teams to get through the experience. In Venice, it was a really, really beautiful installation. You entered a really nice room and you had quite a good onboarding experience with a voice telling you what to do. You had to put your stuff down and the voice told you how to put on the headset and so on. That was really well done. Then you entered the experience and It was a little bit hard at the beginning to know what you're supposed to do, because there was no tutorial, no introductions, no hints, nothing. But it worked after the end. But it took us some time to figure it out. While in Gumball Dreams, you always had this host who guided you around and told you what to do and where to go. So that was an easier start. And I think it's very noticeable that the whole experience is about a very famous Chinese tale, where all the big questions of life are asked. What is life? What is the sense of life? What is death? And so on. It is also, I think, based in Buddhism. So it is quite far of what my daily life experience is. And I liked the mechanics. They were quite simple game mechanics, but they only worked when everybody was into it. So you have different colors. Some people chose blue, some red, some yellow. And you had to work together to make it work and to unfold the story, which was cool. It felt like a really classic escape game, and I liked it. And then came the live actor. And that was a surprise because I didn't expect him to be there. And this kind of overwhelmed me a little bit because I had to take attention to the actor. I wanted to interact with him. And at the same time, I had to solve these puzzles and also to take care a little bit of the other people that we didn't jump into each other, which we didn't because we had our separate booths. But you don't know that in reality, right? You're still like, oh, where am I? And we also had to communicate with each other to solve the puzzle. So for me, it was a little bit of a stressful experience to figure out what was next, what to do. And I have to admit that I didn't pay so much attention to what the live actor, who was really good, told me, because I was still thinking in my head about all the different ways of the puzzle. Where am I? And what are the other players doing? We had one person, he had really trouble with the tag. So we were constantly trying to help him to move. And so he had some issues with his whole setup. So that was a little bit of a stressful situation, but I think it could work very, very nicely. But I'm not sure if I really needed the live actor aspect, which was really great in a way, but it overwhelmed me. And yeah, it was a lot to play through.

[02:22:08.137] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm not sure if it would have worked so much without the live actor because the live actor was really facilitating a group discussion. At least when I saw it, there was a lot of ways that the story was being told through asking questions and really facilitating questions around suffering and happiness and hungry ghosts and living the good life. And, you know, eventually you're presented with a moral dilemma at the end that does require all of the colors participating in a certain way of making a choice. And so there's this choice that I talked to the creator and there goes into three different possible endings that you could have based upon the group dynamics. But for me, the main gist of this experience. I mean, there were some puzzles at the beginning, but the main thrust of this experience, for me at least, was that group discussion that was being facilitated by this Monkey King type of character, or the Monkey Thief character.

[02:23:02.170] Pola Weiß: That is so interesting, because we didn't really have that. But he tried that, of course, but we were all a little bit, I think, because the beginning was a little bit stressful, and we were already over time. So we weren't so chatty. So it really depends on your group, I think. And if I imagine that doing with a group of friends, or a group of colleagues, that would be really interesting to see also to interact with the live actor.

[02:23:27.790] Kent Bye: Yeah, there was a lot of questions that were being posed and there was at least two or three people that were very vocal and kind of reacting to whatever is being posed. And so it was like a group dynamic, at least from my experience of it. But if you get a group of people that just don't want to talk, then you could very easily miss out a lot of those deliberative discussions that happen. Also worth mentioning that this was a social VR experience that was not on VRChat. It was actually on Vast World XR, which is a social VR platform by Eddie Lau and his company, Sandman VR. So for me, the sort of technical aspects that I had, like I could hear my voice whenever I spoke, like echoing in the background. And so it kind of took me out of the experience of speaking just because whenever I would speak, I could hear myself and it was also kind of distracting that way. But yeah, for me, this experience is really focusing on trying to create those group dynamics and social experiences. And so Yeah, but whenever you go through these experiences, you're really up to whatever the dynamic of the people that you go in there with. So that's at least my experience with Mandala, a brief moment in time. And I have an interview with the creator to be able to unpack some of the other dynamics of the creation process of this piece as well. There's another piece there that was called All Unsafe Progress Will Be Lost. This was a really poetic piece that for me at least it had a real big emotional impact at the end. Ways of building contrast of small spaces and large spaces but the experience of this piece by and far was that you're reading this emotion text that is coming out and it's designed as a psychological horror where you don't know exactly what's being talked about until the very end and I'm not going to spoil it here in terms of what it's about, but it's a really effective way of building and releasing tension. And for me, at least by the end, flooding you with all these messages and the impact. I don't know, I really was emotionally moved by this piece. I just thought it was a really effective way of using the medium in really savvy ways, of very poetic ways, but also environmental design and sound design and just the way that it had a certain look and feel that then changes and morphs by the end. The way that the spatial architecture, the way that moving into monochromatic expressions and the sound design and having that payoff of meeting the monster as it were as you're being slowly introduced to whatever this invisible monster may be you get introduced to this invisible monster and it's really a visceral experience by the end of it.

[02:25:54.616] Pola Weiß: Yeah, true. I was surprised how well it worked because the mechanic is simple. There are words and letters appearing in front of you and minute by minute, you discover more of it. And at the same time, you have this whole dreamlike environment around you and changing, and you see some animals and some plants and everything changing. But at the end, it really makes sense. And that was interesting how simple, but how effectful the mechanic were, I think.

[02:26:22.922] Kent Bye: Yeah. And we have two more experiences. One is Poets Room. So maybe you want to set up Poets Room.

[02:26:28.805] Pola Weiß: Poets Room is a story about a writer, a poet, and he's telling a little bit of his story and at the same time you hear the poets. And as much as I adore having finally poets in virtual reality, which really I'm missing so far, I think, it was kind of hard to follow it because it was in the original language, Korean. they subtitled it, but the subtitles were like in the middle of the screen. So I would have loved to dive more into the story, but I couldn't. And I think in terms of poets and all that playful use of words, a good translation would really be needed and also voiceover. Other than that, I thought it was a really nice experience, really well told about how he meets his love and so on. So that was really nice. I love to follow it. I thought it was well done. There was just one thing that threw me out of the immersion was that I didn't have a clear role as user. So I was, for example, flying through a window or going through a wall or things like that. And I know that they were intended by the creators. And for me, they told me again and again that I don't have a role here and that is not the real world. And I didn't know if that was what they wanted me to feel or if it was just me being so focused on having a role somehow in virtual reality. So that was an issue I had during the experience. But otherwise than that, I really love it that they're finally coming some poetry to virtual reality.

[02:28:04.621] Kent Bye: Yeah, for Poets Room I would have, this is one of the experiences that I would have benefited from watching a second time just to be able to catch the stuff that I missed because there were some times where even the subtitles were white and then they were on the background of a white alley that I had to like move my head up to be able to read or sometimes I'd be looking the wrong direction and I would miss a bit of the dialogue that was happening but Yeah, kind of reflecting on the life of a poet and what's it mean to digest all of your life into your work, into your poetry, and to capture the essence of what it means through these series of different moments in your life. And pretty cinematic, pretty normal, but then at the end they translate into more of a poetic reinterpretation of this person's life. So I feel like the culmination of this as a piece also leverages some of those more metaphoric aspects of trying to spatially communicate different aspects of that poetry by the different phases of his life as you go through. So yeah, there's a bit of an impression that I would need to again watch again just to get the full aspect of it because there are moments that I was looking in the wrong direction, which I think speaks to like the need for having subtitles like more in three different spaces. So you can feel free to look around or if you're looking not in the right direction, you can still catch what's being said, but then trying to find where the main action is happening. And yeah, again, a type of experience where the narrative is being transmitted through what's being said rather than what's being shown. I mean, there's some reflection, but sometimes if you miss what's being said, you can miss different aspects of the story. So I felt like that was certainly happening to me a number of times in this experience as well. And the final experience that we can talk about is Okawari, which maybe you want to set this experience up.

[02:29:42.580] Pola Weiß: That was an interesting one, because it was one of the big installations in Venice. And I don't know if some of the listeners remember Umami that was there, I think, I don't know, 2018, 2019, something like that, also done by the same team. And And it was a very, very interesting experience at that time with a very surprising ending, a very emotional one. And I kind of expected the same thing. So I went into that experience. It is a whole restaurant, they built a whole restaurant in Venice, which is amazing. You get greeted like, hi, you have a reservation, give me your name, please. So you have to give your name, you're guided to one of the tables, and then you get your headset on. And the whole experience is about eating, which I love because I went in hungry. But that was really great. And at the beginning, you're like, oh, I can eat sushi in virtual reality. I have my hands and so on. That's great. But very soon you realize that it is not about the food you're eating. It is about something else. Your name appears at one wall with the other names who are in the room. And there starts kind of a race. It is a real competition. Who's going to eat more? So you start after a while, you really start to get to order everything you can, to eat everything you can, to be as quickly as you can, because you kind of develop that ambition to win that thing. And I thought that was quite depressing because I've seen that it is super, super simple, right? You just open such kind of a competition by putting the names on a wall and it is done in fitness apps, for example. So this is super, super easy. But having that in an A certain experience at a film festival was new to me, and I loved the effect of it because we had like a little bug. The names on the wall weren't our real names. They were the names of the waiting list, but still it worked. So that had a really strong effect. And at the end, there is like a branching. Sorry, you can decide two things. And I think we can tell them it's not a spoiler, right?

[02:31:41.428] Kent Bye: Yeah, go ahead. My experience broke, so I was able to not see each of those.

[02:31:47.722] Pola Weiß: There were some bugs, that's sad, but I made it to the end. And I could choose between staying in the beach house and eating whatever I want, being at a beautiful beach, which I chose. And going back, I don't know what the question was.

[02:32:03.136] Kent Bye: It was a mindful eating experience.

[02:32:05.318] Pola Weiß: Yes, exactly. Having a mindful eating experience, which was then I think we can say that you got like kind of a tour of somebody who told you how to really experience how to eat a raisin. And I think that was quite nice. And we had these two endings. And after that experience, the creators ask you if you want to stay and hear some facts. And that is honestly when real experience starts, because they're doing like a whole of a presentation about environmental impact in the immersive tech industry. And that was interesting because, well, it was only loosely related to the experience I just did. Of course, you eat in the reality, you eat so much, you exploit all the resources. And finally, the world breaks down because you exploit the resources of what you have so much. So there were, of course, a relation. But still, it was like the meta level, what they told us about. And that was very interesting, because after the experience, everything what they really wanted to tell us started.

[02:33:11.648] Kent Bye: Yeah, I went to this experience twice, actually, because the first time it had broken and then I went through it again because I missed a lot of the first part of the VR experience. But then it broke again even before the first time it broke. So I had a frustration there with the VR portion of that as an experience. And there may have been something with my own like Wolfgang Pauly and the Pauly effect where he walks into a room and all the physics equipment breaks and they named a whole effect after the Pauly effect. There may be a Pauly effect that I have on some of these experiences but yeah i'd say this experience is in two parts the vr part and then the more didactic teaching part and the didactic teaching part i thought was really effective because they really break down what they did with how they built the installation which was with a lot of recycled materials that were locally sourced from that area and just to hear about their process of how they built this restaurant kind of creates the motivation for why you were eating in some ways but also to get this experience of overconsumption because they turn eating into a game and you just kind of mindlessly keep eating. The challenge for me, at least, is that I didn't get to see the full conclusion of what they were trying to do with the choice. You know, you could either have a metaverse experience or when I did the mindful eating, I could hear the directions of what I was supposed to do with the mindful eating, but the mixed reality portion of that was broken. And so I didn't get to see what they were trying to do with the VR part. But I would have liked to have seen one a little bit more of a direct connection between what they were doing with the eating and the points. and how that tied into the second part, because I don't know if they would have done that within the context of the experience, but try to really bring home this experience of overconsumption. Because I had the experience of doing it twice, but still kind of being left with, okay, why did we go through all that again? And then even when I did it the second time, some sort of thing had broken, so we actually did it for like 10 or 15 minutes longer than we should have, and so it was just like, got a little repetitive. Some people got up to like 10,000 points, which I don't know if most people get that high. But my experience of the eating was that there was a lot of bugs where it was like I was trying to eat, but then if you don't eat it just right, then it sort of either falls to the floor or you don't get the full points of it. So there was a little frustration with the actual mechanics of the eating portion, but I appreciated the second part, which was them unpacking all these different dimensions of talking about e-waste of the XR industry. of how the technology is changing so quickly but you know it takes all these resources to even build these things and so what's it mean to have these planned obsolescence of all these gear that goes out of date within a few years and then what happens with trying to recycle all those so yeah and just trying to talk about their carbon footprint so they were trying to get information from each person that's coming in where did you come from and then trying to calculate the best they could a number for what their carbon footprint is just for that experience to be able to do research on that front as well. And they made a whole presentation there at Venice, and I didn't get a chance to talk to them there, but I might get a chance to follow up with them after the festival to get a bit more context as to some of their findings that they found in terms of how to be the most sustainable as they were doing projects like this.

[02:36:10.483] Pola Weiß: Yeah, it's a whole huge research project. I think it was only the tip of the iceberg that we saw in that experience.

[02:36:18.548] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, I think that's all of the other experiences. Are there any other shout outs that you want to make for anything else that you saw? Because I know there's the College of Biennale or the best of selection there.

[02:36:28.092] Pola Weiß: I just wanted to say that although we couldn't talk about the Biennale Palais project, I thought they were really, really strong this year. More on the art performance side, less on the story side probably. But I think it's always very important to see them too and you look at them because I found, especially Elela, a very nice idea using the hand tracking and turning it into an interactive art installation. And those kinds of ideas were really nice. Chroma 11 Well, it broke. I had this radiation vibe as well, so I broke the headset. But it was a very touching love story of a couple. And one of the two men died of HIV, which was really hard to see and hard to see the process. And it was really an emotional story. And Mono was also, well, it probably was the most narrative experience of everything. It was the story of a young woman who has to find her way to accept herself as she is and how she looks like, how she walks, how she feels in her body. So that was an interesting journey.

[02:37:38.425] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, I really appreciated the way in which that chroma 11 used the documentary video to help set the larger context for the spatial version because I feel like there's a lot of that story that is told in the film medium that you watch the short film and then you get embedded into different volumetric captures using the depth kit technology but being able to take a scan lined interpretation of those volumetric spaces and you're kind of zooming in and out of them in a way that I thought worked well but I think if I would have just only watched the VR portion without knowing the deeper context, it wouldn't have hit me as much of knowing the deeper story between these two dancers that were really collaborating with each other. And Alele I loved. I have a brief conversation with the creator just using hand tracking to really create this deep sense of embodiment and a surprise twist at the end. as well. And then the Mono Eleven, yeah, just a kind of a simple spatial story that is kind of also playing with color in different ways, creating contrasts to be able to tell the story that they're telling there. And one other shout out that I give is the Miracle Basket, which made its rounds across the different festival circuit. I hadn't had a chance to see it, and I was really pleasantly surprised of the contrast between the punk-like aesthetic of something that looked very low-res, but included this really deep story about our relationship to the world around us. And so really appreciated both the storytelling and the music and the overall spatial experience of Miracle Basket, which was a surprise that I found in the best of. Yeah, they had the 10 other experiences that had been out and about in the festival circuit, and we don't have time to really dig into each of those. And then a whole VRChat worlds gallery, which, you know, if I were to give some shoutouts to a couple of creators, it would be Dr. Morrow and his Olympian Knights, as well as his organism, Both worlds are pretty mind-blowing in terms of worlds to kind of go into this open world exploration, but also Fens with his District Roboto, Magic Heist, and in the competition, the Treasure Heist, and some of the different worlds that Fens is creating. And I had a chance to talk to Mike Salmon to do more of a deeper dive of some of the different experiences that were created in that other VRChat worlds. But yeah, there was a lot that was going on this year at Venice, and I'm glad that you were able to see the other competition pieces and for you to take the time to help break it down. today. So thank you.

[02:39:52.603] Pola Weiß: Thank you so much for the invitation. Maybe we can have a little conclusion at the end of what the trends were this year.

[02:40:00.280] Kent Bye: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

[02:40:03.949] Pola Weiß: I think what was really remarkable at the whole exhibition this year was that the interactive experience became kind of normal. In 2019 and pre-COVID times, it still was very in separation between the linear experiences without interactivity and with some experiences with interactivity. And they were separated between like gaming experiences and experiences that are very linearly told with some, a little bit of interactive moments. And we didn't have that at all anymore. They integrated just 360 experiences into the whole exhibition, which was really well. And all the other layers of interactivity just became very normal. So I think that is one of the trends we saw this year. And another thing is that, of course, the social and multiplayer aspect was really a huge focus of this year's exhibition. And I absolutely expect to see more of that. That was also very interesting. And I think what you can also see is that virtual reality storytelling is really out of its infancy now because it becomes harder and harder and harder to bring something new to the picture because so many has already been done. And it's more about doing what has been done even better than inventing some new ideas. They are still there. And that still is very interesting. But it becomes harder and harder because there are already some established ways of telling something. And you can clearly see that. So in the next years, I'm seeing less of innovation in terms of storytelling, maybe on a technical level, because there's coming a lot interesting hardware to the market and during the next years. But that is, I think, something we have to expect that it's really more about the story and less about focusing how to tell the story anymore, because there has been so much done.

[02:41:51.786] Kent Bye: Yeah, for me, there's a lot of COVID era projects. So a lot of projects that people started work on because of COVID, they couldn't work on other projects. And so that was a theme that I heard again and again from other creators that may be coming from other backgrounds, like maybe other film projects that they possibly would have been working on, but they got shut down. And so they moved over into working on XR projects. And so that was a theme that I heard a lot from a lot of creators. When I look at the different qualities of presence of like active presence, mental, social presence, emotional presence, and embodied environmental presence, there wasn't a single experience that really tied each of those different qualities of presence together. I feel like this year was maybe taking two of those qualities of presence and combining them in unique and different ways. but oftentimes if it is really focused on the embodied aspects that maybe the story was a little bit lacking, or even something like Eggscape, which was one of the winners, it has a lot of actor presence and you feel embodied, but there wasn't necessarily a lot of story there. And so to really focus on one axis of innovation, of really pushing what's forward, something like Stay Alive, My Son is something that's really innovative, but then some aspects of the story get a little bit muddled because it becomes so overwhelming in some sense. But yeah, encouraging that level of experimentation and innovation, because in order to push the grammar forward, that means that the creators have to take risks. And then sometimes it may or may not land with the audience, or maybe it takes time for the audience to really catch up with some of the different stuff that's happening. So yeah, just seeing that this year was a really solid selection this year, it was like, difficult for me to say, OK, these are going to be the clear winners. It was a pleasure to watch once. And for me, I was really struck by the 360 videos this year that were really, really strong. And I'm happy to see that actually was one of the winners. The man who couldn't leave was, you know, for me, one of the most emotionally impactful stories that were told. in all the different innovations of the language of the medium to see that it doesn't have to be done in CGI, but there's real power in being able to see human faces and the emotion that actors can bring to a performance, especially with All That Remains and the way that the actors were able to take that experience to a whole next level of recreating this kind of one-on-one immersive theater interactions. and yeah just overall just each piece having the real strengths and trade-offs between each of them they're really doing different things and sometimes it's a really short and sweet story that's really well told and how do you necessarily compare that to something that's so vast and expansive and really experimenting and innovating in different levels of the medium. And so I don't envy being on the jury this year. And May Abdallah said how difficult and how many battles there were. And I can only imagine just having a chance to kind of unpack everything here with you. There could be good arguments for at least four or five of the different experiences for how they could have been in the top three very easily. And it's difficult to know.

[02:44:34.140] Pola Weiß: Honestly, it is so hard to do a virtual mixed reality experience these days, especially during COVID and knowing that it's still a big issue of distribution and making money with it. So we can only thank each and every creator that do that and that they tell us those incredible stories.

[02:44:54.022] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. So thanks for taking the time to make the trip to Venice and, uh, break down each of the pieces in the competition. And, uh, yeah, I, I ended up doing around 23 interviews or so, maybe a few more. So about half of the competition experiences, I'll be unpacking their own journey and their experiences, and hopefully they'll be made available at some point for folks to check out as well. Cause like I said, it's a really strong selection this year and really showing the potentials of immersive storytelling. And yeah, thanks for taking the time to help make sense of it all with me.

[02:45:24.675] Pola Weiß: Thank you so much.

[02:45:26.537] Kent Bye: So that was Paula Weiss. She's a funding advisor for the median board, Berlin Brandenburg. And that was a discussion of all the different pieces and competition. Hopefully we'll get a chance to at least see some of these projects either on the festival circuit, or if you don't, then hopefully this will be a bit of a documentation. I also had a discussion talking about the art of reviewing immersive art and immersive entertainment, and I prefer myself to be in conversation and dialogue either with the creator or with other critics just to bounce off other ideas and to have it more as a conversation. happy to be able to have this kind of dialectic to explore all the different pieces that are in this year's selection and some of the other college biennale as well. We didn't have time to go into each of the individual VR chat worlds. I have a more extended conversation with Mike Salmon and some of the other pieces that were featured within the best of selection I've either covered before or maybe at some point dig into a little bit more into a Twitter thread. But, like I said, there's a really strong selection this year and really difficult decisions for the jury to have made. Like I said, there could have been very easily four or five other experiences that could have made it in the top of the selection. Just a really strong selection. It's really about what you're focusing on, what you're valuing within an immersive experience, and to what degree each of these different pieces are innovating in different ways. So I'll be digging in more into 20 plus interviews with different creators and other people from the XR industry, from Venice to kind of unpack much more detail for each of these different experiences. So look forward to that over the next couple of weeks. So that's all I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Vistas 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 listener-supported podcast, and 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 for severe. Thanks listening

More from this show