I had a chance to talk about storytelling in VR with three of the co-founders of Oculus Story Studio during Oculus Connect 3. Saschka Unseld, Maxwell Planck, and Edward Saatchi were showing off a preview of their third VR experience Dear Angelica as well as their immersive storytelling tool of Quill, which enabled them to create a VR narrative experience entirely within VR.
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They all emphasized to me that it’s still very early days of figuring out the unique affordances of virtual reality as a storytelling medium, and that Oculus Story Studio is still doing quite a bit of experimentation. They were in agreement in believing that it’s likely going to take a long time to figure out what narrative in VR looks like, and that it could be another generation before VR finds it’s true form.
While I agree that VR storytelling is still very much within a Wild West phase of development, at the same time I do believe that there have been a lot of solid lessons learned about VR as a storytelling medium that I’ve covered on The Voices of VR podcast. At the bottom of this post is a Top 50 List of Voices of VR interviews about storytelling in VR where the list is broken up into the following seven categories: the language of VR storytelling, interactive storytelling, multiple perspectives and empathy in storytelling, social storytelling, world building & environmental storytelling, plausibility & presence in narrative, and audio.
Some of the key discoveries that Oculus Story Studio made with Dear Angelica are first of all that changing scale as an effective way to evoke different emotional reactions. They also discovered that stopping and scrubbing through time was a very compelling experience that allowed audience members to have more control over their pacing through an experience. They also developed a unique “Quillustration” aesthetic that is like a lucid dream that’s trying to mimic how memory works. Perhaps having tools to create VR stories within VR will provide new narrative devices for how stories will be told in VR.
Saschka defined the essential components of a story in VR as simply having a beginning, middle, and end, and this broadens the scope of what could be classified as a narrative within a VR experience. Edward says that it often feels like they have the “dead hand of cinema” hovering over whatever VR storytellers do within a VR experience. The target VR demographic right now is so familiar with the film and video game mediums that they are bringing a whole set of expectations that impacts how they consume and receive VR narrative experiences.
Saschka was also really cautious and skeptical about creating stories that have branching narratives with multiple endings. He interprets multiple storylines as a sign that the author may not know what he/she wants to say, and this blocks his process of cultivating a personal connection with the content creator.
We also had a wide-ranging discussion about narrative vs interactivity, and the balance between creating authored stories versus balancing the amount of control a user has within the context of their sandbox of interactivity. Oculus Story Studio is made up of a lot of filmmaking gamers and so they cited a number of 2D narrative games as inspiration including Stanley Parable, Papers Please, Tacoma, Virginia, Gone Home, LMNO, and Façade. In the end, they imagine that VR experiences will be like the Holodeck in that it’s social, it’s a game, but it’s a movie.
We’re still quite a ways away from having a widespread consensus on where VR storytelling is going, and Oculus Story Studio will continue to try to find that sweet spot between authored narrative and the sandbox of interactivity.
Top 50 Voices of VR Interviews on VR Storytelling
THE LANGUAGE OF VR STORYTELLING
- The Four Different Types of Stories in VR (292)
- The Language of Cinematic VR with Google’s Jessica Brillhart (291)
- Storytelling in VR: Ambiguity and Implication in 1st Person Narratives (339)
- Pushing the Language of Cinematic VR Forward with ‘Sonar’ (296)
- “Pearl” is an Emotionally Powerful Story about Selfless Service (415)
- Ted Schilowitz on Bringing VR & Interactive Storytelling to Hollywood (439)
- What Broadway Theater Can Teach VR Video Production (380)
- Oculus Story Studio’s Quill: An Immersive Storytelling Tool (467)
- Storytelling in Virtual & Mixed Reality with SPACES (374)
- John Gaeta on ILMxLAB & Immersive Storytelling (294)
- AI and the Future of Interactive Drama (293)
- Storytelling in VR & the Tradeoffs of Empathy and Interactivity (290)
- Using Code as a Canvas for Living Stories (411)
- Sequenced & the Challenge of Interactive VR Narratives (396)
- Interactive Storytelling Triggered by Gaze, Kevin Cornish (349)
- “Luna”: A Deep Game, Narrative Puzzler about Recovering From Grief & Trauma (438)
- Cracking the Narrative Code of VR with the Interactive Documentary Genre (407)
MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES & EMPATHY in STORYTELLING
- Rose Troche on the Vulnerability of a 1st-Person Perspective (286)
- Situational Knowledges in VR Narrative: The Role of Place & Perspective (408)
- Nonny de la Peña on Immersive Journalism, Empathy, & VR storytelling (6)
- Building Empathy with a 360-degree Video about a Sexual Assault from Two Perspectives (242)
- Nonny de la Pena on Empathy in VR (298)
- Empathizing with a War-Torn Family in ‘Giant’ (342)
- Group Explorations of User-Generated Worlds with VRChat (318)
- What Dungeons & Dragons Can Teach Storytelling in VR (441)
- Telling Stories with Improv Acting in ‘Mindshow’ (420)
- Wizard of Oz Narratives: Puppeting Virtual Characters with Improv Acting (409)
WORLDBUILDING & ENVIRONMENTAL STORYTELLING
- Alex McDowell on World Building in Storytelling (309)
- Building Storyworlds with Lawnmower Man’s Brett Leonard (406)
- Explore the Psychological Impacts of Solitary Confinement in ‘6×9’ (287)
- Embedding a Story within a Place with ‘Obduction’ (432)
- Denny Unger on the Future of Non-Linear Storytelling (462)
- The Principle of Embodied Cognition as connected to the Environment (Episodes: 412, 469, 375, & 73)
- Designing Google Earth VR: The Overview Effect & Finding Common Ground (475)
- Walk Through a Vincent van Gogh Painting with ‘The Night Cafe’ (259)
- Walking On a Virtual Tightrope Across the World Trade Centers (345)
- Using Magic to Create Astonishment with The VOID (299)
- Beyond Room-Scale: Exploring Infinite Worlds with THE VOID (284)
PLAUSIBIILTY AND PRESENCE IN NARRATIVE
- Rob Morgan on Narrative Design in VR & escaping the uncanny valley by implementing interactive social behaviors in NPCs (125)
- ‘Rick & Morty Simulator’: Making Narratives More Plausible through Interruption (433)
- Betty Mohler on Social Interactions in VR, Uncanny Valley Expectations, & Locomotion in VR (129)
- Richard Skarbez on Immersion & Coherence being the two key components of Presence (130)
- Mel Slater on VR Presence, Virtual Body Ownership, & the Time Travel Illusion (183)
- Technolust’s Cloudstep VR Locomotion & Adding Social Behavior Scripts to NPCs (237)
- Ross Mead on designing social behaviors & body language for virtual human avatars (56)
- Job Simulator and the Magic of Hand Presence (315)
- VR Time Perception Insights from Filmmaking & Cognitive Science (379) + Time Dilation (363)
- Audio Objects for Narrative 360 VR with Dolby Atmos (398)
- OSSIC & 3D Audio as the Next Frontier of Immersion (399)
- Rod Haxton on VisiSonics’ RealSpace 3D audio licensed to Oculus & their Audio Panoramic Camera (124)
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Music: Fatality & Summer Trip