“BUILD AN INTERESTING NARRATIVE. CAJOLE THE CLIENT INTO THAT WAY OF THINKING. YOUR EXPERIENCE NEEDS DIRECTION AND THOUGHT, AND MUST GIVE USERS VALUE”
which follows Lt. Jim Downing through the attack using HTC Vive. Similarly, Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel (for the Oculus Rift) is a powerful account of war-torn Dublin in 1916, created by the BBC, Crossover Labs and VRTOV, which uses a distinctive geometric animation style hinged on the idea of reconstruction, a well-crafted narrative and plenty of haunting eye contact. But creating emotive 360° content needn’t be sombre or incredibly high-tech. To see how powerful and infectious positive energy in VR can be, just watch the BBC’s YouTube360 video of Leicester City fans celebrating their Premier League win in a humble pub.
“Build an interesting narrative,” says Visualise’s Stuart. “Cajole the client into that way of thinking. Your experience needs direction and thought, and must give users more value than just looking around.” In December 2016, Visualise worked with The Financial Times on Hidden Cities: Dublin, a 3D 360° video inspired by the gruesome Emerald Noir crime fiction genre that has emerged in Dublin since the recession. The film was produced for an FT microsite, Facebook and YouTube. In the film, the FT Weekend Magazine’s associate editor Natalie Whittle explores the darker side of the city with award-winning crime writer Tana French, who discusses the places that have inspired her book. It was a complex shoot – the sweeping cinematic images in low light were shot on a custom-built 3D (stereoscopic) VR rig based on two Sony A7sII cameras with modified lenses, whereas external shots and several time-lapses were filmed using a Google Jump rig. “It’s not a very good advert for Dublin at all,” laughs Stuart. “It’s a brave move for Google too – you’d expect them to want to pin restaurants, but here we have graveyards and Poolbeg power station,” he adds.
NOT JUST A TECH DEMO
Although tech demo-style VR rollercoasters and race tracks have been done to death and are, thankfully, mostly behind us, the idea of the demo shouldn’t be abandoned all together. The immersive nature of VR makes it an excellent education tool, whether you’re showcasing a new product or using VR as a documentary medium. To launch Jaguar’s I-PACE car, REWIND collaborated with creative agency Imagination to create a real-time multiuser social VR experience for press and VIPs over two continents. Using 66 connected HTC Vive Business Edition headsets, REWIND developed an environment where users in LA and London were able to interact with each other, and then beamed in live video of a presenter talking through the car’s innovations. Built in Unity, the experience involved 3D film content and live video (including the designer demonstrating the design process using Tiltbrush), and interactive elements where each user could pick apart the engine to see how it worked. There was, of course, a VR test drive – something integral when your prototype car is so precious no one can touch it. The PR buzz around the launch was phenomenal, but REWIND also launched a light version of the experience to Viveport (the app store for VR) that night, so anyone in the world could experience the fun.
THE FUTURE OF STORYTELLING
The end of 2016 saw some canny acquisitions (The Eye Tribe by Oculus, and Eyefluence by Google) that hint that eye-tracking will be a big addition to VR in 2017. As well as allowing you to shoot lasers out of your eyes, the technology will be a big boon for navigation. It will also be huge in terms of understanding the psychology of a user – the gamer that frequently looks at a weapon, but doesn’t pick it up, for example. “The reality is that it’s adding another interactive element to VR,” says REWIND’s Sol Rogers, who has worked on projects for FOVE – the first real-time engine VR platform with eye-tracking, which is expected to have a consumer launch later this year. “Plus, for marketing exercises, we can track where you’re looking, what your
eyes rested on, and for how long.” Another benefit is what’s called foveated rendering – the tech that FOVE is named after – where only points where the eyes focus are rendered at high-res, giving a 4x performance boost. This makes high-quality, wire-free VR a real possibility.
But the star of the show has to be mixed reality. “I have said rather boldly that mixed reality is the biggest tech advancement since fire,” says Rogers. “It’s the first thing that augments human intelligence where I can add in as much education, knowledge and training that I want.” The implications on training and creating in 3D are huge – think complex surgery or 3D modelling – as is the ability to see products like a new kitchen unit or sofa located in situ before you buy. Asobo Studio, a French studio that has developed games for the developer edition of Microsoft HoloLens agrees. “Speaking as a marketing person, I’ve never seen anything like it in terms of involvement,” says Asobo Studio’s communications manager Aurélie Belzanne. “It’s not the same as VR. Imagine you are able to invite your favourite star into your living room, and have them perform a song just for you.”
The games that Asobo Studio has created for HoloLens aim to show developers what can be achieved with the new technology, which features 12 sensors including four environment understanding cameras. Fragments is a life-size first-person crime thriller set in your living room, whereas Young Conker features cute characters that race around the room. “The magic part is being able to read your environment,” says Asobo Studio founder Martial Bossard. “Knowing a table is a table and how to react to it is the path where no-one has succeeded before.” Bossard’s advice to those that want to explore this exciting new media is to build acclimatisation time into your games, work iteratively and adapt quickly to new paradigms. “Normally, you show the player what you want them to see, but here the user can look anywhere, not necessarily where you want them to. You need to tease them to look in the right place and be flexible with your storytelling.” In mixed reality, as with VR more generally, the sky really is the limit, and the rules are as yet undefined.