26 Mar 2015

This interests me mostly because I’m on a VR kick.  I’ll admit that to some extent, VR cinema is a little gimmicky.  But VR is also young, and the way artists are getting around its limitations is very compelling.

For instance, in Catatonic, the artists are able to create a live-action, immersive VR film by confining the viewer to a wheelchair in a mental hospital.  Characters then walk up to and interact with the viewer as though they are unable to speak and move.  The experience also features a prop wheelchair viewers sit in, which jostles the viewer along with the film, adding a physical force to the virtual world.

There isn’t a lot of live-action VR cinema yet, and even now, there’s still a lot of limitations.  Directors are trying to figure out what sort of experiences these headsets are able to deliver, and how they can paper over such issues as the viewer not really being able to move in the scene.  Last week, I spoke to a group of students at the ETC who were also trying to create live-action, VR cinema, and the lack of natural movement or interaction options for the viewer limited the kinds of stories they were able to tell.  Some scenes they settled on included a petrified office worker being talked down to by a boss, and an invalid confined to a wheelchair — just like Catatonic.  I found this article interesting because, like the ETC group, they are clearly trying to experiment with the capabilities and limitations of VR storytelling.

I don’t really know if I can critique it, since I haven’t seen it.  But it’s interesting to me that no one’s experimented with creating 3D cinema with user exploration.  In theory, light fields will allow you to do this.  Light fields are kind of hard, but I have to imagine that a well-calculated demo could be arranged.  So much of VR, particularly live-action VR, requires being unable to move.  I’ll be interested to see what’s possible once that restriction is lifted.  I’m also interested in seeing what kind of interactive elements are possible in live-action cinema.

The film was created by MPC, a digital cinema/special effects company.

Leaving is a “video game” created by Thomas J. Papa, and follows the player saying goodbye to loved ones in an airport.  Papa says that it should be seen more as “digital theatre”.  The game is structured into 3 acts, and uses interactivity to tailor the experience to the user and make it more personal.  Ultimately, Papa’s goal is to use the medium of the game to capture one of life’s more emotionally compelling and confusing moments, demonstrating the power of games outside of traditional industry applications, and the potential of non-traditional narratives.

I really like the aims of this project.  I think the choice of moment is excellent, and that it’s admirable to try to demonstrate that video games are able to take on emotionally compelling material, especially with a scene that is so slow and straightforward.  I worry that the scene might run into an uncanny valley issue, where the characters are weird enough that the user is never drawn into the scene the way they are stage theatre, but I don’t know how much of a worry that really is.

Papa’s work draws inspiration from traditional games, which are generally made with a financial application in mind and with very traditional narrative/interactivity.  Papa hopes that, by showing subtle, emotionally-charged stories that can be told through video games as well, demonstrating the full potential of the medium.