Spatial Storytelling in VR

360 video has quickly emerged as a primary way to create immersive content, wowing us with first-person perspectives of sky-diving, backcountry skiing and other death-defying stunts. It is important to remind ourselves that VR and AR present a much richer set of possibilities and some of these can be far more effective at creating immersion as compared to the passive stereoscopic experiences of 360 video that is limited to looking around.

Player agency is key to enhancing immersion. Games, conveniently, are fundamentally interactive with every choice dictating what happens next. Creating effective narrative experiences in VR and AR is tricky since giving the player more agency often comes at the expense of storytelling control. Exploring ways to get around this limitation presents a truly unique creative challenge.

Hospital ward at Alcatraz

Alcatraz’s audio tour was an unlikely inspiration for us at Whamix in our attempt at tackling this problem. The self-guided audio tour brings alive the prison cell blocks in an incredibly visceral way. Yet, the audio doesn’t set a pace or interfere with one’s free exploration of space. Similarly, it doesn’t dictate a sequence for the narrative and one can wander out into the yard to explore before re-entering a different part of the prison.

Inspired by our Alcatraz experience, we recently released “Emily’s Playground” for iOS and Android. Developed for Daydream, it takes an unique approach to spatial storytelling in VR.

The experience is best enjoyed standing up so that you can look around the yard in any direction. Markers are spread around Emily’s backyard, similar to audio cues at Alcatraz, and players can navigate by simply clicking their Cardboard while looking in one of these directions. Each marker contains a piece of narrative audio and adds another puzzle piece to Emily’s story.

Download for iOS App and Android.

Marlee recording dialog for Emily

Please check out Emily’s Playground and let us know what you think. Were we effective in presenting an alternate narrative format for VR storytelling that is organically tied to space?

Hopefully VR will continue to evolve before creators and viewers prematurely settle on what the format means — that at this moment at least is largely driven by what can be done at scale rather than what is creatively possible.