Adventures in Vive [07] — Cut Off {review}

Famed director Chris Milk became an early VR adopter in part because of its unique ability to be an “empathy machine.” Last month’s entry from Vice no doubt had that strength in mind.

Cut Off seeks to bring you into the world and thereby plight of two Canadian indigenous peoples who lack contact with mainstream society, basic resources and for some, hope. It is subject matter that would have tugged at the heartstrings as a flipbook.

Where the story was great, its execution exposed current flaws in narrative VR.

First, after you become accustomed to the layered depth that game engine generated environments offer, 360 video simply falls flat. Looking out onto goose littered vistas or finding yourself in the middle of a majestic garbage heap offered some degree of presence. However, in the majority of scenes where people or other objects were focal points in the foreground, the magic was lost.

Another issue was perspective. You found yourself as either a god’s eye hovering 10 feet above the crowd or reduced to a lilliputian speck peering up at giants. I suspect this was not the director’s intentions, simply the limits of a Jumpcam on a stick.

Finally, narrative VR has a frenemy in cuts. I’m sure spending 11 stationary minutes at a community center would have felt pretty un-VR but teleporting from place to place without warning was equally so. Unfortunately, reducing the stage of most stories to roomscale is as possible as telling War & Peace in a tweet. I’m eager to see how this challenge is solved over time.

The Verdict: Although this experience felt more like a planetarium movie than VR, please watch it for the content and then email Justin Trudeau on behalf of First Nations.

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