To show something stunning, the physical world may not be enough. An alternative is a new autonomous reality — virtual (VR) — and already in it you can create and live anything.
VR-reality has its own stories, and they also need to be invented by someone. We plunged into the topic to find out the rules of storytelling for virtual worlds.
How VR helps you dive
Just say: virtual reality should not be confused with augmented, AR. Catching Pokemon on a smartphone takes place in AR, but a complete immersion in the artificial world in special masks or helmets is already VR.
When you watch cartoons or movies, sometimes it seems that the hero on the screen is you. And the fact that he lives, responds like a native. At Pixar, this is called the Pixar moment — but essentially it’s just a moment of total immersion that can happen in any story. VR helps to achieve this result.
The principles of a good story in VR
Creating stories for VR is such a new direction that a couple of years ago it was not even singled out as something separate.
Specific discussions on this topic began in the mid-2010s. In 2018, Adobe tried to figure out whether storytelling in VR is possible at all (spoiler: possible). And in 2019, at the VR Days Europe festival, VR storytelling was already discussed in a separate program.
- Set frame stories
One action in a good VR story is not enough: so you need to start with plotting.
The plot is the backbone of the story, and in VR too. Then he will be selected by characters, design, interactive elements. The structure is like any simple story: plot, climax and denouement.
In the beginning, there is always an introductory part — it explains what is happening in this virtual world. So the viewer gets used to the environment and understands what to do next.
The plot is better not to complicate: if you give a person the opportunity to manage the development of events, then minimally. For example, you do not need to come up with 20 options for how the viewer answers another character to the question — it is better if they are simply “yes” or “no”.
Interactivity should not interfere with the plot. Each interactive element needs to be made meaningful: if in a VR story the conditional “stick” should not shoot, then you should not give the opportunity to do it.
For example, in the setting of the Bonfire VR project there are a lot of objects, but you can interact only with those that are needed in the story. There is a spacecraft — it can be controlled, there is a robot — you can play with it, and then make it your assistant.
Putting a point is also important. Without the end of the story, the user will not be able to feel that he has achieved something along with the heroes.
2. Create a megarealistic setting
Most of the information in VR is given by the picture. Therefore, it is important to think through the colors, brightness and textures that are relevant to the story. All this will help form new sensations — those that are different from the real world and “turn off” it.
In the fitness service for VR Supernatural, space is everything. Imagine that instead of a boring gym, you are standing on the edge of a canyon and breaking stones flying at you. Emotions are different, and muscles are pumped in the same way:
3. Help get used to the role
The experiences in VR are like ours, because you watch the story in the first person. The maximum empathy for your character is included.
PETA used this feature in the Eye To Eye project. Together with the rabbit, you are first in a beautiful forest, and then in contrast the picture changes to a landfill, cage, laboratory and slaughterhouse:
There are already many such examples. VR is used in the training of palliative care physicians so that they understand how terminally ill patients feel. And for corrective work with aggressors, giving them to stay in the place of victims of violence.
VR not only teaches, but also entertains. For example, you can give a person a new superpower — for example, the ability to fly.
4. Make sound part of the plot
Sound in a VR story is needed for voice acting of heroes or inanimate objects — like music in the background or a voiceover that reveals the plot. The story in VR can be revealed with a minimum of graphics if the audio is good.
For example, in the Blind VR game, a player plays the role of a girl who wakes up in an unfamiliar house and realizes that she has become blind. We have to focus on the sounds, the narrator’s voice and the outlines of objects:
Musical accompaniment is also important. The same Supernatural already bought the rights to the songs of the labels Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group, so that users can play sports for their favorite tracks.
5. Adjust the pace
In VR, it is important that a person “settles in” in a new world — he has nowhere to rush. He needs time to understand what to do and get used to his role and the picture around. Do not customize it or immediately throw it in action.
But you can do without a long introduction in VR if the viewer is already familiar with the plot: for example, saw a movie or read a book, knows the characters, was in this place.
In the promo for the cartoon “How to Train Your Dragon” with VR, you had to make a person want to go and buy merchandise. The introductory part was not made long, because the audience already knew the plot and heroes — they were immediately given a walk inside the cartoon:
From a sharp change of frames can rocking, like in a car or on a boat. Therefore, we need respite — stops and pauses in the course of history, especially after dynamic scenes.
In the end, it is also better to do without sudden stops. It is important to pause: let the moment of celebrating the finale last longer — you need to focus on it. When the story is over, the viewer can still stay inside the picture — until he gets tired and he himself leaves VR.
6. Draw to important points
In a 360 ° picture, it’s hard to keep your attention on one thing. Therefore, it is important to clearly show where the key objects are. This can be done with a voiceover or prompts — sound, flashes of light, directional arrows.
Sometimes it’s not enough just to draw the user’s attention to something inside the VR space — it is necessary that he simply does not have a chance to not see something. It is enough to put another hero in front of him: eye-to-eye contact will not allow attention to dissipate.
Here are some more approaches to focus on important points:
Slow down the picture before key events. Movement will resume when a person finds the desired object and looks at it.
Rotate the picture so that before your eyes there is always an important object.
Set a permanent pointer on the side of the screen where to look.
Make unimportant objects static, and important ones — movable.
VR storytelling in development
The main principles of storytelling in any area remain the same. VR is no exception.
In a good story there will always be a hero, his circumstances, enemies (or simply obstacles), the goal and the price that he is willing to pay in order to achieve it. In VR, it’s the same plus extra complexity: the story is created in an artificial space, which the hero settles in each time in his own way.
If before, VR storytelling seemed pretty basic — for example, regular YouTube videos adapted to VR, or the first Oculus VR projects that were adaptation of shooters, now these are deeper stories.
The creators of VR stories build on the six principles that we have already talked about. But each landmark project expands or clarifies them. To keep an eye on this transformation, read niche titles like VRScout, VR headings on Techcrunch or Fast Company.