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Hackernoon logoStorytelling in virtual reality by@ursushorribilis

Storytelling in virtual reality

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@ursushorribilisMiguel Rodriguez

Life is about stories, and humans have been keeping their memories since times immemorial. It started in the caves with paintings in the walls. It moved to churches with their stained glass windows. Our parents had Polaroids. Our kids have Instagram. But now Virtual reality is coming and it is going to change the way we keep our memories.

Story telling in Virtual Reality is in its infancy. As with all new mediums when they first appear we have just taken our existing media and projected it in virtual reality. Just as the first filmakers used to point the cameras to the theater stand and film what the actors were doing, we are taking our cameras and projecting photos and videos in virtual reality. But with time new ways to tell stories in virtual reality will appear.

How telling stories in virtual reality is different

Our media has been constrained to a two dimensional world until now. Our screens, our newspapers and our TV’s all project flat media. Virtual Reality frees it up and allows it to be immersive. The first words of most first viewers of virtual reality when experiencing the media usually are: “It feels like being there”. Reactions to the images are much more emotional. People get sick with fast motion videos, and horror stories filmed in 360 are more, well, horrific. Immersive photos of places and of memories trigger deeper reactions than when seen in a normal screen.

Most common first words of first time users of virtual reality: It feels like being there!

But story telling in virtual reality is much more than just getting out of the way when taking a 360 degree shot. The way we experience media in our screens today is like going to a museum and analyzing every painting in detail. The way to navigate a story in Virtual Reality is more like when kids run around the playground. They explore their surroundings discovering at their pace the puzzles of the story that is like a hide and seek game.

At Weavr we use a generic way to enable this kind of exploration. The story creator can choose to add either static or interactive elements within a 360 degree immersive environment. Static elements can be used to explain details of the environment. We support transparent bitmaps which allow for the creator to choose any form for these elements. Interactive elements are like hyperlinks that transport the user to a new environment. We call this navigation “Teleporting”, because it is how it feels.

Our first take aways at creating interactive VR stories

We have created some interactive stories using this format. We are using the “Orb” analogy that has been made popular by some films. This navigational orb object in the shape of a sphere that projects a preview of the next scene. The story creator can also select to show a text with a description to that target scene.

The story creator needs to find the right balance of freedom for the user to choose and flow of the story. We have experimented with several kinds of stories:

Linear stories, akin to a slide show but with 360 content. We experimented with multiple time settings and 10 to 15 seconds per slide seems to be a good value. It allows the viewer to look around while not being startled by the next scene showing up too soon.

  • Navigational stories. These are the stories where we use orbs to navigate among other parts of the story. We learned it is better to wait a few seconds before making the navigational orbs visible in the story. We also learned that using too many orbs can be confusing to the viewer. It is better to stick to a “Red pill vs Blue pill” analogy.

The video below shows the screencast view of a user in VR navigating such a story.

The video shows a navigational story based on the Romeo and Juliet story by William Shakespeare. It was created using 360 static images taken in the Italian city of Verona and shows how the user can select orbs to teleport to different parts of the story. This allows the user to select her own path while viewing this story.

An important lesson we have learned while experimenting with these stories is that the user needs guidance and a way to exit back to the main menu. While the orbs do provide some visual feedback as to where the story is going, the viewer needs to know if she has already viewed that branch of the story. Otherwise the viewer will be confused. And the end of the story needs to be clearly marked so that the viewer understands that the experience has reached an end.

Main takeaways

  • Storytelling in Virtual Reality must not be linear
  • The user should decide which parts of the story to explore
  • Reduce the effort of the viewer by moving her to the next part of the story automatically (Slideshow)
  • Limit the number of inflection points and make easy to understand what will happen if that path is taken
  • Provide a clear signal that the story has reached the end
  • Allow the user to “bail out” of the story at any time.

If you are ready to try storytelling in virtual reality check our viewers for Oculus Rift and Vive here.

If you want to experiment creating stories in Virtual Reality use our editor here

If you want to view an immersive linear story from Florence use this link

We are looking forward to see how story telling in Virtual Reality will evolve. Feel free to share your ideas with us in the comments section

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