This year, the oldest film festival in the world, Venice Film Festival, decided to wholeheartedly embrace VR and dedicate an entire island to it. The festival came to a grand finish this weekend and I was lucky enough to spend much of last week experiencing dozens of high quality, creative VR experiences. There was an emerging trend I observed that feels specifically relevant to publishers – episodic VR content. The length of these experiences feels just right for individual consumption - and then as further episodes are released, a richer story develops for audiences to get stuck into.
Here are my episodic highlights to help with your own VR creation inspiration...
The Argos File
Directed by: Josema Roig and Joshua Rubin
In the year 2034, 1.6 billion people have a brain implant called the MNEMO that allows them to record, relive and share their memories. The MNEMO has reshaped how people interact with each other, their lives and their pasts. The Argos File puts you in the role of a Memory Investigator for the Neuro Crimes Task Force. It is your job to solve murders by entering the memories of the dead.
The piece I saw was the first part of the entire series that is to come – the full project is currently in development as a co production between Spanish VR innovators Future Lighthouse and Argos VR.
Episodes released in the future will include more interactivity, including intuitive controls so you can rewind, pause, and fast-forward the memories. Placing the user in the role of ‘memory investigator’ is not only an a smart re-casting of the headset device itself, it is also a brilliant example of going for ‘storydoing’ over storytelling.
Directed by Edward Robles
Dispatch is the latest VR project from LA-based industry trailblazers Here be Dragons. The crime drama mini-series is based on extensive research into the lives of police dispatcher officers – the people who respond to public 911 calls for police in the US. In the first episode of four, which premiered at Venice, the audience see a gripping, suspense-filled story unfurl involving gun crime and infidelity. Our protagonist, 911 dispatch officer Ted, finds himself in a situation where he is the only one able to help the victim. The story is tough going, however the simple geometric animated graphics do what a novel does - they let the audience fill in the blanks with their own imagination, while also making the overall experience less gory.
The graphic style is also the crucial factor in actually making it possible to tell a story. As I have explored before in this column, storytelling is very hard in VR. However, director Edward Robles has cracked it. The overall style gives the audience’s brains just the right amount of information to process the story. Unlike many other VR experiences, viewers are not overwhelmed.
Directed by Nicolas Alcalá, Manddy Wikens and Rafa Pavón
This CGI VR piece, also by Future Lighthouse, is another sci-fi, set in in 2026, where the world is fast becoming uninhabitable due to climate change. Anaaya is a world leading Inuit scientist, appointed by the powers-that-be to find a planet that humans can migrate to. Melita is a human-like robot with advanced AI who is sent to help Anaaya on the task.
I saw episode one of three, which focuses on their search for a suitable alternative planet, the relationship between Melita and Anaaya, and a very drastic decision that our AI, Melita makes.
Although Melita’s target audience isn’t specified, it feels the series’ best audience fit will be female YA. Not only is climate change an important issue for this age group, it will also be exciting to see a main character as a world leading female scientist. The world needs more STEM role models, and it needs more women getting into VR. This project addresses both challenges.
Episodic content is a broader content theme that extends well beyond VR, and into podcasts, streaming TV and, of course, book publishing. For VR the approach speaks to a range of unique challenges the medium faces right now, like ‘how do we get audiences to come back?’ or ‘how do we address viewer fatigue around maximum length?’. And if you put VR, books and episodic content together, a whole range of exciting new opportunities could emerge.