Method Studios

Virtual and augmented reality - the next generation of storytelling

22nd Jan 2016

Written by

For countless millennia, in fact since the beginning of mankind we’ve been telling stories. Stories passed down from generations, from the believable to outlandish, fact to fiction. Mediums ranging from rudimentary drawings and campfire stories to books, radio, film, TV, gaming and now online. Stories are a fundamental part of our culture, they convey who we are and what makes us human.

But what form will our stories take in the future, how will we communicate and experience those past events or fictional places others have dreamed up?

With the announcement that Facebook’s consumer ready Oculus Rift is almost ready to ship and the Samsung Gear already in the market, plus the multitude of other virtual reality devices and the recent breakthroughs in fight field technology from Magic Leap the future of virtual reality (VR) and AR is looking bright.

Back in the 80s was the first real attempt at full immersive virtual reality, and you may think that this new generation of VR and AR will be just another flash in the pan. But there are a few good reasons why this is the time for VR and AR.

As you can imagine, the resolution and hardware were just not ready for such a demanding task back then. However that’s all about to change. We are now at a point where technology has caught up with the challenging task of producing believable 3D imagery in high definition and with almost 0 latency (a key to feeling like you are actually there). Silicon and sensors are now so tiny that we can almost hide them anywhere. The proliferation of cloud computing allows us to now offload computing power to warehouses in the desert.

Not to mention a bucket load of venture capital that’s been thrown at this industry. With Magic Leap just recently securing it’s second round of funding taking it up to almost a billion dollars. All without releasing a single product.

But having this amazing new media platform is nothing without the storytellers, artists, and engineers. Who will be the next generation of storytellers and how do we tell stories in this new medium? It’s a totally different experience from lying back on the sofa and watching a movie or the latest episode of Game of Thrones. It’s slightly closer but still just as far from shooting your way through the Halo universe.

How will we tell stories, how do we keep attention focused on certain areas in a scene? Or do we even have to? Do we need to move from the traditional movie scripts and predefined paths to more open environments? Where users interact and reveal the story in their own way, choosing their path and whether they look or interact with things that interest them.

It seems counter intuitive to throw out everything we’ve learned from writing to cinematography and game design, but disruption isn't always bad, disruption forces us to stand back and take a look the entire picture.

A classic example is how to portray a conversation between people with the feeling of dynamism and interest. In film we decided cut scenes with close-ups, mid shots flicking back and forth was a perfect way to articulate this.

In VR we can’t achieve the same effect without our users throwing up or feeling totally disoriented. We have to rely on them being at the right spot to see the reactions and focus on the details themselves. Every experience is different, but on the flip side every experience is personal.

I think as we get our AR and VR legs we’ll discover that there will be certain techniques that’ll work well and a bunch that won’t. We’ll discover that our stories don't have to be linear and that we’ll learn to embrace the unpredictable. Stories that work as a book or movie will need to be completely different to be effective in VR.

Imagine a scenario where Harry Potter doesn't just exist in the third person but we in fact became Harry. Our surroundings are still the same but using augmented reality our day-to-day life has been injected with the world of Hogwarts and magic that is indistinguishable from reality. Our friends and family are those of Harry’s and changing with every interaction. Not just a personalised story but also one that’s richer, more realistic and ultimately more engaging.

Regardless the medium, stories will continue to be told. The platforms we choose to tell them on have just become wider.