Earlier today Oculus announced Story Studio, its in-house production team dedicated to producing virtual reality movies. We’ve been seeing VR narrative experiences for years at this point, and while they’ve been getting more and more impressive they’ve still been iterative steps forward. Despite how much we’ve all wanted to it to happen, nothing has stood up, raised its hands, and shouted "I’m the project that proves this crazy thing could actually work."
The sound and credits are key; my first thought was this actually feels like a movie! That was enough to get me excited, and then I started to hear the buzzing and chirping of the forest. That’s when I turned around and realized I was actually there.
Now, the sense of immersion isn’t new to Lost. Anybody that’s tried the Rift knows the feeling, but the use of credits and music played off my preconceived notions of what I was watching. My brain triggered off them, informing me it was a movie, and then that movie seemed to spill out across my entire field of view. The imagery, while not photorealistic, took advantage of being animated to overcome many of the resolution problems that can plague other VR demos.
The hand slowly pulled itself into my main field of view — the movie does still suffer a bit from the staginess of some VR in that there’s clearly a cleared space ahead of you to direct your field of view — but I was so charmed by what was happening that I hardly noticed. The hand flexed its digits, poking around, clearly in search of someone. Its owner. A red sensor wagged like a dog’s tail, a Pixar-like touch that gave it a sense of adorable personality.
THE IMAGE GOT BLURRY — I WAS SMILING TOO MUCH
A sharp light hit the trees high above me. Then a loud thud. And another. I crouched down, briefly wondering why the ground wasn’t vibrating. (Ballroom floors in Park City don’t usually vibrate; who knew?)
Hand and owner were reunited as the robot stood tall above me. I still thought I could get away with this hiding thing, crouching on my knees in the digital flora. Then two big bright eyes caught my attention. The robot was crouching above, looking right at me. He had a strange mechanical smile on his face, more Iron Giant than Gort. That smiling problem started happening again — and then the credits rolled. I’ve never been so frustrated that I had to leave a VR experience.