Oculus Story Studio, the team behind Lost and the up-coming Henry virtual reality (VR) experience for the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) have revealed five lessons that were learned making Lost for any other developers looking at making similar content.
Written by Saschka Unseld, Director of Lost, and Creative Director at Oculus Story Studio the five lessons are from mistakes the studio made while making Lost and are suggestions for other creators who are learning the complexities of storytelling in VR.
The first is ‘Don’t rush the pacing’. Unseld says: “Traditionally when hashing out a story, we edit together a storyboarded film reel to map out the actions and pacing. But when we used the same technique to map out the pacing in virtual reality, the story became rushed. All of the actions were happening too quickly for the audience to follow along.” He adds: “That is why, rather than thinking about the story as a series of ‘actions’ a character takes, we ended up thinking about the story as a series of ‘moments’. We then paced these moments out in VR to make sure that we’re spending enough time in each moment so that the audience has time to comprehend each moment of our story.”
The second lesson is ‘Respect the ritual of Settling in & Setting the scene.’ He remarks: “In cinema, there is a clearly defined ritual before a film starts: we get settled into our seats, the lights dim, the curtains open, and we let go, ready to be taken elsewhere. But in VR, no such ritual exists. The first part of this was figuring out what would be the very first thing the audience would see. This “first thing” is something we now call, The In. Our “In” in Lost became Fi the firefly.”
The third lesson was to “Let go of forcing the viewer to look somewhere.” Films can easily control the shot and viewers see what the director wants them to see, not so in VR. “By not forcing the viewer to look somewhere and making the surroundings interesting in all directions, we incite the viewer’s curiosity in the world. And through this curiosity, have them take a more active role in experiencing the story,” wrote Unseld.
Four is all about ‘Spatial Story Density’, so for VR Unseld explains: “There should never be just one interesting story related thing to look at. Stories and storytelling should be as three dimensional as the space around us. At any given moment we need to make sure that there is a certain amount of density of story elements that fills that space.”
The final lesson is to ‘Simplify Scope’. “A complex environment like a forest might be achievable in animated films, but in VR it was a challenge that took more time from us to surmount than we had hoped. We had to restrict ourselves massively in order to make the experience smooth and still look good. In hindsight, a simpler environment would have saved us a lot of headache,” he adds as the fifth lesson.