Immersive worlds built for exploration, new frontiers of storytelling and social applications that bring new experiences to friends separated by distance. Virtual reality (VR), despite its relative youth, has already accomplished these lofty goals. There’s so much more that can be achieved with the technology, and a new wave of entertainment appears to be approaching: interactive graphic novels.
Not quite a videogame and not yet a replacement to paper (or digital versions thereof), interactive graphic novels in VR is an idea that has been floating around for quite some time. Indeed, it was back in 2014 when Oculus VR CTO, John Carmack, revealed he was working on a VR comic book store and early last year stated that the project had been progressing, with an intended release late in 2015. That release never came, however that hasn’t stopped others from pushing ahead.
Red Corner has recently launched its VR debut, SENS VR, in which the player is taken on an adventure inspired by S.E.N.S., a graphic novel by Marc-Antoine Mathieu. Presented in the same graphical fashion of the original novel, SENS VR tasks the player with exploring a labyrinth through simple directional cues. They will embark upon a narrative-lead adventure in which the clues to solve the riddle you face are hidden within the recesses of graphical illusion.
Though sounding like a fairly traditional videogame adaptation of a comic book, SENS VR’s passion for its source material has resulted in something a little more unusual. It’s reminiscent of 32-bit animated adventures such as Time Gal and Road Avenger, while offering a much more sophisticated sense of freedom than simply inputting the correct commands within an arbitrary time limit. The videogame takes liberties as it cuts across the codes of the various media, while the art direction creates a sense of otherworldly possession: you are interacting with the pages of a graphic novel as if you were within them.
Taking a somewhat different approach is Square Enix Ltd.’s Project Hikari. Originally revealed at this year’s Tokyo Game Show (TGS), Project Hikari is a rendering of a graphic novel as an animated storyboard. It too offers the player the perception of greater connection with the story, but does so while keeping them behind the fourth wall at all times. Project Hikari doesn’t give the player agency to win or lose, but does give them opportunity to explore further depths than a linear set of pages.
The term ‘player’ is perhaps less appropriate for Project Hikari than SENS VR. The interaction is largely limited to ‘turning pages’: a cue lifted with Oculus Touch (or other motion controllers, should the final product launch on multiple formats) for the user to employ a gesture respective of the motion. Additional interactivity comes in the form of scene exploration for greater exposition: certain scenes (particularly limited in quantity in the early build VRFocus experienced) offer hidden cues for the user which may present a letter or photo which add to character development, but are not essential for understanding of the plot.
These two examples of graphic novel adaptation have chosen very different paths, resulting in two inherently different experiences. However, there are many genres of videogame that followed the same route before settling upon an unspoken agreement of convention and mechanics. Whether graphic novels will settle into position or continuously revamp themselves in a similar fashion to immersive storytelling remains to be seen, as while videogames had an obvious path to follow, other equally valid media do not necessarily have the groundwork laid.