One thing about Virtual Reality is that everything you see is virtual. You can see it but you can’t touch it. There are a lot of researches about providing physical feedback in virtual reality but they often come with complicated tools and algorithms. In Kidnapped VR, we aim to create a mixed reality experience for our player using simple techniques. We also want to work with theatrical and cinematic techniques to tell a story in virtual reality space.
Kidnapped VR is a mixed reality VR game running on HTC Vive. It is created by a team of five ETC students (Rajeev, Joe, Jason, Lucas and me) in two weeks. In the game, the player was kidnapped by his formal employee, whom he recently fired. The formal employee, David Johnson had a daughter who was suffering from cancer. As he recently got fired, he had no money to pay for his daughter’s medical expense. Therefore, he decided to kidnap his formal boss for ransom. The player finally escaped with the help of David Johnson’s daughter. As David Johnson was going to spend the next twenty years in the prison, the player decided to pay for the daughter’s medical bill in return for her help previously.
The Mixed Reality Experience
To create an immersive mixed reality experience, the player will be tied to a chair in the game. This is to simulate the experience of getting kidnapped. Being tied to a chair provides the player some physical feedback from the environment. As the player is tied to a chair, they need to move around the space with the chair. Increased difficulties in moving around makes the game more fun and engaging.
In the game, the player has to perform a set of actions in order to get themselves untied.
· Locating the glass bottles from the shelf
· Throw the basketball towards the shelf or use the broom to make the bottles fall down
· Pick up a broken bottle and cut the rope that ties them to the chair
When above-mentioned actions are performed, game crews will pull the rope and release the knot, and hence the player will be released from the chair. Being released from the chair was described as a “very satisfying” experience by play-testers. We believe that tying players to a chair at the beginning of the game amplifies their satisfaction at the moment of regaining freedom. It also strengthens the link between physical world and virtual world by enforcing the coherence in both worlds — getting untied in both real life and virtual reality.
The Visual Storytelling
The other objective of this game is to experiment cinematic and theatrical storytelling techniques in virtual reality.
Theater is an art form that makes use of audience’s imagination heavily. Symbolism plays an important role in theatrical arts. In traditional Chinese Opera, a scene can be constructed using only one table and two chair. A great performer can use his / her own imagination as the key to trigger audience’s imagination. With the help of audience’s powerful imagination, everything is possible on the stage.
While most of the games are looking for photo-realistic renderings and compelling graphics, we decided to make a symbolic and abstract beginning scene for our game. When player firstly enters the game, he/she sits in front of a row of employee profile sheets. The only thing he can do is stamping the paper using a FIRED stamp. Through the minimalist and theatrical set up, we aim to place the player in the shoe of the character. It proves to be effective as most of the play-testers understood his/her role in the game immediately.
We also made a decision to tie the player at the beginning of the game. It means that the player is actually firing people when he is tied to a chair. This set up adds another meaningful layer to the story. It symbolizes that the character himself has no other choices and is also making difficult decisions.
Besides placing symbols and using imaginations, we also learnt from visual storytelling techniques in film. Jump cut is widely used in movies to switch scene. Jump cut with matching items in the current scene and the previous scene is called match cut. Match cut creates association or establishes relationship between two scenes. It is a very powerful technique in visual storytelling. In our game, we also experimented with match cuts in VR space.
There are three scenes in our game. The abstract stamping space, the basement and the hospital. The player starts in the stamping scene, firing employees by stamping on their profile. As he/she stamps on the last profile, the environment changes abruptly to basement with the same profile paper on the table.
Using indirect control, we are confident that player will stamp on the last paper while looking at it, they will also open the door while looking at the handle. Therefore, as long as we place the matching object in the same world space and switch the environment, we can produce a match cut in VR space. Making match cut in VR space is easier than expected, it is also more powerful as our body is very sensitive to sudden changes in environment. It almost gets player’s immediate attention and curiosity when they enter a new environment through jump cut.
Although we can use jump cut or match cut to achieve advanced storytelling effects in VR space, some of the player still think that it is too abrupt and they will get disoriented in the new environment. We believe that it is normal as this technique is not widely used in VR space. We can’t stop using it because it is confusing for some of the player. Instead, we should try to find a comfortable middle ground for them. We do believe that VR storytelling is different from cinematic or theatrical storytelling, but there are a lot of intersections where great things will happen.