As you might have seen/experienced there are many great virtual-reality experiences out there. Sadly, there are also many bad ones. This blog was written to provide VR developers with guidelines regarding the use of storytelling as a means of improving the future of VR. First I’d like to explain what I consider to be good or bad VR design practice.
This is what happens when designers approach head-mounted-display’s such as the Oculus Rift as a ‘trendy’ replacement of an ordinary screen. You’ll experience bad VR when you ‘soar through the skies’ while sitting on an uncomfortable wooden chair. It’s when you ‘walk through a dark corridor’ with a joy-stick. When virtual head-rotation is locked, or when switching between realities feels like hitting a brick wall… that’s when the strenghts of VR are not being utilised to the fullest. Storytelling can serve as a tool to conquer or bypass certain VR design obstacles with.
The first thing great VR does is easing the transition from reality to virtual-reality. It can do so by starting a narrative even before the VR experience has started. For example: there may already be a scent present in the room that corresponds with the virtual environment. This scent will be smelled by your audience before VR goggles are put on.
During the experience all stimulants (such as controls, the weight of an HMD, the surface on which your audience sits, et cetera) feel integrated. This means that the signals they send to the brains of the audience feel logical in connection to the reality which you are simulating through VR.
Next, the transition to reality is soft as well. There are many ways to do this too. For example, you could choose to fade the screen to black at the end of visual content. This may seem like a very normal thing to do as a fade-to-black has been etiquette in film for decades, and many VR experiences seem to copy these unwritten rules. But remember: this isn’t film, so there might be a better option… such as re-creating the actual environment in which your audience is situated and using that as the last ‘scene’ (if possible ofcourse). Even after the goggles have been put aside story-telling can continue. You’ll read more about this on the following pages.