Secret Location's The Great C, an excellent display of VR storytelling, but will it find it'
It's early days right now in VR gaming. With VR storytelling, it's probably even earlier. We know there will be some type of cinematic medium born out of the Virtual Reality boom, we just don't have the slightest idea what form it might take. Of course, this won't keep enterprising developers from pushing boundaries and taking chances. Enter Secret Location. This developer based in Toronto, Canada has already delivered several interesting and impressive VR products. They developed Insidious Chapter 3: Into the Further for Focus Features and Blumhouse Productions. They also created Sleepy Hollow: The VR Experience for FOX, to be shown off at the San Diego Comic Con. The experience was greeted with rave reviews, including a 2015 Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Media. They're also developers of Blasters of the Universe, well known on all the major VR platforms as having some of the most nuanced gameplay mechanics of any wave shooter currently available.
Secret Location has been involved in a wide-ranging selection of VR productions, but The Great C is probably their biggest investment yet into VR storytelling. They're treading into uncharted waters. Right now, everyone is trying to figure out how to tell a compelling story in VR. How do you take full advantage of this exciting new medium, without a bunch of gimmicks and parlor tricks?
The first truly successful venture into this category was probably The Invisible Hours by Tequila Works. Originally marketed as a VR game, The Invisible Hours is probably the closet thing we have to a legitimate VR movie. Sure, it's basically a cartoon, running in a game engine, but it doesn't change the fact that you're essentially watching a movie from virtually unlimited camera angles and perspectives. It even has replay value, from the standpoint that you can't view the entire production in one playing. Multiple events occur simultaneously, and the viewer must choose which area to inhabit as the proceedings unfold.
The Great C eschews the concept of Location Based Storytelling and free-range movement for complete directorial control. You have no agency in The Great C. There's no free locomotion, or moving about an unfolding scene. Instead, you're given a fixed, cinematic view of the unfolding narrative. Jump cuts, extreme close-ups, fade ins and outs, are all included. This would normally seem like a recipe for disaster. However, I think there's something unique about these virtual stories running within game engines. It's not disturbing or jarring. It doesn't make you reach for the Alka Seltzer. Somehow it all comes together and works beautifully.
The ultimate question of course, is whether or not Secret Location will find it's audience. This is their most ambitious effort at VR storytelling so far, but how many eyeballs will actually see it? Many VR "experiences" are given away for free. The Great C isn't one such experience. It retails for $5.99 on Steam and the Oculus Store. A mere 6 bucks for an outstanding example of VR storytelling seems like a no-brainer. The problem is, 9 out 10 experiences are free, so we tend to look at the ones charging a fee as if they're committing highway robbery. We've gotten so spoiled with so many solid, free experiences in these early days. Seriously, somebody could purchase a high-end VR headset, and live off nothing but demo content for months on end.
One thing we're going to eventually need to figure out, is how do we develop an ecosystem that works for all parties involved? The creators need to be paid for their efforts. The end-level consumers need to feel like they're getting their money's worth. It's a tight balance. Personally, I think somebody needs to create a Netflix like system for VR experiences. We pay $7 or so per month and get around 3 to 4 experiences. The creators get a share of the $7 based on how often their content is viewed. This seems like a viable system once VR hits critical mass. In the meantime, we can show our appreciation for these experiments by picking up some of the better examples. Especially if they're reasonably priced. The Great C, is a good example of a solid experience at a fair price. Hopefully Secret Location finds their audience and can continue to hone their craft. It's bold experiments like this that will eventually lead us to the next great era in storytelling.