My 1st VR storytelling contest: I never would have expected this outcome…



I've been waiting for this since the day it was announced.

When I got the invitation email from one of the founders of Viond.io, the virtual reality company hosting this event, I knew it would be another step towards mastering storytelling.

The goal for all the contestants was simple: create the best virtual reality experience and you will win.

Finally, the moment has come. Diego and Rolf, the founders of Viond, opened the event and introduced us to the rules. We only had 7 hours, the experiences had to be created with the VR software by Viond and the content needed to be interactive.

The cool thing was the theme: every VR experience had to be around space exploration. I am a huge space fan and therefore, this motivated me even more to give my best.

Shortly after getting put together into random teams, my team and I started to think about how to create an awesome VR spectacle.

The challenge was though: How could we combine VR, the theme of space exploration and a good story altogether? And on top of that: How could we make the viewer part of the experience?

Trying to come up with a story, I remembered a conversation I had with a good friend of mine recently. He was asking me hypothetically:

“What would you do if you could go to Mars tomorrow but you could never come back?”

This kinda struck with me and I pitched this idea as a story for our VR experience to my team members.

“What if we created the following story:”

I said to my team.

“As a viewer within the VR experience, you receive a letter from a space agency. You were chosen among millions of people to colonize Mars. But you only had a couple days to make a decision and you will never come back to Earth. You start thinking about what a great adventure of a lifetime it would be, but also, what you will miss here on earth at the same time. You begin to have this inner conflict of making the right decision, pondering the good and the bad. You think about taking this opportunity, but also what it would feel like if you leave your family/friends forever. At the end of the VR experience, the viewer will not be given an answer, but should be inspired to start a thought process within himself if this was a real scenario. It is an open ending the viewer itself can close.”

I didn´t have to wait long for a response. My team loved this idea.

* giving myself a clap on the shoulder * :-)

We started the creation process, lining out the complete storyline, filling in the details to make the story more viable and attention-holding. After doing countless rewritings to perfect the story, the content was ready.

However, we were so caught up in the story creation process that we totally forgot the time. We only had 90 minutes left to turn this story into VR, providing our message with a medium. Now I got really nervous.

To make the story visually as good as possible within this short period of time, we did the following:

We used a 360 degree video of space as the VR environment where the viewer is located. Then we filled it in with a couple of short video clips of everything relevant to the story, the things you will miss here on earth and the possible adventures you will experience when leaving. I also took the part of the narrator, guiding the viewer through the experience, telling the viewer the pros and cons of making a decision of going on this space journey.

What it looked like:

 
 
As you can see, we put together some short scenes (the two circles with the squirrel and the group of people) within the 360 environment (a 360 video of earth and space). By interacting with the circles, a video clip started to play and you were asked if you could give up on e.g. enjoying nature/animals or having fun with your friends for the sake of going to Mars.

Later on, you could hear hypothetical answers from your family, partner and friends what they would say to you about your decision to go to Mars. The opinions of your inner circle were meant to be strong in encouraging you to go but also, at the same time, encouraging you to stay here on earth. We intended to do that in order to create a deep conflict for the viewer which decision to make and to build up tension till the end of the VR experience.

Without taking a break, I hustled through, supporting my teammates as much as possible to get this done before the deadline.

It was 8:30 PM. Time to submit the VR experience… but we had no time to review our project since we were creating the VR environment till the last second. We went into the demonstration part without knowing what the end result looked like.

It was an open round where everyone could take a look at the various experiences. I had a very bad feeling about ours.

We hit play on our VR experience. I waited and while seeing the first scene of our project, it seemed to work. I wasn´t that worried anymore.

My relieve was slammed shortly after I kept watching. Somewhere in the middle, the whole thing messed up and a lot of visual elements were missing.

I was so eager to create something epic. And it failed. The storyline was still working, but we forgot to put in some visuals here and there.

I felt embarrassed by this work.

There was nothing at stake at this event, but for me, it meant a lot because it showed me where I am currently at on my path to mastering storytelling.

The demo session ended and the revelation of the winners began. Clearly I was convinced, we took the last place of the 8 teams participating.

I was hit with a huge surprise:

We got 3rd place.

“What the hell…”

This was such a crappy VR experience. How in the world could people vote for this? Still baffled, I tried to ask around who voted for us and what convinced them to do so. This was a great chance to get some feedback of why we did better than expected.

I asked around and what people liked the most about our VR experience was the storytelling. While everyone else focused more on the visuals, we put in most of the work into the content. People liked the feeling of being guided through a story and being on an emotional rollercoaster they could resonate with.

I was shaking my head, thinking: “If we had just put a little more effort into the visuals, we would have dominated!”

3rd place for my very first contest is still pretty awesome. Of course, this would not have been possible with the incredible team I was part of thankfully. We complemented each other in lots of aspects.

On my way home, I revived the day and discovered 3 learning lessons for myself: Keep an eye on the deadline :) No matter the medium, you have to have a great storyline. It has to take the viewer on a journey from A to B emotionally. Visuals are the vehicles for every good story. They are only secondary, but still necessary.

Many thanks to Diego, Rolf and the whole Viond team for hosting this event (including food and beverages).

Can´t wait for the next contest. Not only for the thrill of competing against others, but also to sharpen my storytelling skills.