VR fiction

What is it?

Technology has reached the point where people can now explore Virtual Reality (VR) in real-time using ordinary home computers. This has spawned a new storytelling medium: VR fiction.

You are seated in front of a screen. You have selected the latest episode of your favorite new series. You settle back to watch it with the remote control in hand. You could use a mouse and keyboard, or a joystick, but you prefer the remote because it is easy to use while relaxing in your armchair. You are watching this episode a second time as you are curious about one of the characters in the story. You are going to direct the "camera" to follow this character instead of settling for the standard view. You can look at the scene from any position by pressing the up and down arrows to move the viewpoint forward and back, or the left and right arrows to turn the viewpoint left or right, just as if you were moving a mobile camera inside the story. But of course there is no actual camera. The story is in a virtual world -- a moving, computer-generated, 2D image of an imaginary 3D world -- and you are controlling your viewpoint within it. Last time you watched this episode you felt lazy and just let the director's camera show you the story. It was like the old days of vegeing out and watching a movie on video... except at one point in the story when you moved the "camera" over to a suspicious shape in the shadows. You suspect the writer put the shady character in there as a joke, knowing that many people could not resist the lure. Smiling, you settle back to enjoy yourself for the next 20 minutes.
There are many kinds of VR fiction. The simplest is experienced like a ghost -- able to wander freely about the scene, invisible and unheard. Other forms of VR fiction let the viewer affect the story and alter the outcome. The viewer may be an invisible onlooker, but has choices at certain points as to what path the story can take. Or one or more viewers may participate in the story by playing the characters. In still other kinds of VR fiction there is no real storyline; an initial situation is set up by the author, and the player(s) take it from there.

There may be several simultaneous storylines, encouraging the viewer to return to the story several times in order to follow different characters through multiple plot threads. This can be very useful in encouraging advertisers to invest in a story because it multiplies effective audience size along with product exposure.

Production

A virtual world need not obey the laws of physics. In VR you can do things and build structures impossible in the real world, with no physical limits on size.

An efficiently designed virtual world can be a surprisingly tiny file. An infinite world without a story can easily fit on a floppy disk. Many hours, perhaps days, of VR fiction could be stored on a CD.

Showing a VR story is as simple as putting a web page up on the net. For those without net access, worlds can be distributed on CD. VR fiction that allows multiple users to meet and interact is a little more complex, but still much easier than distributing film or broadcasting TV.

VR fiction has dramatically low production costs, whereas film and TV are terribly expensive.

  • VR fiction uses sets, costumes, and locations constructed from pure data, instead of wood, metal, glass, and cloth. Data is not only cheaper to create in the first place, it costs almost nothing to securely store vast amounts for an indefinite duration, and if designed well in the first place they are not difficult to modify any number of times.
  • Lighting consists of simple instructions, not vast arrays of fragile, costly, energy-hungry lamps.
  • Cameras are invisible, weightless, and never break down -- they are simply recorded viewpoints.
  • The people working on a VR fiction piece need not be transported to the same physical place -- they can collaborate from anywhere on the planet through the internet.
  • The story is delivered as a small, immortal, data file rather than expensive, degrading film-stock.
  • Actors or animators (or both) can be used to make the characters move.

  • Animators set up sequences of actions on the 3D models. This is similar to, but much simpler than what 3D animators do for films that use CGI. Film work requires slow, offline processing of images on expensive supercomputers, but VR animation is recorded in real time on an ordinary desktop computer.
  • Actors make more realistic movements than animators, but cost less for VR fiction than for film or TV because they don't need to be glamorous; they just need to be good actors.
  • They can do their own stunts without any danger to themselves.
  • Actors don't need to be laboriously made up and can have any body form imaginable, from a butterfly, to a giant, many-legged monster.
  • A versatile actor can play several parts, similar to how radio actors, or voice talent in some cartoons have been known to.

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    How to make money from it:

    I have spent several years working on internet-related projects and trying to understand what kind of economic model can fit that unique environment. I have come to the conclusion that trying to make a living by selling information-based products as commodities based on restricted access or scarcity is doomed to failure. Duplication is easy, costs little or nothing, and people have a natural desire to share with friends.

    Success will be tied to harnessing these aspects, instead of fighting against them.

    The show must be available at no cost and viewers encouraged to copy it and pass it on to friends for free. This brings great benefits in nearly eliminating the costs of distribution delivering to a world-wide audience cheaply and efficiently. The audience become the distributors, and pleasure is their payment.

    Advertisers - Sponsors who want their products advertised in the stories will pay for product exposure, just as they currently do in TV series and movies to have their song played in the background or to have one of the main characters seen to be drinking, wearing, or driving their product. NOTE: It is imperative that all advertising be ethical. I am convinced that unethical advertising must bear a lot of the blame for the drastic drop in advertising revenue for the web and hence was one of the factors in the dot.com crash. A person only needs to click once on an advertisement that lies or deceives and they will never respond to one again. Trust is one of the most valuable properties. If lost it is extremely difficult to regain.

    TV and film - Even though VR fiction is fundamentally different to film or TV, works of VR fiction can be easily recorded from a single viewpoint and screened on TV. The stations would pay for the privelege and it would also serve to advertise the new medium. Even feature-length films could be made this way. "Making-of" TV specials would generate both publicity and funds too.

    Merchandising - Merchandising is particularly viable if the stories are good enough to rate cult status. Nowadays real plastic models can be quickly, cheaply, and automatically produced from computer files. The figurines could be sold in toy outlets and Science Fiction specialty stores, used in promotional giveaways with breakfast cereals, etc. Other merchandising possibilities are coffee mugs, t-shirts, pens, caps, swap cards, and stickers.

    Avatars - With the current popularity of VR chat worlds there is a demand for avatars. (Avatars are virtual bodies that people "wear" when visiting virtual worlds.) Operating some VR chat worlds built with the models from the stories could help to boost that trade as well as general interest in VR.

    Books and comics - Stories can be extended to paper formats such as comic books, and paperbacks of short stories and novels, and even the series scripts and documentary books on the making of the series.

    Workshops and lectures - Workshopping and teaching people how to build for VR and how to write VR fiction would educate the next generation of recruits for the industry and promote it too. If the sessions were paid then they would also generate income.

    Magazine coverdisks - Magazines would be happy to give away copies of VR fiction on their cover CDs. Later the stories would be sold on CD at newsagents, bookshops, and computer shops for minimal price as a way to distribute to people who don't have net access.