Of all the things VR does best, chief among them must be its ability to put players at the center of an experience. Holospark, creators of the gorgeous VR app The Impossible Travel Agency, have returned to the VR space with something that aims to meld the best features of gaming and film into an interactive ghost story that can only be told from within a head-mounted display. This time it’s an immersive first-person ghost story called Seance: The Unquiet.
It’s a bit hard to describe since it doesn’t fit most traditional interpretations of what you’d consider either a game or a film. On the one hand it’s a relatively guided narrative that tells a very focused story, but at the same time there is light interactivity pushing everything along.
In the demo I tried when Holospark visited the UploadVR offices in San Francisco was brief, but effective. Everything started with me seated at a small table with a single lit candle illuminating the air around me. Then suddenly I heard a loud bang — a gunshot coming directly from my right. I quickly spun my head around to see a regal general of some sort standing with his hand raised asking if he has my attention.
While it’s a simple encounter, it’s a wonderful example of how VR can be used in ways traditional films and games cannot. In thee case of a movie, the camera would spin as the gun went off, or a cutscene in a game would guide your line of sight. But in VR, the character doesn’t speak to me until I’ve physically turned and looked at him. He makes eye contact. The animations and voice acting are top-notch and it doesn’t take long for me to feel like I’m really part of this world.
After the man talks to me that’s when things start to happen. Lightning flashes across the room, shadows lurk outside of windows, and a note from the table flutters through the air and up a staircase. Soon, a ghastly woman appears, hovering across the floor until she gets just close enough for me to see her face — then flies directly at me. I can hear her breathing, so I slowly turn my head over my shoulder where she’s waiting to issue one final scare.
The way this scene plays out is the second example of why this story works so well in VR. When she charges at me, the developers explain that she approaches my eyes even if I turn my head to look away. In this sense, I can’t escape her. As she waits behind me the music will gradually ramp up if I turn my head slowly, or it will deliver a fast, dramatic rise in volume if I turn quickly.
Seance: The Unquiet is a great example of the unique narrative capabilities that VR presents. I’ve gone camping and told friends scary stories and I still actively watch TV shows like Ghost Adventures. I’m the type of person that consumes horror media in all forms. Telling ghost stories around a campfire is a classic form of paranormal entertainment and even though it’s 100% fake, VR makes that age-old pastime feel new again. Instead of passively hearing about a story here, you get to experience it. This time, you’re the one at the center of it all.
You don’t have to wait long to try out Seance: The Unquiet for yourself. There is a short preview version of the experience up on Steam right now that can be downloaded for free with support for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and OSVR platforms. Check out the official website for more information.