If you’re an aspiring director, the thought of securing a cast, crew and kit for your first shoot is likely daunting. But Writing the End is further proof that with a VR headset, the PC to run it, some affordable software and a little know-how, you can become your own armchair Spielberg. That said, it also has some examples of what not to do when making VR stories.
Writing the End is the result of a collaboration between designer Doug North Cook, animator Justin Nixon and VR artist Liz Edwards, the three of which form Decoder. It was primarily created with Blocks, Google’s free VR software that can get just about anyone building simple 3D models and scenes within minutes, with a little help from Tilt Brush, a no-less intuitive app that allows for more detailed works to flourish.
What I like best about Writing the End is how it leaves the viewer to not just fill the missing pieces in but practically assemble the whole puzzle on their own. The story, if it can be called that, follows a female protagonist that finds herself in a toasty forest cabin, fire crackling away in the background and jagged trees lining the horizon. In front of you sit a number of objects, each of which will recall a significant moment in our subject’s life. These instances are seemingly disconnected and unconcerned with each other; each asking you to assume broad strokes about the narrator’s life rather than chronologically assemble events to form a cohesive whole.
As you pick up items like a book another model sprouts from thin air, depicting hazy memories with short monologues that touch upon relatable events. There’s a letter that seems to call upon the harsh words of a disapproving parent, a leaf that transports us back to the intensity of finding love and a typewriter that echoes the struggles of work. The events that spur these highs and lows go unmentioned, as does the reason for this moment of recollection; perhaps the narrator is clinging to memories in her final moments.
“The goal in framing the memories the way they are is to evoke as much of a sense of personal memory for the viewer as it is about the protagonist,” Cook told me about the piece. “I wanted people to be able to attach their own experiences to these memories in order to create a connection. I didn’t want it to be clear who this person is, who you are, or what the narrative is about. I wanted people to encounter themselves through these memories.”
It’s an engaging piece but, just as it shows you how easy it is to build an engrossing narrative with VR, Writing the End demonstrates some easy pitfalls, too. As memories grow into existence, for example, they’ll often clip with your view, causing a distracting disorientation was you struggle to readjust your view and wonder if you’re even standing in the right place.
Writing the End might not have the production values of a Dear Angelica, but it is an optimistic, encouraging example of how storytellers can jump into VR and start bringing their ideas to life. You’ll be able to watch it on the Oculus Store later this week for free.