Top tips for interactive stories
How to plan out branching narratives for VR and 360
When it comes to VR and 360, storytelling varies from the traditional styles not least because you have a whole 360º world space in which to place your characters and events. Here at Immersive Studios we create a range of story-led experiences, whether for training or entertainment, which use branching narratives to give the user agency. Lorna Burrows, Head of Content, lists some top tips in making sure your story flows through every version.
Map out every variation
The temptation is to add loads of variable outcomes to your story – but beware how fast things multiply! If you’re planning a big-budget game with hours of gameplay then go wild; but if you’re planning a shorter experience such as a 5 or 10 minute VR experience, then only choose a small number of variables in your story or you’ll be producing a vast number of different endings before you know it. But most importantly – regardless of number – map out every possible route through your story so you know you’ve got every variation covered.
Who is your audience and how will they interact?
Identify your audience. Who are they and what is their role – are they a gameplayer, a passive observer or are they a character within the story? Their role will determine their interaction. After all, if they’re a character in a game then their level of interaction will be much greater than a passive observer who is asked to choose options as a story progresses. This in turn influences what tech is needed – i.e. a high level set up like an HTC VIVE or a simple standalone headset such as an Oculus Go – as well as how the action unfolds.
Place your action
With VR or 360, you have to bear in mind that action can happen all around you. If your story progression relies on your audience definitely seeing or noticing some part of the action, then you need to make sure you are able to draw their attention to it so they don’t miss it and get stuck. On the other hand, the extra space can work to your advantage – it’s ideal for sneaking in Easter Eggs or adding red herrings to the plot which distract the audience and send them down a potentially hazardous path.
Keep an eye on continuity
If your story has multiple variations, it’s easy to lose track of continuity – but with an interactive narrative, it’s more important than ever. You need to make sure each scene marries up whatever choice the audience makes. This includes any dialogue, character interactions or environmental changes, which is where your visual map of your different storylines will come in handy.
Finally, if you’re giving your audience a choice – for example three options for how the story should continue – and they freeze, does the experience remain static until such a time as they decide or are they up against the clock? If so, you may need to build in time-out options so the pace of a story continues even without a choice being made – especially if the user is being tested on their reaction time, for example in a training scenario or a game.