When I first started discussing the possibility of building an app (and to recap – I have never done anything like this before) the idea was to create a virtual space in which users could interact with the story. I’d had such experiences before; I’d been along to a play called The Drowned Man by the immersive theatre group Punchdrunk just a few months before (unquestionably the best theatre experience I’ve had). In that show, the audience walked around a huge warehouse wearing masks and interacting with sets, choosing how and when to follow the story. Sometimes actors pulled you into their own little worlds, and sometimes you just wandered aimlessly around the set and found yourself in hidden crevices of the building. The visceral engagement with the story was unique in a way that’s hard to express without having been there.
But, at the same time, I recognised many similarities with computer games. Modern games, such as Bioshock and The Last Of Us, have players interact with expansive environments and complex characters, engaging in a world that you would not otherwise be a part of. Games don’t quite pull you into it like a live theatre performance does, though, with the smells and the textures, but they’re not far off either.
And so, virtual reality is upon us. For the first time, you can interact with characters in far-off worlds as if you were present from the comfort of your own home. No smells or textures yet, but you never know, maybe one day. After my friend pronounced his idea, I thought to myself – yes! – this is one step closer to immersive theatre.
My plan for the app, then, was to create scenes from the book in which you would interact with characters and explore a small part of the world. You would feel as if you were there, and hear sounds from every direction that told you something about the world. There is a scene in Ten To The Power when the main protagonist, Dr Felicity Orden (Fel, for short), wakes up in a room and a well-dressed man walks in to inform her she is dead.
You might find yourself in a darkened room; you don’t know where you are; you see a lit fire in front of you; and there is a steaming cup of coffee on the table next to you; and then someone informs you that you’ve been dead forty-eight years, and a team of Death Catchers have just brought you back to life in a machine that recreates historical events. It would feel spooky, off kilter, and unusual. And, because you’re wearing a virtual reality headset, you feel torn between two worlds; a virtual one and a real one.
And now I’ve started building the world, using the free tools available to me. My first attempt, as pictured below, was to use a pre-built scene from a demo of a first-person shooter game. I removed the guns, the bad guys, and the door locks, and instead I created a free-roaming exploration of the space. And just for good measure, I put my book cover for Majeena on one of the rooms and placed a small record player inside it, with a recording of me reading the entire first chapter out loud. And the great news is, it worked on my phone in full, virtual reality 3D, so the proof of concept works.
Now I just have to create something meaningful and viable for users to interact with.