This year at Fantastic Fest, members of the Cinapse team converged upon three booths set up in the Alamo Drafthouse lobby. One featured a wheelchair and a volunteer dressed as a nurse, another was a stool with a burlap sack resting nearby, and the last a full sized coffin, complete with leather interior.
I have some general thoughts on all three experiences before delving into our individual segments. For context: I’m a fan of virtual reality (henceforth abbreviated as VR), and while I haven’t committed to building out an expensive rig for Oculus or Vive, I did preorder the PS-VR and am looking forward to the experiences it will provide. I’ve demoed all the rigs previously, but this is my first time with live-action narratives inside VR.
I found all the experiences compelling but ultimately limited by the confines of the technology used. The main issue I had was with the headsets – Samsung Gear VR, which are literally phones strapped to your face. Sure, very nice phones, but I’ve found that the best VR experiences are ones in the nicest headsets – in crystal clear high definition, with great frame rates, and with perfect head tracking. Without all three of those things combined, the illusion of being present in that space isn’t there, and the artificiality of everything comes forward (and, sometimes, you get headaches or eye strain).
The other technological limitation was on the production side. During many of the sequences you can see the seams where one camera recording the scene ended and another began. This was less of a problem than I had with the headsets, but it’s still another factor that breaks immersion – and immersion is literally the whole point of VR. These issues were less present in Mule, which was the newest of the segments, which might speak to how this technology is still in its infancy and is continuously evolving.
Overall, all three were fun, but aren’t fine tuned enough to really break out into the mainstream. For things like Fantastic Fest or horror conventions they’re fun, but I worry if this is what people first experience as VR they’ll write it off due to potentially headache-inducing standard definition screens or poor head tracking. Thankfully these issues aren’t the fault of the filmmakers, who pack in enough scares and frame the experiences well – we just need the technology to catch up to their talent.
– David Delgado
While lacking the narrative of Mule, Catatonic was a more immersive experience. Strapped into a wheelchair, you are pushed through a mental asylum as the newest inmate, being wheeled deeper into a twisted nightmare. Before the fitted motors on the chair started whirring, the forward momentum was already delivered as the scenario pushed forward. Patients strapped to tables, feral children trying to grab you while leashed to a cage, more unusual patients suggesting supernatural occurrences, and a mysterious Doctor, who appears throughout and is waiting to take you into his “care” at the end. As a proof of concept it was effective; the video quality was a little lacking, but the graininess did fit this particular experience well. A simple but effective rollercoaster through a hellish hospital.
– Jon Partridge
– Alex Williams