Although people mostly use their VR headsets for entertainment purposes like gaming or productivity, it is always fascinating to explore all the different niches VR could be implemented into. Storytelling is one of those activities that is highly impacted by technological advancements. These days, everything from ads to short-form video content could be turned into a form of storytelling.
We at VR Today Magazine were interested in expanding our expertise about VR’s capabilities by testing out Astrea Immersive’s short VR stories. Astrea Immersive is a publisher that collaborates with creators from all over the world who are striving to bring to life thought-provoking stories with the help of virtual reality. Astrea`s responsibility is to make these notable creations available for the public to purchase and view. Their goal is to make VR storytelling more accessible to everyone.
This review is concentrated on 3 of the currently available SteamVR stories. And each of them differs in genre, graphics of choice, and objective.
- Best Documentary Raindance 2019
- Giff Winner 2019
- Nominee at Tribeca 2019
Ayahuasca is a drug used by Amazonian tribes – it provokes hallucinations and leads to trances. The main goal of this VR story is to allow the user to experience what it would be like to consume this ancient as-time drug. As you enter the trance, psychedelic visuals start appearing around you. In the beginning, there are all types of spiders, snakes, and other seemingly dangerous insects approaching you, defying all three dimensions. Then there is a series of rather unnerving objects like skeletons, mummies, and other unusual geometrical forms. By the end of the trance, you have already overcome the dark period of this journey, and the environment finally becomes lighter.
All graphics are astonishing – the way forms and colors intertwine is comparable to a kaleidoscope.
Although some of the themes and objects represented in this experience can be unpleasant for some viewers, it’s hard not to give credit for the incredible attention to detail every scene has.
We wouldn’t recommend Ayuhuasca to people with epilepsy, motion sickness tendencies, and phobia of reptiles and insects.
Crystal Owl Award Winner at Stereopsia Europe 2022
Historical, Philosophy, Education
Lavrynthos is a story with a twist based on the Greek myth about the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. As you enter the Labyrinth, you’re jump scared by the Minotaur (a creature with the head of a bull and a human body), who’s cursed to always roam through the labyrinth’s corridors. You then start spectating the Minotaur’s interaction with a girl whose main purpose in life is to be eaten by the scary monster.
Keep reading with caution as there are SPOILERS ahead!
The two make a deal according to which the girl would lead the creature to the labyrinth’s exit, and after that, it would fulfill her life’s purpose by eating her. However, the two get lost, and that’s how the young girl starts having visions, which enable her to reevaluate her reason for being. The main point of the story is that the labyrinth is a mental construct that can be demolished only after finding your true path in life and adjusting to whatever life throws at us.
After the girl finds herself, she’s finally capable of leaving the labyrinth for good. Although the Minotaur too, reaches the exit with her, his curse disables him from finding the desired freedom. As the Minotaur gets struck by lightning, the now mentally matured woman saves him from further pain by killing him and thus freeing him from God’s evil curse.
The design of the historical environment was very pleasant to watch. It reminded me of an animated movie, which is totally fit for educational purposes. Even the Minotaur wasn’t as scary as I presumed it would be. This makes the story perfect for younger audiences, too. The transitions were smooth, and the depicted environments were simplistically authentic.
Out of the three stories, this was our team’s favorite – it was thought-provoking, had educational value, and the symbolism behind every detail both visually and conceptually, impressed us the most.
- SXSW – USA – 2021 – VR Competition – Audience Award
- NewImages – France – 2021 – Prix UniFrance
- Geneva Internationnal Film Festival – Switzerland – 2021 – Future is Sensible Award
- Courant 3D – France – 2021 – Grand Prix
- Ottawa Animation Film Festival – Canada – 2022 – Virtual Reality Competition
Scientific, Exploration, Nature
Rachel, a female marine biologist, is guided by another female marine expert as she dives into the depths of the ocean. Being in Rachel’s shoes enables the headset user to explore the unknown marine life.
Keep reading with caution as there are SPOILERS ahead!
As you move through, you meet different types of fish and luminescent ocean creatures along the way. However, Rachel finds out that their ability to glow in the dark isn’t the only fascinating characteristic these creatures have, apparently, it is also a sign of an odd infection. She herself does experience the aftermath of this very infection. After a strange piece of seaweed wraps around her hand, the biologist starts showing great concern. As she starts trying to escape the ocean’s abyss, the infection gradually takes over her body. Unfortunately, her life ends after a big, monstrous-looking fish swallows her.
If you’re interested in marine life, the Biolum is the one to deliver a very impressive virtual environment, which is a great representation of the ocean’s atmosphere. Although all the graphics are of very high quality, it would’ve been better if there were more detailed objects to observe.
Biolum may seem like a thrilling adventure for all interested in ocean life, however, it is a rather chill VR experience. If more dynamic interaction was integrated, then the story would be more exciting to literally dive into. However, this doesn’t compromise the story’s objective – to allow the user to have a peek at what the unexplored depths of the ocean may look like.
Other Projects of Astrea Immersive
Currently, Astrea Immersive has 65 VR experiences in their portfolio. There are animated, documentary, fictional, and 360-degree projects, each of which has been recognized by film festivals and other storytelling conventions.
These are a few other acclaimed VR storytelling projects of Astrea Immersive you can find on Steam VR:
This is Astrea Immersive’s latest project. During the Anime NYC 2023 convention, it was revealed that Astrea will publish a VR story created by Studio V and Bandai Namco Filmworks. “Mobile Suit Gundam: Silver Phantom” will be based on the renowned Japanese TV series, which has paved the way for the so-called “mecha” genre. It will be a rather innovative storytelling venture as it will incorporate an interactive narrative, which is expected to transform the future production of VR stories.
As of now, only the title teaser and some artwork have been made public. More information regarding this Gundam Universe project has yet to be unraveled, but you can find everything that we know here:
Madrid Noir follows the story of Lola, who is set to unravel the mystery left behind by her uncle’s passing. Throughout her journey, she learns more about her relative’s fate, uncovers memories, and invites the viewer to uncover Madrid’s charm.
This 45-minute story took part in Annecy Film Festival 2021 and Tribeca Film Festival 2021.
End of Night
End of Night is a 6dof experience that focuses on the journey of a young man trying to flee his country during WWII. The viewer is placed in a rowboat opposite Josef, who is seeking refuge in Sweden. The main themes in the story are concerned with the pain of memory and loss during unfortunate times.
End of Night was part of Biennale di Venezia 2021’s Best VR story selection.
Cosmogonic is a short sci-fi interactive VR animation inspired by Stanislaw Lem’s works. The story is narrated by a robot named Cosmogonic, as it shows you a planet it created, its oppressed society of giant robots, their cruel king, and the never-ending strive for liberation
Each of these stories embodies how virtual reality could enhance the art of storytelling and enable creators to provide a unique sensory experience. They all invite the headset user into a completely different environment where you’re able to participate in the given story plot.
VR Today Magazine highly recommends Astrea Immersive’s VR storytelling experiences, as they are proof of how much potential VR tech has in traditional content creation and explore new ways of integrating the viewer as an interactive party inside the very storyline.