The ‘lives of others’ and voyeurism are both familiar tropes in narrative across various mediums, so it only follows that we’ll see these themes explored (and expanded) in VR. Picking up where CLOUDS left off, Blackout is a forthcoming “part video game, part live action documentary” VR film where you can hear the thoughts of your fellow passengers during a sudden power outage on an NYC subway. Currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, the project is an initiative of Specular Studio (James George, Alexander Porter, and Mei-Ling Wong). Here is their setup for the plot:
The train screeches to a halt, jolting the passengers into annoyed impatience. A nervous and unintelligible announcement is interrupted by an electrical surge bursting the lights one by one down the carriage. A palpable silence replaces the thrum of the engines as the last light goes out. Cloaked in darkness, murmurs from the passengers can be heard complaining about the inconvenience. Slowly and inexplicably, soft lights begin to illuminate figures around you. As you glance at each passenger, their individual voice is heard loud and clear. But the characters are not speaking, rather you have been gifted a telepathic connection – allowing you to tune into the their thoughts just by looking at them.
While routinely deployed in television, film, and gaming, attach telepathy to a navigable environment and a gaze-centric display with spatial sound and voila – new narrative opportunities! Beyond offering a window into a fascinating and diverse cast of NYC folks, Blackout is underpinned by some impressive R&D. Like CLOUDS, it draws on the Kinect-powered DepthKit for its volumetric video, but this new venture is edging away from the hyper-CGI look of that earlier outing in favour of more a stylized (if not exactly photorealistic) aesthetic. From a smartphone version, to an Oculus Rift edition, to a NYC screening party, to getting a walk-on role – Specular have offered a range of ways to support their project, which is scheduled to be released in approximately a year.