Spaces and Scale

Last week I had coffee with Robyn Miller, the co-creator, with his brother Rand, of the hit game Myst, which came out in 1993 and proceeded to invade the world’s CD-ROM drives. I got into Myst in the summer of 1995 and it was so absorbing that it frightened me. I lost a couple weeks to its puzzles and atmospheres and decided that if I wanted to write books I couldn’t afford to play video games anymore. I did cheat my way through their follow-up, Riven, however.

Robyn was generous with his insights and laughed when I told him that Myst scared me away from video games for a couple decades. Robyn left Cyan Worlds, the company he and Rand founded, to pursue other projects, but recently contributed music to Cyan Worlds’s beguiling VR game Obduction.

I knew Robyn would have deeply informed opinions about VR. We talked about the difference between cramming a story into a new medium and figuring out what a medium can do then creating a story that’s appropriate for it. To my mind, this means thinking about what’s compelling in VR then figuring out a way to deliver those experiences. Robyn offered that there are two things that people like to experience in VR: spaces and scale.

The Vive experiences that have been the most memorable to me have been the ones that make me feel like I inhabit a new space. When I was in Tom Doyle’s garage playing Endeavor One’s game Duel, I felt as though I was inside Tron. I love gazing off into the vanishing point and feeling that I am enclosed within a space. Even the blank techno-yurt you find yourself in at start of a Vive experience feels interesting.

I thought about spaces in VR yesterday when watching this clip from any artist who goes by the handle Sutueatsflies. It’s a project this artist created for Google using Tiltbrush.

Experiments in scale are compelling, too. When I demoed VREAL’s platform recently, I enjoyed getting shrunk down to the size of toy soldiers scrambling over a battle field then getting blown back up to giant size. Hasn’t everyone fantasized about shrinking to the size of a flea?

I’d add another experience to the list of fun things to experience in VR–flying. A few weeks ago Ryan and Victor of Invrse Studios let me ride on their VR stationary bike wearing a Vive to fly a Pegasus over a landscape. I still find myself thinking about how that felt.

One of the reasons why Myst was such a smashing success is that Robyn and Rand understood what to do with the primitive (by today’s standards) medium of the CD-ROM. The pace of the game fit the sometimes slow loading times and the graphics took advantage of the home computer’s recent leap into color monitors.

Whoever succeeds at creating VR’s medium-defining equivalent of Myst will look at the limitations of VR as opportunities. They’ll absorb what’s compelling about VR then create art that can only exist in VR. I can’t wait to experience it.