From the point-of-view of a young child, a guest experiences the collision of a beautiful, fantastical world and a scary, real world through a bedtime story told to them by the child's older sister.
WHAT IS THROUGH THE STORM
Through the Storm is a virtual reality, interactive story designed for the HTC Vive. Before they enter the world, a guest is asked to sit down on the floor, cross-legged, and is given a magic wand (a Vive controller) and a magic shield (a cardboard leaf with a Vive tracker attached to the front). The world was designed in two-weeks for the class, Building Virtual Worlds at the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). It was additionally presented at the 2018 ETC Fall Festival as part of the Building Virtual World's Showcase.
Team: Mollie Braley, Jingya Chen (Artist), Tiantian "Tina" Han (Programmer), Shana Joseph (Artist), Charles "Parker" Ramsey (Programmer)
A young, brave traveller named Cat (of whom the we take the point-of-view) is being told a bedtime story where she is trying to lead her best friend, Caterpillar, back to their warm den. Along the path home, Cat encounters many different obstacles, e.g. lightning, rain, dark tunnels, and falling flowers, and must use her magic wand and shield to protect Caterpillar and help ease her fears. Once Cat and Caterpillar reach the den, we are suddenly transported to a child's bedroom. We realize that the story is being told to us by Cat's older sister who is trying to protect her from the loud and terrifying fighting of the parents outside the bedroom door.
We hoped to tell a poignant story about how children deal with the unknown and scary aspects of the real world (e.g. a family splitting) and the power of sibling relationships.
Narrative Designer: I helped steer the story direction to the final version that was presented in class and at the 2018 ETC Fall Festival and additionally ensured that the allegory and symbolism was maintained throughout the experience. I also wrote the script for the older sibling, which was a prominent feature of the experience, with a focus on making the bedtime story seem spontaneous and influenced by events in the "real" world (i.e. the world outside of the bedtime story where the parents are fighting).
Producer: I organized both internal team meetings and external meetings with faculty to discuss design decisions and next steps while monitoring the progress of each pipeline. I also compiled the feedback we received from faculty and fellow students so that we could better iterate on it in the short 2-weeks we had to design, test, and finalize our world.
Sound Designer: I composed three different, original pieces of background music for the world and recorded/mixed all of the sound effects using LogicProX and Adobe Audition. I was also the voice of the older sister and narrated the story.
ITERATIONS FOR FINAL SHOWCASE
Based on play-testing feedback we made several changes to the mechanics and design of the experience. Examples of some of these changes are listed below...
Introductory Bookend: We added an introduction with a title screen to let guests know that this was story within a story. This was based on earlier feedback that the twist (i.e. the fantasy world is just a child's imagination as they hear a bedtime story) at the end was too abrupt and disconnected from what the guest had experienced so far.
Thunder Sound Adjustment: Raised volume of fighting noise when thunder claps. We wanted to cue the guest earlier that this was a fictional world and that reality was bleeding in. This was received very positively by future guests who appreciated the subtle hints. They wanted to go back and see if they could find the other clues that this was just a story.
Raising Emotional Stakes: Changed music to be scarier (i.e. a more intense version of current background music in a minor key) and decreased the saturation during scary events to cue the guest that this event is scary for the child. We based this on feedback that it was hard to understand why action was necessary on their part when everything seemed fine.
Older Sister Model: We blurred final scene and removed eyelashes and make-up of the older sister model based on guest feedback that her appearance was too jarring and didn't feel welcoming or comforting.
Bell Volume: We lowered the volume of the bells so that they sounded less harsh when hit and instead more like a lullaby; we also enhanced the gating of the bells to ensure that guests did not interrupt the dialogue or skip an event unintentionally.
Motion Sickness: We slowed the caterpillar movement down to reduce motion sickness that some previous guests felt.