If you have any interest in VR beyond gaming, be it movies, art, interactive storytelling or just the general culture, you need to get yourself over to HTC’s Viveport platform this week.
The 2020 Venice Film Festival is in full swing and, due to the ongoing restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of this year’s VR offerings have gone online. Better yet, a whole host of the festival’s submissions are free to see over on Viveport, without the need for the premium Infinity subscription or even passes to the event itself.
The collection is available until September 12th and offers a few demos for familiar experiences like The Room VR but, more importantly, provides a fascinating glimpse into the current state of VR filmmaking and beyond.
It’s often true that VR movies skew towards a younger age for a broader demographic, and there is some of that here. Beat from Keisuke Itoh, for example, is a heart-warming tale of a robot in search of love. Ajax All-Powerful, while brilliantly vulgar in its comedy and absolutely not for children, brushes with that lighter side too. I found a lot to love in John Hsu and Marco Lococo’s Great Hoax: The Moon Landing, in which the Taiwanese government lands on its own idea for achieving greatness – faking its own moon landing and having you act it out for a ridiculously good time.
But where this particular strand of Venice VR content really excels lies within the tougher, more complex matter. Minimum Mass, directed by Raqi Syed, Areito Echevarria, is a gut-wrenching story of familial pressures when entering relationships and coping with loss, with its collection of diorama-sized scenes jumping back and forth in time. It conjures equal parts warmth and discomfort as it ensnares you in the darkness its subjects face before reaching a striking conclusion I won’t soon forget.
Other experiences blur the line between games and storytelling like Agence, a piece we first revealed at the Upload VR Showcase: Summer Edition in June. It’s a fascinating mini god-sim in which five cutesy creatures inhabit a tiny planet. You can set each creature to either have a directed form of AI or employ reinforcement learning, which means that later versions of the game will learn and build upon their experiences. Lasting up to 10 minutes per playthrough, it’s pretty incredible to watch them go from curiosity to anger or fear, and you can interact with them to help influence events, too.
There’s also a taste of other content to come. I found myself arrested by the opening to Pierre Zandrowicz’s Mirror, in which a stranded explorer faces her past as she treks across an alien planet, with a rare focus on visual realism bringing out the drama in its darkened landscapes and emotion in its facial expressions. I can’t wait to see more of it.
A personal highlight, though, is the first chapter of Fifty Nine Productions’ Here, from director Lysander Ashton. It’s a rather incredible adaptation of the Richard McGuire graphic novel of the same name, rooting the viewer inside a living room in 2020 and then opening up windows to the past, spanning past occupants and far beyond. It really feels like different time zones are suddenly encroaching on your own reality, and it’s quite a thing to behold.
That’s just a few highlights from what’s on offer at Venice this year. Venice VR isn’t stopping at Viveport, though. Those with accreditation access can also view a handful of other experiences on Oculus Quest, and there are also live performances and other exhibits hosted on platforms like VRChat. We’ll be bringing you more coverage of the festival as it continues, so stay tuned.