Virtual reality is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Between Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Samsung, HoloLens, you name a company and it’s testing out the potential of VR for gaming and television. While at the Montreal International Game Summit of 2015 (MIGS), I had the chance to talk to Isabelle Bourduas, Senior Vice President of Minority VR and Laura Susel, Production and Community Management Assistant at Minority Media to get their insights on virtual reality, talk about the game Time Machine VR, discuss the process of developing VR experiences for main stream television and being part of the Montreal development community.
Leah: Minority Media started as a video game company and then took the jump to VR. Why take that leap?
Laura: Our CTO Julien Barnoin and CEO Vander Caballero have always been in love with VR. It started in the early 90s with the VR technology at that time and when they found out about the Oculus kick starter and DK1 they bought one and brought it into the studio and were so excited to show it to the rest of the team. As soon as they did that, everyone fell in love with it and it just went from there.
Leah: VR is not a proven media yet, since it is not in the consumers’ hands. Are you expecting VR to become mainstream or are you willing to gamble on the super niche audience of gamers and tv viewers?
Laura: We really believe on Minority Media game side that it’s going to be out there, it’s going to be big because when you are playing a video game you wanna be involved in it, you wanna be invested in the characters. With virtual reality, as soon as you put on that headset, you’ve got it, you are right there. With Time Machine VR you’re right there underwater with a plesiosaurus coming at you. And you get that feeling right away, and that’s something you don’t get when you have just a controller and a screen.
Leah: What VR consoles are you currently developing with?
Laura: Oculus Rift and we do have an HTC Vive in the studio and there are some PlayStation VR around as well.
Leah: You are trying to reach millennials and using VR with television to do so. What subject matter do you think will be most effective to grab their attention?
Isabelle: Well right now we are developing original IPs for millennials. We just finished a show, a VR experience, for A&E and strangely enough I don’t think that broadcasters are not thinking only millennials. I think that their regular viewers will make the jump to those platforms. It’s an amazing way for broadcasters to say, ok, we’ve lost millennials. They aren’t watching tv, but maybe we can reach them through those platforms. So in terms of content, not all content is interesting in VR. Long form VR is not interesting. We have a show right now called Inmate Firefighters and basically its a factual show that happens in prisons in the States and they are using inmates at the end of their sentences and using them as firefighters. So the VR experiences that we are developing for that show are the point of view of the inmates in prison so that the viewer all of a sudden can be in prison with the inmates and fighting the fires. VR is allowing you to be in places that you wouldn’t’ be able to go normally.
Leah: Is that a live action experience?
Isabelle: It’s a reality show, so it’s not live.
Leah: But its real people rather than computer generated?
Isabelle: Yes it’s scripted. There is another part of of our business plan where we will offer broadcasters and producers with IPs, like Orphan Black, where we will be producing side VR experiences to just be in the story with the characters.
Leah: So in that sense its a passive experience where you get the full around view rather than a game where you can control where you are going and what you are doing?
Isabelle: Well it’s both actually. We are also developing a show for the Family Channel. It’s a travel log, that will be completely interactive. Kids will be able to, you know, if we are in the jungle with monkeys, kids will be able to point at the monkeys and get a menu with information on the monkey. That’s a great educational tool to go along with a TV show. For scripted shows, the interactivity has more to do with gaming. There’s a show we are developing now that’s more like a competition you see on tv. We are developing an app on the side in VR where you will be able to play and interactive game with it.
Leah: TV right now, I can sit and watch a show with my husband and friends and experience it together. VR is very much a solitary experience. How do you mix the two of those together?
Laura: Have you seen the Oculus social app that has just released? It’s really neat because it is on the gear VR and it’s developed by Oculus and what you do is you put it on and you are put into a theatre setting. If you were to go into a room and see that person, they look like they are all alone and not interacting with anyone but they are actually in an experience where you can join your friends living across the world and you can sit in a movie theatre with them and discuss the movie.
Leah: How does working in 3d space change how you map out a television show?
Isabelle: Very good question. We just finished shooting the VR experience for A&E and I’m from the film side from the tv side and it was the first time in my life where instead of lighting a shot we had to light the whole house, 360 degrees. No one could be anywhere to be seen. But not only that, the lighting had to be so powerful that from your 360 cameras you couldn’t see the c-stands and the lights anywhere. It was quite the challenge.
Leah: I am intrigued by the use of VR for training in the medical profession. What other types of training are you exploring through VR?
Isabelle: Certainly post traumatic stress disorder. That’s a big one because if you are able to prep people by immersing them into a reality that they will live in two months being sent to Afghanistan or wherever. It’s training that was never accessible before. Before you could tell a guy, it’s going to be really stressful, bombs are going to pop everywhere and maybe you will see a woman dressed in black with a child in her hands. She might still be a commando suicide or whatever. Until you see it for real you can’t be prepared for that and that’s what VR allows you to do. Coming form the TV side, for me to be working so closely with neurologists and just trying for example, last week we were working on the sound for the A&E experience, and we realized that if the stereo wasn’t synchronized completely, that’s when you wanna puke and you get nauseous. It was so interesting for me coming from tv to be working with doctors and neurologists you know that are studying the limitations of the brain and how much information you can get at the same time, because thats what VR is. It’s throwing so much information at you that we are reacting in a completely new way.
Leah: Thats really interesting because not only are you working with doctors to train them, they are helping you create your tools!
Leah: Time Machine VR, what made you want to go back and see dinosaurs?
Laura: Because they are awesome! (laughs)
Leah: For sure! But why the prehistoric period? You could have gone anywhere in the past, or the future.
Laura: It’s true. We defiantly could have gone anywhere in the past, we could go anywhere in the future too. Right now the game is set so that there is a plague that is destroying human kind in the near future. You have go back in time to try and find the cure which is hidden in the DNA of these ancient dinosaurs. We really wanted to try and do something that was kinda more of a documentary style where you could go and see something that you could never ever ever be able to see before. So we decided to have it under water with these ancient dinosaurs and it’s pretty freaking awesome.
Leah: So lastly, how is it developing in Montreal and specifically VR in Montreal?
Laura: I find for us on the game development side its really great because in Montreal there’s so many big industry people that you are able to get this really great community. There’s the Montreal VR group and it’s all of these people and you are able to share with them the experiences that you are having and you are able to learn from their mistakes and learn from their successes. It’s really great. We’re not developing in a bubble. We’re also expanding that because we are on early access with Time Machine VR. We’re listening to the community and we are really taking their feedback to heart because since it is such a new medium, there is so much that we don’t know. We don’t know exactly how to develop a perfect VR game so we want to listen to other people and see what they have to say about it.
Leah: And on the TV front, there are so many people here making productions because we have the whole Quebec start system. You can from A to Z here. It must make things easier for you to do the testing phase here.
Isabelle: For me it’s incredibly exciting. I’ve always worked in TV in English, strangely enough, so I always felt that I was away from the industry. But now, all of a sudden, working in VR, working with the gaming community, I feel that Montreal is certainly close to the centre of the world. And that’s so exciting to me and I am hoping that the new government will help us with tax credits for VR and that will really pour into that energy to keep it in Montreal the same way they did with the video game industry.