The last six months or so I’ve been writing and designing a VR game prototype:
Manimal Sanctuary is a lurking simulator. It leverages low-end VR technology to enable every player’s ultimate fantasy: to play a creature part coral reef, part Cthulhu, who consumes human emotions. Set on the Toronto Islands after the rest of the city is consumed by gibbering monstrosities, you eavesdrop on the survivors and their dramas involving things like bad potato crops and graffiti tags. And if those everyday emotions aren’t filling enough, you can always uncover some devastating secrets…
We’ve had a bit of a dream-team to put it together. Jason RT Bond did development, Mathew Borrett did the art, Laura Barrett did the music and Sean Lerner produced. It was made possible through a Concept Definition grant from the Ontario Media Development Corporation.
Our Lovecraftian post-apocalypse posits that there’s something dreadful and threatening just across the water. Every year, the critters that have devoured the rest of the world could easily skitter across the ice and wipe out the small enclave of human survivors. They have not these past seven years, and it is thought that this is thanks to the vigilance of the sentries — who watch the water day and night in the winter, ready with their rifles. But the rifles are not for the critters, but rather for another threat — human survivors who might make the run across the water, but in the process lead the critters to the safe island. When the other islanders discover this terrible secret, they each have to decide how far they’re willing to go to maintain the status quo.
This question of what kind of society do we want to have — how safe, and how just — is of obvious relevance to our current political discussion about immigration, refugees, and terrorism.
We’re also interested in seeing what the player comfort is in relation to the creature they embody. Is manipulation of humans OK if it’s allowing them to survive? Is the farmer/livestock relationship — wherein humans are providing emotions, as cows provide milk — one we’re entirely comfortable with?
Aesthetically, we are aligning ourselves with what artist Mariam Zakarian terms “Slow VR”. Rather than focusing on the visceral shocks the medium is often used for, we have designed an experience that focuses on a gentle unfolding immersion. The storytelling, the interaction, the motion are all meant to steep you in a strange world that makes you think rather than react.
We have also deliberately pulled away from the bleeding edge, instead working with a gaze-based interaction with no buttons or extra peripherals. We strove to make the performance needs minimal so it will work on lower end phones, because we want to connect with an audience who is surprised and delighted with what it can do with their phone, rather than a high end user audience who is angry with what their high priced gear can’t do.
Tricia Brioux as Iris
Larissa Benfey as Chloe
Michael Lake as Kevin
Steve Rizzo as Nick
Madison Kozdas as Gill
Peter Frangella as Andy
Naima Sundiata as Azzie
Emotion collection sound by http://freesound.org/people/toam/
Pearl sound by http://freesound.org/people/Timbre/
Secret sound by Laura Barrett
Tentacle growth sound by http://freesound.org/people/MisterLockbridge12/
Ambient sound recorded by Laura Barrett
Thanks to: Kelvin Put, Brett King, Adam Axbey, Luke Li, Carol Borden, Michelle Axbey, Aimee Hindle
Playtesters: Cindy Poremba, Miguel Sternberg, Dave Fono, Aislinn Wallington