Jul 282017

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…

UPDATE: The free demo is available now for iPhone and Android phones that can run Google Cardboard apps.
Daily Vice did a 4 min vid on it filmed on Toronto Island.

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

  4 Responses to “Manimal Sanctuary”

  1. […] by No Media Kings, Manimal Sanctuary is described as a VR lurking simulator. You play as a strange creature that lingers around survivors in a […]

  2. This sounds really interesting. Are there going to be versions for other systems, e.g. Gear VR, HTC Vive etc? I love the idea of “slow VR.”

    • Thanks! No plans at the moment — depends on the response to this version!

      • Thanks for letting me know. I wish you tremendous success with this, whether or not it comes to my current VR platform (Gear) or the one I’m getting soon(ish), HTC Vive. I’m relatively unlikely to try this on Google cardboard, but would love to try it on the Gear or Vive at some point.

        Your game sounds like exactly the kind of surreal dreamy weirdness I like to see in VR. I appreciate you bringing it into the world! I’ll do my part to let people know about it. Kudos for having a write-up on it in Boing Boing, which is where I found out about it.

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