Our second day of open rehearsals for Pandora X, Double Eye Studios' current project in development, took place last week. It was an amazing opportunity for us to test a multitude of different interactions with both our social VR audience and our live digital audience.
For this session, I scripted out a ten-minute excerpt of the play, a modern take on the ancient myth of Pandora: On Mount Olympus, Zeus is overjoyed with news from the Mortal Realm. After eons of confinement in the virtual world, he has an opportunity to recover the box of Hope and finally exact his revenge upon mankind. But Hera has had enough of Zeus’ obsession...
The experience was again hosted on VRChat and our virtual audience was invited to play the part of the Greek Chorus, complete with lines and actions, more specifically: making an offering to the gods with the images that we had crowd-sourced in the days leading up to the rehearsal.
Contrary to our April rehearsal, where our only challenge was related to bandwidth, this time we were plagued with a multitude of technical difficulties due to a wide variety of reasons.
For the first session, everything went well in the virtual world. Most of our "Greek Chorus" members had been to a rehearsal the day before and their murmured lines worked perfectly. All of the mechanics - The Greek Chorus carrying their offerings, Zeus throwing thunderbolts and flying through the air, Hera opening a portal to the mortal realm, the audience learning how to fly - all of this worked like clockwork. BUT some of our teams' microphones remained open through most of the performance and the digital audience could hear a constant stream of technical cues throughout. So although the virtual audience had a wonderful time, the digital audience didn't have as much fun.
For the second session, VRChat did an update an hour before we went live and it affected the audio - none of the Greek chorus could be heard! In addition, the livestream went out ten minutes after the performance had started. So once again, the live digital audience did not receive what we would consider a quality piece of entertainment and this time the virtual audience was not able to add their voices to the show. Sigh.
But this is all why we were doing these experiments in the first place! And the lessons we learned were invaluable. As we move forward and begin to really flesh out Pandora X, we'll be taking those lessons forward with us, the most critical of which is on-boarding for the virtual audience.
Even though we had done three layers of on-boarding for these experiments - an e-mail prior to the experience, a rehearsal the day before, and reiteration of the instructions inside the storyworld before the show started - it was not enough! There is something about being immersed in a storyworld that is so magical and so distracting, that it is hard to focus right away. Hence lesson #2: Don't have the audience start the show! I was the one in charge of leading the Greek Chorus members and the phrase that popped into my head was "herding cats". Everyone was excited and enthusiastic and... all over the place exploring. And who can blame them!
Although we remain strongly committed to bridging live and virtual audiences in VR theater, our next iteration of Pandora X will be focused exclusively on the VR experience. This is because we can't truly have a "live" audience congregating right now in an enclosed theater space and the challenges of including a digital audience in the experience while still providing a quality show to the VR audience are so complex. So while our long term goal for the project remains the same - a live theater piece performed simultaneously in the real and virtual worlds, our next step will be to build a 20 minute "prologue" to Pandora X hosted on VRChat.