As with all the best stories in life making RETNE in virtual reality for Vive started with a coffee. You’ll know from previous blogs that my VR journey started in November 2016 in Reykjavik with Bjork's album Vulnicura. So getting back to Belfast I was absolutely focussed on wanting to work in VR and had started to draw, write and keep a list of VR ideas. By the time Luke McNeice from Kainos and I met for a coffee, I had over thirty ideas to share and discuss. He took these back to his developers and quickly came up with a list of yes, tricky, very tricky. Anything tricky or very tricky was out immediately.
This approach highlighted the collaborative aspect of RETNE from the start and not to get too precious about ideas - the engineering feedback was critical at the early stage because all this work helped us focus on the storyline as RETNE quickly developed. We knew we had this incredibly short time frame as our deadline was showcasing at SxSW17 in March. The questions we kept at the forefront all the way through the project were how do we want the user to feel? What can we do really well in a short time? What will make the VR experience bad? What are we limited by and what makes VR truly compelling? In short there are three key things, creative content that sparks the imagination; fully developed graphics and rendering that are executed with finesse and powerful storytelling that leaves participants wanting more.
The developers and I met weekly, they engineered, tested and then I came in and play tested and fedback. We realised early on that we would need funding for animation, audio, voiceover, studio hire and my time. I met with NI Screen and in December 2016 set up a new company VRNI Limited to submit a funding application. We heard on the 19th January2017 that this was successful. We then had just over 6 weeks to complete RETNE. The developers moved to Enter Yes, to work with Kris Kelly, a BAFTA award winning animation company. Our spatial audio was designed by David Baxter. We were able to employ a trainee Niall Doherty. We remote recorded Lil Mo’s dialogue with Michael Smiley in London on the 6th February - so the recording had to anticipate all the possible dialogue that we were going to need.
Integral to our success was a real sense of common purpose. The key partners were Kainos, NI Screen, Invest NI, Digital Catapult, Enter Yes, and David Baxter. RETNE worked because we had a motivated and highly skilled team with industry relevant experience who were completely committed to doing everything necessary to deliver the product. Its as simple as that.
So what is RETNE? In RETNE the player is a tourist who travels through VR Land, visits magical attractions in the new world and is accompanied by a quirky tour guide ‘Lil Mo’. Its playful, interactive and it engages the user with humour and sensory triggers and is appropriate for all ages. The user must perform quests in RETNE to reveal hidden secrets and special effects.
You might have already guessed that RETNE is the mirror-image of ‘ENTER’. In the story, you enter through a mirror and when you return to that mirror having completed your journey, the mirror reads ‘RETNE’.
Much of the RETNE narrative is a metaphor for the concept of VR: the mirroring of the real world to create new and exciting environments and possibilities, the journeys you can go on and the tasks you must complete to further that journey. Most appropriately, at the heart of RETNE is a quote from the philosopher, Aristotle - this is the key lesson - creativity and technical capability have to work hand in hand - they rely on each other completely - neither can work on its own, to quote “the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts.”
Working in VR brings me back to a quote from Arthur C Clarke, who once wrote, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”