Creating Environments for Stories to Emerge: The Leviathan Project


That's Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, introducing The Leviathan Project at CES 2014. 

As Krzanich talked, large screens behind him lit up to reveal a giant whale floating across a night sky. Slowly the great whale began to move forward, eventually breaking free from the screens to soar out over the crowd (actually the whale at CES could only be seen superimposed over the audience if you looked at the audience through a phone or tablet - so Intel's technology on display at CES was really just one more small step forward in building out the tools that will support tomorrow's ebooks and films, merging virtual experiences into the "real world" as seen through a mobile device).

What's of more interest to me than the actual demonstration of Intel's technology was the way that the storytellers collaborated on the Leviathan VR project. Inspired by author Scott Westerfeld's 2009 steampunk adventure book Leviathan (imagine World War I if there had been a genetically fabricated whale airship), Intel and USC's World Building Media Lab brought together film and gaming students to work on an experimental project that would merge tech and story in innovative ways.

But hold up...

Games are about participation. Old World filmmaking?  Not so much. 

If (when?) the gamemaking and filmmaking disciplines converge, what will be the processes (rules?) and storytelling possibilities?

The Leviathan Project is just one early experiment - using new digital tools like sensor fusion (fusing data from multiple sensors to improve the effectiveness of 3D imaging) and motion tracking. But the challenges of telling an engaging story in a space where real and virtual realities merge is still largely unexplored.

Now that we can actually see and interact with the Leviathan experiment and Facebook has acquired (for US $2 billion) a leading company building virtual reality headsets for immersive gaming, Oculus VR, will more filmmakers and gamers take up the challenge and explore the participatory frontiers?

Ultimately, is participation in virtual worlds a gimmick or a promising area for the future of narrative?

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