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Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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How to make reading stories compelling in VR?

angels & demigods
How to make reading stories compelling in VR?

When I think of genres that would benefit from the good ol’ VR treatment, visual novels don’t spring to mind. Probably for the same reason that books in VR don’t come to mind—reading in VR just doesn’t sound fun. It might even make one motion sick, much like reading in a moving vehicle. And yet, fresh game developers 7 Keys Studios are trying their hand at the tricky genre anyways with the upcoming HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR visual novel, Angels & Demigods.

Angels & Demigods takes place on Enceladus, the sixth largest moon of Saturn. While the story summary for the sci-fi tale remains undisclosed, 7 Keys Studios has revealed some alpha footage for the experimentally immersive game. In VR, the player can look around their 360-degree environment, as per usual. But instead of the atypical 3D used in most VR games, Angels & Demigods stays true to the visual novel genre: everything is flat and mostly 2D. There remains a surprising sense of depth, however, in its stagnant backgrounds. Visual novels suddenly make sense for the VR realm. For once, the player is literally in that narrative world.

There’s a surprising sense of depth in its stagnant backgrounds

7 Keys Studios claim to the be the first developing a VR visual novel using Unity, but they aren’t the first to try and bring the niche genre to VR hardware. Virtual Novel is another currently in-development exercise for bringing visual novels to VR. But rather than in Unity, it’s being developed within Unreal Engine 4 with 3D graphics. Differing strongly from the 2D, classic visual novel style that Angels & Demigods is paying homage to.

There’s also the tech demo revealed from last year of Cyber Danganronpa VR, a reimagining of a trial from the first Danganronpa game, Trigger Happy Havoc (2010). In the tech demo, the player is sitting within a trial, and can turn their head to watch others shift blame and argue during the intense debate. Unlike the visual novel-leaning game itself, the VR experience swaps out the 2D art for 3D.

angels and demigods
The guy drilling a cyborg’s head doesn’t look too happy.

Even though visual novels in VR don’t sound like a particularly great idea initially, I’m hoping Angels & Demigods (or even Virtual Novel and Danganronpa’s upcoming VR experience) can prove me wrong. Maybe more visual novels, or even otome games, will pop up in the VR realm. Maybe an immersive visual (or even audio-centric) novel is where VR should be headed for storytelling. After all, anything is possible in VR. So why not interactive text-driven fiction?

Angels & Demigods is currently in development, but you can check out the alpha test here, and follow its ongoing development on their Twitter.

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