In Between (ongoing)


A VR experience about dream and fear

2022
Individual Project




︎ Unity
︎ VRTK
︎ Playmaker
︎ Shader graph
︎ C# Script

︎ Animaiton

︎Design Statement


In Between is a VR experience about fear that explores the boundary between dream and reality, and investigats the absurdity and darkness of the unconscious using the narrative container of dreams.






︎Impetus

For my thesis, I want to focus on the theme of storytelling because it is a crucial part of our lives. Storytelling has existed for centuries, and it has evolved and extended from its traditional forms such as fables or fairy tales to its contemporary forms nowadays that is widely applied in different fields and industries including personal narratives, political commentaries, commercial campaigns, games, etc.1 People are naturally attracted to stories because it makes information easier to process.2 Therefore, I think storytelling is an interesting and necessary topic that deserves a closer and in-depth examination. I want to explore the possibility of storytelling in different angles and formats. The medium I chose to work with is game because I think it is a very powerful and unique way to tell a story. Unlike traditional formats such as movies or books, games enable unique experiences for each player because the player takes control of the story. The player can actively engage and interact with the story instead of just being told of what is happening. I think there is endless potential to explore.


My topic for this project is inspired by my own dreams and fears. I want to explore the concept of fear and play with the feeling of discomfort in the narrative container of a dream.
I intend to use my own dream experiences and worst fears as inspirations for storytelling. My design statement is to make a room-scale VR experience about dreams and fears to explore the boundary between consciousness and unconsciousness, the separation between mind and body, and to use my own dreams as inspiration for storytelling. This is a continuation of the project I have done called Glitch, which is a VR experience about being trapped in a sleep paralysis experience. It has three scenes in total and I want to take the first scene and develop it further for my thesis project. Sleep paralysis is the state that happens during waking up or falling asleep where the person is aware yet unable to move. During an episode, people might hallucinate or dream of things they fear, and it’s usually recurrent. For my thesis project, I’m exploring the broader topic of dreams and fear in general instead of just focusing on sleep paralysis.


︎Research - About Fear


My story and experience is built upon three types of phobia. 


Thalassophobia

A type of specific phobia that involves a persistent and intense fear of deep bodies of water such as the ocean or sea.



Entomophobia

An abnormal and persistent fear of insects.

Megalophobia

A type of specific phobia in which a person experiences intense fear of large objects



︎ Precedents: Storytelling in VR
VR technology is getting more and more advanced and accessible nowadays, and its ability to generate realistic environments and sounds that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual world makes it a very great tool for immersive storytelling. Since my project will be in VR, I researched some successful VR storytelling experiences.



The first one is an animated virtual reality experience that explores a man’s experience of living with schizophrenia and psychosis called Goliath: Playing with Reality. I really like how this makes me feel like I walked into a film or animation. I stayed in a set location while I experienced and interacted with the story happening around me.
The story is set in different chapters that follows the true story of a man with a troubled upbringing who is diagnosed with schizophrenia and eventually finds connection through playing online multiplayer computer games. It’s a really strong piece of immersive storytelling balancing interactivity of gaming metaphors that serves the story, great pacing, and brilliant onboarding and offboarding as voiced by narrators. What I’m really interested in about this experience is how it uses narration as an audio cue to guide the experience, and how it successfully weaves different interactions and mini games into the narratives.




Goliath: Playing with Reality, Barry Gene Murphy, May Abdalla, 2021



The Book of Distance is created by the national film board of Canada in 2020. It is a room-scale interactive virtual reality experience that focuses on the story of a Japanese immigrant family living in Canada. This is a very visually compelling piece that takes the player on an emotional journey. I really like how this makes me feel like I walked into the life of the family and grow with them together. The story follows the journey of a Japanese man called Yonezo Okita, who left his home in Hiroshima in 1935 and moved to Canada to start his new life. The story is linearly told through the perspective of his grandson Randall Okita. As we journey across countries and generations, Randall Okita acts as our guide, at times physically constructing each new scene as if directing on set for an audience of one. This makes the overall experience very immersive as if I’m watching a movie inside the movie itself.


The Book of Distance, National Film Board of Canada, 2020




︎Storyboard
The elements and stories in the dream scenes are inspired and derived from my own experiences including past dreams and worst fears to play with the feeling of discomfort. The overall experience is meant to be a VR interactive animation experience. The scenes jump back and forth between dream and reality to blur the line between the physical and the virtual world, and explore the boundary between consciousness and unconsciousness.


The first scene starts with the player lying in bed playing a game on the phone. This part is interactive instead of just an animation, meaning that the player can actually play the game on the phone inside the VR game. The passing of level will act as a trigger for the player to enter the first dream world, the ocean.


The second scene starts with the player floating in the middle of an ocean at night without the ability to move. Everything is dark around the player, and the only thing that the player can do is to look around. Shortly after that, the player will start to hear a monstrous sound from far away, and the player starts to sink into the ocean. When underwater, there will be a huge sea monster approaching from afar. When the monster is approaching closer and closer to the player, the player will need to try to wiggle the controller to wake up to simulate the experience of trying to escape from a nightmare during sleep paralysis. Once escaped, there will be a transition scene that flashes back to reality, which represents the short escape from dreams, but the player will quickly fall back to sleep and enter the dream again.


The third scene starts after the player falls back to sleep and continues the previous dream. This time, the sea monster in front of the player will start to glitch and transition into a small fish swimming in a fish tank, and the scene will transition from the dark underwater world into an indoor space. The player can then control the fish in the tank, and try to swim up the tank, avoid obstacles on the way and finally jump out of the fish tank. After that, the scene will fade into black.


The fourth scene starts in complete darkness. Shortly after that, the player will first hear the clicking sound of bugs crawling. When the room gradually lights up, the player will find himself in the room that he fell asleep in and start to see bug-like creatures crawling towards him. In this scene, the player can only see the surrounding environment through a circle of light which gives a flashlight effect.



As the number of bugs increases and gets closer and closer, the bugs start to transform into humans, and the scene transitions to a room full of people where everyone is chatting and playing around the player. Then the music starts to play, and everyone starts to dance in a strange way. The player can play games at the party, and once the game is passed. Everyone around him will start to dissolve and finally disappear, leaving the player alone in the room.

The sixth scene takes the player back to the room he fell asleep in again, which gives the player an illusion of waking up from nightmares and getting back to reality. The player then has the option to get out of bed and play a video game on a computer. This is another game within a game scene. After a while of playing, the screen starts to glitch and then displays a view of the player sitting in front of the computer, as if the playing is being watched by someone from the back. More and more monitors appear in the room around the player all displaying the same thing. After that, all the screens glitch and the player is brought back to the bedroom, which enters the last scene.




The player finally wakes up from the nightmares and decides to get out of the bed and turn on the light before falling asleep to another nightmare. Just when the player thinks that he is finally awake and back to reality, the light turns itself off again as soon as it is turned on, and everything becomes dark again. The scene then gradually fades into the ocean again.




︎Prototype










︎Prototype


Video playing on TV in In Between (credit: part of the clip is excerpt from Daydreaming by Radiohead)
︎ Prototype

︎Playtest




︎Pop-up Show

In Between in 2022 Design and Technology graduate thesis show @ Parsons School of Design.



︎Next Step
This is an ongoing project. The prototype I have right now only refelct a selected portion of the scenes from the storyboard. I will continue developing this project and make it more and more complete.