Tomorrow, September 12, sees the launch of Manifest 99, a story-driven, interactive experience for PS VR. Set on a train ride through the afterlife, Manifest 99 explores a dark and beautiful world through a gaze-based gameplay mechanic. Our team at Flight School Studio is interested in how game mechanics can reinforce narrative themes, particularly when they create experiences that are only possible in VR.
As many VR enthusiasts have learned, locomotion mechanics (how the player moves within the virtual world) are difficult to implement in a way that is seamless to the experience, intuitive, and also doesn’t cause simulator sickness. In Manifest 99, there is a certain level of emotional unease we want players to experience; but, the last thing we want is someone to take their headset off because they’re not feeling well!
Research has told us that one of the main reasons that players feel nauseous is because they are moving or sliding in the virtual world, but their body doesn’t experience the right acceleration in real life to match such movement. To avoid these issues, we decided that we would use a teleportation technique to allow the player to move about their environment. We then thought, how can we pull this off without using a controller at all, and in a way that works harmoniously with our story?
Narratives to Support VR Mechanics
On a basic level, using the player’s gaze to “look where you want to go” seemed like a very simple and natural place to start. In Manifest 99, you are aboard a train that is full of crows, and you can teleport to any crow by peering into their glowing eyes. Connecting the gaze-based teleportation to the narrative meaning of locking eyes with another living creature created the marriage of mechanic and story that we were looking for.
You quickly learn that the crows aren’t the only ones on this train: there are other weary travelers that you will encounter. Our mechanic continued to evolve from the notion that we cross paths with many other lives every day, but often don’t even look into each other’s eyes, even if for just a moment.
Sometimes, it’s easy to connect with someone and immediately feel compassion for them. Other times, there’s tension as we avoid others. The difficulty of the interactions with each character on the train varies as you progress. Maybe we don’t look people in the eyes or we attempt to hide from them. That experience is at the core of Manifest 99: you discover and connect with your travel companions. Their resistance creates tension with the mechanic and narrative that’s only possible with the power of platforms like PS VR.
Flight School is incredibly excited about expanding the kinds of experiences that exist for players in VR. I personally believe that games and stories can add meaning to your life and the rich storytelling methods in VR can enhance those experiences. We’re excited to hear what you think of Manifest 99 when it becomes available for PS VR tomorrow, September 12th, 2017, at PlayStation Store for $5.99.