Tender Claws show off their bizarre new social experience at Sundance 2019.
Despite the lack of an actual release date, Oculus’ upcoming 6DoF standalone headset, the Oculus Quest, has found new trouble in garnering large amounts of attention from both industry veterans and consumers alike. Major developers have been sinking their teeth into the hardware, with some having already announced their upcoming Quest-based projects.
Tender Claws, a veteran VR developer responsible for Virtual Virtual Reality, are present at this year’s Sundance Film Festival showcasing their own Quest release, The Under Presents, an outlandish narrative-driven social experience that combines interactive theatrical performances with specially-trained live actors.
Set aboard a magical, time-bending ship known as ‘The Under,’ the experience revolves around themes such as fate, time, and free will as users interact with a never-ending loop of revolving on-stage acts, both live and recorded, including “line-dancing cats, dandelion goddesses, and a dolphin named Gerald.” The primary act — referred to as ‘The Aickman,’ serves as the “main story” within this bizarre experience.
Players who participate can socialize with one another in a collaborative environment and interact with a variety of in-game objects and props. The luckiest of the bunch can even be selected to join the live actors on-stage!
“There is a lot of interest in exploring the overlap of immersive theater and VR,” states Samantha Gorman, co-founder of Tender Claws. “The project’s narrative revolves around fate and free will and as part of that we’re interested in playing with the change of feeling of interacting with both pre-recorded and live characters. As well as other players and past recorded versions of themselves.”
For their Sundance performance, Tender Claws enlisted the help of Piehole, a NYC theatre collective specializing in experimental performances. Troupe members were recorded in real-time using motion-capture technology to help better express their emotional performances.
One of the primary components of The Under Presents is the live actors ability to alter the experience and warp users from one location to another. During our hands-on time at the festival, the acting troupe periodically pulled us aside for various one-on-one interactions. In one instance, one of us was teleported dockside to interact with a fisherman — played by a real actor — who’s busy hunting for deep sea lobsters.
Whatever the interaction, whether it be one-on-one or with a group on the main stage, the experience provides a unique new method of VR interaction that effectively sets itself apart from conventional social experiences, such as VRChat.
Despite its original format, however, we found our initial time with ‘The Under Presents’ to be a relatively lackluster experience. While performing with a troupe of live actors in VR was interesting, many of the interactions themselves were relatively mundane. The actors on-stage did ask for recommendations from the crowd regarding which in-game objects to use during a performance, but the lack of variety made some of the scenes feel somewhat tired and scripted. After all, you can only do so much with a wooden chair.
This was, however, just a mere sample of what The Under Presents could potentially offer, and it makes sense that Tender Claws would want to create a safe, controllable environment for their debut. Hopefully, the company will eventually begin to loosen their leash on the experience and embrace the truly bizarre potential a platform like this could provide.