Manifest 99 is an eerie and inquisitive new VR experience, coming out on the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and HTC Vive this week.
Manifest 99 takes you on a train ride through the afterlife. Here, you will come across beady-eyed ravens, whilst picking up personal belongings from different journeyers. Teleporting between birds that keep staring at you from all angles is quite uncomfortable. Some characters shy away from you, others are more aggressive and will start a fight. You keep learning more about the individuals via backstories.
This experience provides new meaning to how we see and behold characters when wearing our headsets. It certainly makes for an unpleasant and disturbing piece, in which you feel like an intruder, rather than an observer. Manifest 99 brings about a darker side to surveillance than previous VR experiences.
What were the reasons behind creating this piece for VR? Co-director Adam Volker explains: “Narratively, it was important that we forced people to engage with the characters on the train. It’s so often that when we meet people or pass them on the street, we don’t look them in the eyes. With a gaze-based mechanic like the one we use in Manifest 99, you are engaging with our characters, and looking into the windows of their souls. This type of interaction couldn’t have been achieved in any other medium.”
Eye-contact is a hugely powerful VR aspect. “Eyes are emotive,” Volker continues. “They tell you how someone is feeling. If their eyes are empty, it’s hard to read their emotions and that can be unnerving. In Manifest 99, the crows are glowing, empty, white vessels, and so are the eyes of the other characters. When you stare into their eyes and connect with the other passengers, you are able to experience their story and learn about who they are and why they are on the train. We wanted to use that connection, in hopes that it establishes a stronger connection between the player and the characters.”
Layer of mystery
In this piece, your subjects are animals. Soldiers are bears, lumbering over you whilst sitting in their cabins, quietly reflecting life. “Animals allow us to abstract the personas of the characters. Animals also have connotations and mythologies – stories about animals as personalities exist in many cultures. It made a lot of sense for us to employ that technique when we were building the world in Manifest 99. It lends another layer of mystery to have the characters be animals that complement their story.”
Manifest 99 leaves you pondering issues like respect and preservation. The experience provides a special glimpse into the lives of others, and the histories and struggles we all share. Manifest 99 is now available on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR for $5.99.