October 23rd, 2020 | by Mathieu Gayet

“I wanted to spotlight indie creators from virtual platforms” – Mária Rakušanová (Raindance Immersive)

The fall brings back the interactive community to the familiar faces of international festivals and events – some virtual, some physical – and it’s time to go fully indies with Raindance. Curator Mária Rakušanová talks with us about her selection, the need of looking for new talents and building virtual worlds for Raindance Immersive 2020.

Prelude: the year when everything changed… but not really

Mária Rakušanová – As a community platform I do think that (HTC) has to support such events as Venice VR, NewImages, FNC Explore or Raindance – even for a few days. It’s a real help to them, to creators. Actually, we started with XR@Annecy which had a smaller selection. And of course, I’m a huge fan of VRChat – It was a lot of fun, even if you can’t replace the physical part of a festival. We couldn’t imagine this before, not at this scale. It is important to consider this, and especially as a curator I started to look into VRChat creators.

M. R. - The pandemic didn’t change a lot the way we consider Raindance (see the selection). You have to remember we did our award ceremony on Altspace in 2017! 200 people came physically in London. And beneath my clothes I had a partial mocap suit: I gave my opening keynote in front of 800 people online! With a live Q&A etc. With the lockdown, I went back to these social VR platforms (Altspace, Recroom, MOR…) and VRChat. I stayed on this last one, I love the avatar system and their full-body tracking. There is a community of dancers, creators there with dedicated spaces. I was fascinated by this universe and its possibilities. And so, we’re building a small space on VRChat which will be based on the physical venue of Raindance in London. I do hope to allow gaming studios to visit the Raindance world with their own game characters!

Visiting virtual worlds - A curator's work

M. R. - I started to see projects in March, and wasn’t really convinced by the projects I received at first. I went more and more to VRChat, and watching the indie game community on the platform with great people producing amazing contents. Raindance is, after all, about independent creators first. We have to challenge indie creators, producers and films. And in VRChat, it’s fascinating to see so many young people going into creation, learning how to use Unity, Blender etc. It’s quite a closed community, but a few have world-class contents to share, creative worlds to present (it’s almost “environment storytelling” in the process to present a virtual world to users, to define your avatar). So, this year we’ll have a Best Immersive World Award. We have to turn the lights on them, now A-class events like Venice VR are going into social VR themselves. This year is all about social VR and communities. See what went on with Virtual Burning Man, it was fascinating. Venice VR Expanded did an amazing job too!

M. R. – We didn’t care about world premiere – even if it’s great to host a premiere sometimes for a festival. Some of the projects this year are already out, like DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE. I just want to showcase beautiful experiences, to get more people into VR. We need to find ways to support creators, to find how to get more people to pay and play their games. It’s a question of monetization, downloads… creating an ecosystem.

Raindance Immersive: all details about the 2020’s selection

M. R. - This year we’ll have 33 experiences. No 360 films, only game engine produced experiences. I do love 360 contents, I believe in the format, but I needed to fill in 10 Award categories and to combine everything the right way. Going into games engine production seemed to be logical, with the innovation in mind. I wanted to have real creative skills (the quality of the production itself) and the technical advancements of everything. They bring the medium forward! I really define our selection by creating virtual portals to bring people in so many different virtual worlds.

M. R. - World-building is another interesting thing. PAPER BEAST – French produced game - is a beautiful, stunning world from the sound design to the visual art. It’s consistent with Eric Chahi’s previous works. It’s a real pleasure to see him coming to VR as it has everything we love in virtual reality: emotions, storytelling… It creates feelings close to real life! PAPER BIRDS, BABA YAGA are both highly recommended.

M. R. - Another amazing project is a 6-hours horror game multi-player THE DEVOURING. It dropped mid-August in VRChat, and I spent 9 hours in it! It’s one of the best horror game I played, with a lot of jump scares! And it’s from game developers, but between the beautiful art direction and set up (gameplay, narrative, architecture and space…) it’s a great cinematic achievement - and a real homage to the classic of horror videogames. As a user, you want to be dedicated to such experience, to spend time visiting this new virtual world. It’s up to 4 players.

M. R. – We have a selection of projects revolving around environment and our debt to the world. It is important, especially this year, to consider this. RHYTHM OF THE UNIVERSE: IONIA is a good example of this, with a great sound design. SKIN OF EARTH is kind of being in the Shire in LORD OF THE RINGS, basically! You basically want to get a LOTR avatar for this, as you can have your avatar personalized in VRChat. It’s better to discover this in a multiplayer environment, and more experiences should consider this. Also the amazing TEMPEST is in the selection, DR. CRUMB'S SCHOOL FOR DISOBEDIENT PETS is a lot of fun (from the creator of DEAR ANGELICA’s Maxwell Planck). SCARECROW which debuted at Sundance as a LBE: they created a new version for VRChat. RINLO, VEN VR, ALL HAIL THE COOK-O-TRON… are all extremely fascinating as first time indie games, which makes the Discovery Award quite a thing this year!

M. R. – I also choose to invite VIRTUALLY SPEAKING which is a flat 12-episodes webserie, shot and broadcasted in VRChat with virtual production methods. Everything was set up in VRChat, from the cast auditions to the locations. His name is Joe Hunting, and he started as a volunteer at Raindance! He did a great job interviewing a lot of strange people from the VRChat’s community. With great questions regarding the relationship we have with our avatars, our virtual status versus our real life. There is a narrative in being in these virtual worlds. Joe worked around his own camera system to shot everything there. I want these stories or games to influence people, as we are going through a difficult time. And to enjoy everything all together, creators and audiences.

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