Experience will be available on PS VR, Steam, Vive Port and Oculus on September 12
Dallas-based new media creative studio Flight School transports viewers into a menacing midnight locomotive trek, staring into the eyes of mysterious crows in their debut original interactive VR experience “Manifest 99.” Viewers find themselves wandering the cars of a strange train in a grey, featureless wasteland, straddling the line between dream and nightmare as they uncover the stories behind the train’s cryptic travelers. The animated VR experience comes from the creative minds of the newly-launched studio, which boasts a team of Academy Award® and Emmy Award-winning talent. “Manifest 99” explores the use of scale and perspective in the interactive piece, using a gaze-based movement mechanic to entice the viewer to navigate through the immersive film.
“Manifest 99” will be available on PS VR, Steam, Vive Port and Oculus on September 12 for $5.99.
The narrative-driven, interactive VR experience is an eerie story about finding redemption in the afterlife, told over four chapters. Set on a train inhabited by a murder of crows, the viewer stares into the eyes of their travel companions on their way to their final station. As an exploration in locomotion mechanics, the experience uses engagement with characters as a method of movement in the VR environment. As the viewer locks eyes with the crows throughout the piece, their viewpoint shifts as they embody the eyes of that crow, advancing in the plot, while also taking in the scenes through a variety of angles. The gaze-driven mechanic is also utilized to transport the viewer into a series of flashback scenes throughout the experience and ramps up in difficulty as the experience progresses.
“Movement in virtual reality has always been a challenge,” notes Flight School Chief Creative Officer Brandon Oldenburg. “We realized that how you move around in VR has to be more than a mechanic, and by advancing the viewer by gazing into the characters’ eyes we were able to discover a strong motivation for movement within the experience that pushed the story further, rather than disrupt it.”
The Flight School team fused an industry appetite for short-form animated experiences in the eerie genre with the inherent isolating nature of the VR headset to craft a moody experience that keeps viewers on their feet. Zeroing in on these sensibilities, they began to hone the storyline and distinct stylized aesthetic for the characters in the piece, resulting in a rich world rendered in a striking, painterly visual style. The film, which explores scale and navigation unlike any other VR experience, requires no controller and can be done with the viewer sitting or standing.
“Manifest 99” is the first original IP out of Flight School and pulls in viewers with dynamic visuals, but also a rich and allegorical storyline.
As the viewer advances through the train’s cars, guided by the crows, they meet the Bear, Doe and Owl characters and learn insight about their pasts, discovering each character’s lost objects to complete their passage. Viewers can also discover easter egg collective items throughout the experience, providing additional backstory and allowing for a unique path each time.
“At Flight School, we’re interested in how VR mechanics can reinforce narrative metaphors,” notes Flight School Creative Director Bohdon Sayre. “In Manifest 99, our story is part about connecting with others who normally would not think twice about. Using the simple gaze-based mechanic, the player must connect with the eyes of each character, and making that connection becomes increasingly difficult as the player progresses.”
“Manifest 99” was featured at E3’s MIX (Media Indie Exchange) showcase and was named among BuzzFeed’s “Favorite Video Games of E3” 2017.