How To Tell Stories In Virtual Reality

Immersive Storytelling

In this page, we have listed an overview of some key points to take into account when producing a story-driven VR Experience. At Conical we take our clients through a hands-on workshop before we begin to collaborate on producing any VR Experience. It is essential that everyone is as well informed as we are with this new medium before commencing work on any project. Our aim with this is to be on the same page in order to maximise the resources available, and in turn produce the best results.

“What most people are calling VR right now, isn’t VR. It’s really an omni-directional camera; and because you don’t have any spatial control or any spatial movement... it’s baked into the photography where you only have the ability to look around in an environment and that is not true VR. In true VR you can move around and you have a lot of control of where you are spatially in the environment.”


-James Cameron

The true promise of Virtual Reality is something that has been dreamed of for decades and finally has arrived with headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. There has been a misconception of the technology for the masses as consumers try it for the first time.

Most content creators who may want to jump into the VR hype have tended to take the easy route of producing 360° video. This is misleading for first audiences because it’s often presented as Virtual Reality, but because the 360° camera is mounted on a tripod audiences tend to get motion sick when tilting their head or leaning over. In order to achieve a superior quality and premium format, we need to design with True VR in mind which is created in a virtual environment, and not with a 360° camera.

One of the many challenges of VR Storytelling is the freedom audiences have to look around in 360° without the constraint of the frame. When creating story-driven VR experiences, content creators often resort to gimmicks and tricks to get the audience’s attention.

It is important to remember the reason why audiences wish to experience a story in the first place. They want to escape from their own problems into a different reality. Audiences want to worry about other character’s problems instead. Have your audiences worry about the idea of whether the character is going to get their goal or not and clearly identify what is getting in their way.

There are various elements within the universal story components that are non-platform specific and apply perfectly to VR such as genre and escalation. With a clear genre, you are identifying how your audiences want to feel before trying the experience. With escalation you’re intensifying the experience, making the user feel that things are getting worse for the protagonist.

In our workshop we run through a range of narrative techniques you can apply into your next VR project, which are not platform specific.

The design process to create content for VR is not the same than creating content for Film & TV. We have to re-think the role for the Director into an Experience Designer, creating user centric experiences that encourage the audience to move the story forward.

Remember that audiences need to be motivated in order to take action. If you reward them, they’ll continue to feel motivated to move the story forward.


Motivation------> Action ------> Reward

As soon as the user puts the headset on, we need to give them 30 to 45 seconds to accommodate into this new space. We can learn from the rituals we undertake when we go and watch a movie: the curtains open, the lights dim, the movie starts. The same applies to VR. Give the user some time to get comfortable at the beginning.

There are three user-centric areas to take into consideration when designing for VR. The personal space for any interaction with the user, the Action space for the performers, and the Vista for locations. We also use elements of design from Architecture to direct the user’s attention to certain regions of the environment.

Locomotion is a big problem for VR content creation. We have come to learn that the best way to take the user from one place to another is to move them in a straight line and to never rotate their virtual camera. Their physical bodies and actions need to match the virtual world.

There are three types of performance capture techniques:

Volumetric , 360° Video and CGI.

Volumetric captures point cloud data which allows the content creator to place the performer anywhere in the virtual space.

360° Video is pre-rendered and works best when the performer is in the user’s personal space for better stereo, otherwise it renders flat.

CGI is the best long term option for VR because it reacts to the lighting in the virtual world and game engine graphics these days are reaching a higher level of photo-realism. This technique uses Motion Capture to record the performance. Learn more about how we use Motion Capture HERE.

It is important as an Experience Designer (Director) to clearly define how much agency you are willing to give to your audience. This ranges from a gaze-based experience to a fully immersive range of motion in the virtual world where the user can touch virtual objects.

GET IN TOUCH if you wish to learn about the Golden Rules of VR Storytelling or to request a hands-on Workshop on VR Storytelling.

Too Much Freedom

Universal Story Components

Experiential Design

The Welcome Ritual

Spatial Design


Performance Capture


Sensory Cues

We can also encourage the user to look at a certain areas by the use of light, movement and sound. Remember that eyes follow ears.

360° Video vs True Virtual Reality

First things first.



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