Ctrl is one of the first scripted dramas performed in virtual reality. As exciting as this is, this raises a few questions which can be compared to the start of filmmaking – when the wild west of production was in the hands of entrepreneurs experimenting with the new technology. What techniques should be used? What subject-matter may work best with the medium? How should scenes be shot, sets be designed, cameras be pointed towards?
This is all new. It’s a brand new scape where it is difficult to work out what works best until some individuals roll up their sleeves with a good idea, and gets their hands bloody with their work and effort. Ctrl shows those marks: it is a 20-minute product made with the help and support of a dedicated team. It has flaws, and questions can be raised on whether the VR was needed, but its craft has to be respected.
The story is set in a gaming world which can be compared to a live chess board – pieces move in real time in arenas with barriers and power ups. The rules were not explained, but they were not needed to be – like Iain M. Banks’ The Player of Games, the game is just the catalyst of the drama, which requires little explanation. The pieces also become important metaphors for the story’s conflict later in the drama, though delving into why may spoil key plot details – but be assured, a chessboard with kings, queens and pawns was a deliberate choice.
The story stars Liam, an expert game player who plays the game to win a large cash prize, as a way to settle a deposit for a new home. He is the protagonist, and the two commentators play the foil where he may express his intentions. A simple premise condensed into a 20-minute chunk of time, but required to move the story along.
There is only one perspective, with you as a viewer moving through the virtual world – sometimes flying, but often still, looking down into the arena alongside your other viewers. The static and slow movement meant that the experience was comfortable and well positioned. It was also a 360 degree experience, facilitated by sitting on a swivel chair which meant there can be multiple angles.
Ultimately the story can be gone into further, but due to its nature and the surprise, it does not feel right to delve more into it. What is important though is its use of VR, and how it may not necessarily contribute much to the experience, save for two parts – when skimming across a great lake and feeling a great sense of speed; and the end, when looking up at an intimidating figure. With both the use of VR enhanced the experience, but with the rest of the experience it felt like as though it would have worked as well watching a television show. When should VR be used if not to enhance something, or tie into the story? But with Ctrl, it was useful as a bystander watching a game in an arena, but perhaps not necessary. But again, on further deliberation, sitting among a crowd watching a game had its own sick thrill which cannot be replicated. The same technology could be used when watching football, for example.
But again, on further deliberation, sitting among a crowd watching a game had its own sick thrill which cannot be replicated. The same technology could be used when watching football, for example. The use of VR wasn’t to break new ground but to enhance what was already there. Cuts in films can be used to heighten tension or focus on specific people or objects, but in VR the same was not possible. Instead, it should be treated like a dynamic painting, where through movements and conflict the spectator is moved to look where relevant.
Ctrl was a successful experiment. The ending made me feel very uncomfortable, and the somber mood of taking off the headsets complemented the atmosphere. (However the use of smoke machines was perhaps not needed, and the loud noise distracted from the drama at the end). A first time may not be the best time, but it is certainly an exciting entry which will be marked and learned from in the future. Breaking Fourth has the proud honor of holding this, and though it has flaws, I highly recommend everyone to watch it.