NewImages Festival Showed Me What VR Experiences Can Offer Beyond Games

NewImages Festival presented an impressive range of VR projects, showing how far VR filmmaking has come. Read on for our full impressions.

It’s no secret that I’m mainly interested in VR for gaming. I’d consider it my biggest hobby and you’ve possibly noticed that I cover VR games almost exclusively. That said, I can’t deny that joining UploadVR has broadened my view considerably of the wider experiences VR can offer. Venice Immersive was a big eye-opener last year and that recently continued in Paris, when I attended last month’s NewImages Festival and its XR Market.

Showcasing many worldwide VR and AR projects, what immediately struck me is how VR filmmakers aren’t shying away from difficult subjects. Stay Alive, My Son details the real-life story of Yathay Pin, a Cambodian genocide survivor forced to abandon his son. Noire looks at the civil rights struggle in ’50s Alabama, while Letters From Drancy explores Marion Deichmann’s journey after being separated from her mother during the Holocaust.

I couldn’t try everything during my two-day visit, which meant I missed out on experiences like The Imaginary Friend, Bear My Soul and A Vocal Landscape. Some others, like Gargoyle Doyle and Empereur were previously shown during Venice Immersive, so I didn’t try those again. Still, my time in Paris revealed numerous experiences worth highlighting.

My festival began with JFK Memento, which revisits the former president’s assassination by focusing on lesser-known stories surrounding his death. I particularly like how this VR documentary projects archival video footage and photos onto virtual recreations of key locations, creating a sense of presence that normal documentaries can’t provide. My full impressions can be found below.

JFK Memento Offers An Intriguing Approach To VR Documentaries
JFK Memento delivers an intriguing approach to VR documentary filmmaking. Here’s our impressions.

Next was the only game I found at NewImages – Yuki, ARVORE’s 2021 bullet hell roguelike. Specifically, the studio was showcasing last year’s mixed reality update that involves defeating enemies who emerge from portals. It’s a nice idea that decently adapts the main game, though I didn’t feel particularly compelled to continue after three waves. I also tried The Tent, an AR tabletop dramatic narrative experience set in Los Angeles.

Between these meetings, one thing I particularly enjoyed was the ‘XR Library’ in the main area. Selecting an experience almost felt like choosing a book, and I could choose between standalone Quest headsets and a few PC VR-focused experiences. I went hands-on with two particular titles. The Eye and I takes a more surrealist approach while critiquing modern-day surveillance, addressing civil liberty concerns.

I also tried ‘Missing 10 Hours‘, a short experience created by Fanni Fazakas in collaboration with substance abuse survivors. Frankly, it’s an experience that I will remember for a long time. Before I begin, be aware that this next paragraph discusses some distressing themes regarding attempted date rape.

Missing 10 Hours aims to reduce the ‘Bystander Effect‘ by directly placing you in the scene, presenting a harrowing tale that sees a vulnerable young woman spiked with GHB. Your choices determine the night’s outcome, making you Mara’s rescuer or her assailant’s collaborator. It’s a powerful demonstration that highlights what witnesses can do to help prevent these situations, using VR’s immersion to deliver a highly impactful journey.

I needed a few moments to reflect before my next appointment, In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats, which I’d consider my favorite experience at NewImages Festival. Designed as a room-scale experience that uses a haptic vest, it’s a surprisingly relatable exploration of the UK’s Acid House movement in ’80s Coventry and I came away feeling nostalgic. You can read my full thoughts and interview with director Darren Emerson below.

In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats Feels Like An ’80s UK Time Capsule In VR
In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats is a pleasingly nostalgic VR exploration of the UK’s acid-house movement and ’80s rave scene. Our full impressions.

My final stop was somewhere completely different. Joining a small group at the Musée d’Orsay, we spent an hour on ‘Tonight with the Impressionists,’ a VR experience that details the impressionist exhibition’s history. Using a Vive Focus 3 in a room with roughly 80 other people, we followed a coordinated path across this huge hall as we learned more about the movement’s history. I’m all for showcasing history through VR, though several issues hampered this experience.

Unlike Gargoyle Doyle’s mixed reality approach to museums, Tonight with the Impressionists takes place in a fully immersive environment and that creates some headaches. White human outlines show other nearby users to avoid walking into them. Annoyingly, a slight delay on headset tracking meant I accidentally collided with others on several occasions. When other groups inadvertently block your path, navigation becomes tedious and that ruins the immersion considerably.

Tonight with the Impressionists

Though I had mixed opinions between each project, what struck me throughout the NewImages Festival was the clear passion driving each developer. Wider VR experiences aren’t nearly as popular as gaming, sure, yet this isn’t the same scene from when 360° video began taking off. I found an impressive set of more cinematic VR experiences, and I’d love to see it continue to grow.

NewImages Festival ran from April 24 until April 28, 2024.