Grey’s Anatomy Creator Is Looking into VR Content for Netflix
Virtual reality and gaming are meant for one another, with a lot of mainstream media claiming that VR could be the future for gaming. While VR isn’t going to replace the screens that we look at when playing a game like Call of Duty, the virtual reality landscape is continuing to grow, seeing massive numbers of people purchase the headsets as they become more accessible. However, VR could soon find its way into mainstream media, meshing the three types of entertainment together into one massive entertainment sphere. Now, it looks like Netflix is taking the first steps towards that goal, as they’ve revealed plans to include virtual reality in their lineup following a deal with the creator of the critically acclaimed drama series Grey’s Anatomy.
A New Creative Pact
The creative pact between Netflix and Shonda Rhimes’ company Rhimes’ Shondaland Media, was put in place back in 2017, and according to Netflix’s website, “The newly expanded partnership will give Netflix and Shondaland Media the opportunity to exclusively produce, stream and distribute feature films as well potential gaming and virtual reality content.”
This is big news for fans who are interested in the possibility of virtual reality coming to the streaming giant, and with the extreme popularity of VR headsets such as the Oculus Quest, players are wondering what’s going to come next with Netflix. The company isn’t a stranger to shows and media based on popular game franchises, with their recently released Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness being a tie in between the events of Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5.
On top of this, they’ve also brought the possibility of interactive media to the platform, with their experiment Black Mirror: Bandersnatch being a choose your adventure film, where the viewers would pick the responses made by the protagonist. They’ve also managed to port the entirety of Telltale’s Minecraft: Story Mode into Netflix as an interactive series, letting players experience the game on all devices and play through the “game,” albeit with some omissions from the title. However, the possible inclusion of VR exclusive video content and gaming content could spell more for the company.
Unreal 4 Has Already Broken the Game-Film Divide
It’s not uncommon for media companies to use gaming engines when making special effects. Unreal Engine 4 is used on several different occasions in films to help create sets for characters to bring themselves onto the screen. Some recent examples that use the Unreal Engine are Rouge One: A Star Wars Story, War of the Planet of the Apes, Ford vs. Ferrari, and The Mandalorian.
One of the biggest draws of the Unreal Engine for developers is the fact that the software is inherently compatible with virtual reality headsets, with games likeMoss, Robo Recall, Creed: Rise to Glory, and Vader Immortal, all running on the Unreal Engine.
With the combined powers of the Unreal Engine and its uses in film and its natural cohesion with virtual reality headsets, players can experience films in an entirely new way.
On top of all of this, the prospect of films shot from the first person has been done already, with one of the most recent examples being Harcore Henry. This action film feels like a video game, as the whole movie is experienced from the perspective of one man, who is unable to speak.
Combining this with a lot of the newer ways that filmmakers use CGI to place people in films, such as projection mapping, where a camera visual is used as a texture for a 3D model to prevent having to model an actor’s finer features, viewers of this hypothetical VR content could be completely immersed in the experiences that Netflix could provide. Instead of a film shot on a 360-degree camera to simulate the presence of another person, Unreal Engine 4 could be used to make the setting for the film. Actors who play the cast could be filmed and then projection-mapped to create depth on their characters, making the experience feel less like the player is in a dome watching something and more like they’re actually there while still looking like a AAA high-quality experience. Choices could be implemented the same way that Black Mirror: Bandersnatch implements their choices, and interactivity could be included to keep the sense of immersion and let the player continue on their journey together with the cast of whatever film or show they’re watching.
Hurdles Still Remain
However, a hurdle to overcome for any virtual reality film or series that Netflix would show is the power of VR owners’ headsets. As of now, there are two types of VR headsets: PC and standalone VR. Headsets like Valve’s Index run player’s $1000, and while they’re well worth the price of admission, they also require that players have a high-end PC to be able to run games. Standalone VR’s become more affordable and mainstream for the average consumer as Oculus has taken over the VR landscape with their Quest 2 headset, which retails for $300.
However, for those who don’t own a PC, they’re limited to what games they’re able to play. Often they have to settle for downgrades to certain titles, like the ever-popular avatar-based online chat game VRChat. However, for those looking to play the game on the Oculus Quest, some worlds and models are locked off from the headsets since they’re too intensive for it to handle. This can, however, be sidestepped by linking the headset to a PC, through Oculus Air Link, or the physical Link Cable.
Since the majority of VR users would be using standalone headsets, Netflix will have to cater to the power of the Oculus Quest. The headsets’ technical constraints might limit the quality of their projects unless the company finds some other way to keep the quality of their visuals while still making an immersive VR experience.
The possibility of Netflix actively making virtual reality titles and games is not out of the question, as they’ve partnered with other developers to make games based on their original shows, such as the Stranger Things game that came out in 2017, as well as an adaption of the third season that came out in 2019. Stranger Things was also supposed to have an interactive season made by Telltale, and while the game was canceled due to the studio’s closure, Netflix’s interest in making games is not a flash in the pan.
However, while all of this is speculation, there is a real chance that Netflix will approach VR as more people become interested in the platform. The medium of VR storytelling has been tapped into, but theirs a lot of exciting potential left for film and television creators to explore.