Wolves in the Walls VR, a virtual reality adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s eponymous children’s book, will premiere at next year’s Sundance Film Festival. The episodic experience follows Gaiman’s story as participants play a character who can interact with its young protagonist Lucy, who is convinced that wolves live in the walls of her house. It’s being developed by former members of the now-defunct Oculus Story Studio, resurrecting a project that was believed to be canceled.
Wolves in the Walls’ creators describe it as “a VR fable about the nature of fear.” It’s supposed to evoke the illustrations of a children’s book, similar to what’s seen in the illustration itself, but it’s three-dimensional and interactive. In the first installment, which runs roughly 10 minutes, participants will help Lucy search for evidence of wolves. In two subsequent episodes, they’ll have to help her overcome her fear of the wolves and save her family. The star of the story, though, is Lucy — who’s supposed to feel like a convincingly interactive figure, responding to players’ movements and decisions. She was choreographed with help from Third Rail Projects, the company behind immersive theater productions Then She Fell and Ghostlight.
Director Pete Billington says that Lucy’s design extends work that Oculus Story Studio did on the Emmy Award-winning Henry, which asked participants to emotionally connect with an anthropomorphic hedgehog. Wolves in the Walls is more ambitious and interactive, and its creators aimed for “compelling interactive moments that didn’t distract from the narrative arc.” Lucy was created with input from game developers who have experience building interactive characters, but VR adds a sense of physical presence and allows for some experiences that most games don’t, like physically handing her objects.
While Wolves in the Walls is being developed independently, it is backed by Oculus Studios, and continues work that was already underway at Story Studio. By this standard, it’s the third major Story Studio project to premiere at Sundance, after 2015’s Lost and last year’s Dear Angelica. Four other Oculus Studios-backed projects will also appear at the festival: Dispatch, about a small-town police dispatcher facing a crime spree; Masters of the Sun, a story about black communities in the 1980s; Space Explorers, a partnership between NASA and VR studio Felix & Paul; and Spheres, a musical “VR journey through the universe.”