Going from Zero to World with Story

Article Written by Kris Morgan

This article is part of our series on VR. Start at the beginning.

We understand that our VR apps are really worlds unto themselves. And we know that worlds need constraints. But our canvas is still blank. So how can we start to fill it in? We recommend you try writing a simple story to begin to describe your world and how it works.

What we know before writing

Let’s assume you’ve started with a goal, an intended audience, and some idea of what you want them to do. For instance, if you want to design a movie watching app for sci-fi fans, you can start your story in a basic question-answer format:

Where does your app take place?
On an alien planet, I think.

What’s gravity like here?
Normal-ish, like Earth’s.

Breathable atmosphere?
No.

How can you exist here, then?
Space ships. You’re in one.

Is there civilization?
No, it’s uninhabited.

What does movie-watching look like on your spaceship?
Holographic screens and stuff.

What is the holographic technology driven by?
Green crystals found on this planet.

What does the interior of the ship look like?
Clean, modern, white—you know, space-agey.

Any simple story format will get you moving in a consistent direction. If there’s a detail that’s pertinent to the design, capture it. Just like in the example, you can use previous answers to pull on loose threads and discover new thoughts. The decisions will start to build on one another, drawing a cohesive picture.

What we know after writing

Now we know your imaginary app will exist inside a spaceship. We already knew the user needed a way to watch movies, but it’s become clear the screen will be powered by crystal-projected holographic technology. In fact, all UI—movie selection or playback, or even app settings—should be glowy, green and based on this same system. Maybe there’s a dashboard in the ship’s main cabin for high-level app commands. Users might also have a wrist projector for controls they need to access when moving about. Finally, even though the user will never exit the ship, from portholes they’ll see some rocky, alien vistas.

The story also hinted at some visual style cues. This could lead to some research on recent sci-fi films, specifically in search of minimalist, designery spaceship interiors. Maybe instead of white, you’ll conclude that the glowing UI holograms will look better against a darker interior, but at least now you have a framework on which you can iterate.

Focus on the experience

You don’t need to have a user backstory. You don’t need to know much about the world outside the ship. You only need to write enough story to serve your design decisions. The systems that inform the app’s surroundings, activities, objects, and visual style are all good starting points.

By writing a story you’ll give yourself a foundation to build from, filter out the millions of what-ifs that arise along the way, and keep your team aligned. Best of all, you’ll ship something better, and sooner.

What's next?

We’ve got lots of thoughts and little time to write them all down. Give us a shout if you want to talk about VR stuff.

Other posts in this series,