Fable’s forty-minute VR experience, Wolves in the Walls, based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean, launches on Oculus Quest today. It’s free for Rift and Quest users. The company also announced today that the star of Wolves, an AI-driven character named Lucy (voiced by Cadence Goblirsch), is going to be extending her presence to the real world via social media platforms, emails, texts, voice, and Zoom calls. Users can sign up to be her friend. A real-world friend. “It’s not like virtual Instagram star Lil Miquela, who pushes content at you. And not like a voice assistant. It’s like a real friend,” Cofounder and Executive Producer Edward Saachi told us in an interview on Tuesday.
“This is friendship as an infinite game, like Roblox or Minecraft,” says Wolves director and Fable Cofounder Pete Billington. “You can talk with Lucy. You can even play games with her.” At first, only a few hundred people will be able to connect and form a relationship with Lucy. Users interested in experiencing this new form of social entertainment can apply on the Fable blog here.
Wolves in the Walls, winner of the 2019 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Media, was made with Oculus’ Quill, which enabled the Fable production team to retain McKean’s highly graphic illustrative style. The user is cast in the simulation as Lucy’s imaginary friend. Everyone who experiences Wolves has a slightly different relationship with her. The story starts with Lucy sharing that she hears “wolves” in the walls of her house but no-one in her family believes her. She recruits you to help her find the proof that will convince her family of the impending danger.
It took the team of twenty, made up of Oculus Story Studios alumni, Disney, and Pixar animators, to bring Lucy and the Gaiman story to life. “Lucy’s character is an amalgam of the twenty people who worked on this project for the past three years,” explained Billington. Lucy’s interactions were laid out using Blueprint logic on Unreal Engine, and eventually, the diagrammed actions filled an entire room. Readers interested in learning more about how Fable did it, and how they use GPT-3 natural language processing, should refer to this blog post on the company site. “When a character can look you in the eye and make a human connection with the audience,” said Billington. “That’s magic.” All those long hours of programming and animation that combined to make that moment are invisible.
The Lucy virtual being that users will be connecting with exists before the Wolves in the Walls story begins, but at the same time she’ll exist in the same present as you, knowing the time of day and the date. Lucy will be persistent, know your past history, and have memories of your past interactions across platforms, just like a person. In order to experience the true depth and capabilities of the character, the user, or player, needs to make a substantial commitment to be present in the relationship. “Like a sophisticated real-world LARP (Live Action Role Playing game) you must suspend your disbelief and fully commit to participating in the relationship,” said Pete Billington. “Users know she isn’t real, but as the connection grows, whether she’s real or not isn’t an issue.” In this way, Lucy represents the gamification not only of social media but of friendship itself.
Fable started promoting Lucy last year as a “virtual being,” going as far as to re-brand itself as a “virtual beings company,” dropping “studio” from Fable Studios name. CEO Edward Saachi is the former head of Oculus Story Studios. During his tenure, the studio produced award winning VR experiences Henry and Dear Angelica, which also won an Emmy Award. These two productions helped refine the Oculus illustration and animation tool, Quill, which is free in the Oculus Store (Rift only right now). Oculus Story Studios was shuttered in 2017. According to Crunchbase, Fable’s seed funding came from Outpost Capital, 7 Percent Ventures, and Manta Ray Ventures.