The Water Cave (Thanner Kuhai) – our latest digital fiction project, and the first work of electronic literature to be available in Tamil – was developed as an artistic response to wrangling with depression. This short atmospheric Virtual Reality experience uses a free floating navigation system that can result in the reader/player descending from sheer cliff-edge heights to polarised lows; sometimes literally submerged beneath water struggling to breathe.
Although undoubtedly dark in tone, The Water Cave also has a sense of beauty about it, with spectacular clusters of fireflies and crabs populating deep tumbling passageways and schools of fish lingering in glistening underground lakes. It’s as much peppered with glowing moments of hope as it is with challenges.
The environment is comprised of complex multi-layered rock structures and stones, water (which – as mentioned – you can submerge beneath should you need to), tangled roots, plants, tree-trunks and numerous cave-dwelling entities. Streams of illuminated text weave through the cave’s chambers offering a much-needed lifeline of light. Language can also sometimes be found ‘lodged’ and ‘growing’ between the undergrowth and curling branches; visually part-hidden or obscured.
The Water Cave holds some interesting surprises for those who venture deep enough. On PC the work can be navigated using keyboard and mouse – with the space bar switching between languages. This is a multilingual experience that changes aesthetic (and of course potentially interpretation) depending on the language chosen.
In VR, it makes use of Oculus Touch controllers to offer the reader/player a ‘zero gravity’ sense of free-roam. Point the controller in the direction you want to go, and push the ‘accelerator’ button to start moving. Exploring the nooks and crannies of the cave at your own pace can be quite satisfying, particularly in VR where the wet rock textures – rendered at 4k and originally digitised from a gravestone – can be examined in minute detail, as if you could reach out and run your fingers across their damp surface.
Audio stems mainly from the environment itself: trickling water, fireflies fluttering, the reverberation of wind through narrow passageways. This is the first project that we’ve developed to use ambisonic sound, where audio feels to come from above and beneath you as well as traditionally through the usual stereo-based left and right.
The Water Cave requires a PC with a reasonably good graphics card and/or VR-capability (obviously) if you want to land yourself literally inside it. An Oculus Rift with Touch controllers are essential for the VR experience.