The interactive project debuting today is called “Harvest Of Change,” a five-part story focused on five different forces driving big changes in the state of Iowa. Each topic, which will appear as separate feature articles in the paper this week, is illustrated from the point of view of a farming family. For example, “Cultural Changes” tells the story of Matt Russell and Pat Stanley, “a same-sex couple at the forefront of the local food movement.” The “Technology” part of the package is about a farm family switching from traditional to organic farming practices, and the challenges they are currently facing.
Enter the Oculus Rift, which is being used to help tell the “aging” part of the package. While the overlap between Des Moines Register’s readers and the VR headset’s 200,000+ early adopters is probably tiny, the team at Gannett—which owns the newspaper—saw an opportunity to serve its audience with real, difficult, and ambitious journalism refracted through the prism of a 3-D lens. (For everyone who doesn’t own a Rift, you can download “Harvest Of Change” as a free app to your desktop, or play a stripped-down version of it in your browser.)
When you put on the Rift, you are beamed into a helicopter hovering over a lush green field. Then, you’re dropped into a digital replication of the Dammann family’s farm, replete with animals, tractors, and buildings. All of it is built on top of the Unity 3D gaming engine. (When Gannett showed an early version of the game to the family, their initial reaction was: “Those hay bales are too big!”) Actuating different items around the farm (the baby calf, hidden photographs, etc.) unlocks a different part of the Dammann family’s story. It feels like a documentary with a non-linear narrative. You are encouraged to explore.
Not super impressed with the graphics included in the FastCo story but interesting to see how Oculus Rift can be used to support journalism.