Welcome to the Foo Show. Where Podcast Meets VR

We go inside the first episode of the Foo Show, a new Virtual Reality podcast-meets-chat-show by former Tested.com alum Will Smith. 

by Augmentl, 2nd April 2016

Will Smith (Not the actor) is an established name in the Virtual Reality circles. As one former half of the Tested.com team, his HMD clad, gawping, bearded face became the most recognisable VR meme in the early days of VR. 

Some months ago, Will left Tested to start his own VR company, his project sheathed in secrecy. On April 1st, he unveiled his new baby: The Foo Show. 

The Foo show is what you get if you get when you take a typical podcast format (a few guys sitting in a room talking to each other) and teleport it into VR. Suddenly, both hosts and guests - or, in this case, their stylishly low-fidelity Avatars - can not only interact with each other, but inhabit and interact with the very virtual realities they are discussing.

The first episode of the Foo show features the Campo Santo team behind the critically acclaimed indie game Firewatch, a title whose stylishly minimalistic graphics seem to have inspired the Foo Show's own art direction. 

After a brief, chat-show style introduction (complete with the obligatory "let's roll the clip") Will and the game's creators take you, the audience, into one of Firewatch's most iconic locations, the Watch Tower. Once inside, you are free to teleport to one of several locations marked on the floor, all conveniently located facing inwards towards the action. This movement mechanic, triggered by simply looking at a marked spot and pressing a button on the controller, is a perfectly comfortable movement solution even for those new to VR.

As the single audience member, you get to watch Will and his guests chat and playfully interact with any and all of the game assets in the room. Their performance is pre-recorded, roughly but effectively motion-captured by the HTC Vive's head and hand tracking. You are also invited to interact with the environment yourself. You can pick up almost anything in the room and look at it up close, making the whole experience feel a little like an interactive museum or visiting a film set. 

The whole thing feels surprisingly natural, with great positional audio aiding the sense of immersion as you shift your location around the room and your attention among the participants. But the experience also feels somewhat distant, like you're an invisible ghost silently observing a bunch of people chatting and having fun with game props. At one point, I found myself playing with a jar of nuts prop I found up high on a shelf, and realising its designer had cleverly "cheated" by painting the texture of the nuts on the jar, rather than filling it. I wanted to say "ha! check this out!" - but there was no one listening. 

It is of course hard to imagine how such a format could be made fully interactive without devolving into chaos. The fact that the performance is recorded, and that each audience member gets to experience it alone, limits the Foo Show format to a passive experience. This is in contrast to the chat shows and live comedy events which are becoming the staple of emerging social VR platforms like AltSpaceVR.

The first episode of the Foo Show is also more about showcasing its novel format than about wowing the audience with content - the 20 minute long episode feels somewhat loose, like the participants were trying to figure out what do do once in the environment. The unscripted, loosely structured  nature of it is typical of a podcast, but there were moments where it seemed like Will and his guests were trying to figure out what to talk about next. Thankfully, there was no shortage of props and cool game assets to throw around and discuss.

Despite its somewhat raw nature, the Foo Show has the potential for brilliance. The ability to carry out a conversation about games in the very locations those same games are made of is a powerful, intriguing concept with myriad possibilities. I can only imagine what could come next - Will the show's avatars and stage change each episode to match the design style of the games being discussed? Will it only be about games at all? Will they ever do a live, interactive show? 

I look forward to finding out.

Meanwhile, you can access the Foo Show's first episode for free on Oculus Home