The new movie The Truman Show doesn't exactly have anything to do with VRML, but it raises a lot of interesting issues concerning reality versus virtual reality and the story telling in virtual spaces. How do characters in a real world interact with those in the virtual?
Please note this WARNING SPOILER, I will reveal plot and other relevant details of the movie so if you don't want to know how the movie ends or other details, leave and have a nice day.
The Director of the show is in many ways playing God for Truman's world. In some respects the Director is the interface between the real world and the virtual world. Only at the end of the movie do the two directly interact and does Truman learn the true nature of his world.
The real world watches Truman in his virtual world. They know that to Truman his world is real to him. A big selling point of the show is that Truman is genuine, he believes that the world he is in IS the real world. Much of the tension and compelling nature of the movie arise because of interactions at the interface. Actors and actresses start to feel compassion and/or fall in love with Truman and see the wrong nature of his situation. There is even a small "Free Truman" dissident movement in the real world, but it never makes much headway against the corporate colossus that is producing the show.
The world in which Truman lives is constructed much as the stage and sets of projects like VRML Dream, and Irish Space are constructed. They are virtual environments in which characters interact. For Irish Space the entire story is scripted and pre-calculated. With VRML Dream the story is scripted, however the performance was live and thus not totally pre-calculated. In the case of Truman, he travels through the town exercising his free will and the controlled elements of the town (everything) direct him to places and to perform various actions. A set of twins greets him every morning pushing him against a wall where a conveniently placed poster advertising a product is located. When Truman's wife talks to him she often exclaims about the wonders of a particular brand of lawn mower or coffee. In one scene of the movie we see the television show and watch an ad that says "...it's the coffee Truman drinks every morning" (or something close to that). Given the constraints of producing the television show The Truman Show, all revenue is from product placement. It would not be unreasonable to have have advertising in virtual worlds and in fact this has been done for years. A particularly wonderful example is the blaxxun multi-user home world which has a Black & Decker billboard and more interestingly a Black & Decker Dustbuster bot that flies around and is always eager to tell you of it's features.
Time and space for stories must usually be compressed. In the case of Irish Space we don't actually travel from one planet to another we move from one scene to another in discreet jumps. It does not give a disconnected feeling however as the interruptions are short and we are used to that sort of thing in the movies and television. The interactive fiction engine being developed by Chris Crawford with his Erasmatron engine formalized the notion of jumps. Crawford isn't just another wild eyed kid, he is formerly of Atari in it's hay day, and founded and ran the first seven years of the Computer Game Developers Conference. The interactive fiction engine being developed by Crawford is a natural fit to a VRML story space system (any one listening out there!). Many of these concepts are being actively discussed in the vrml-lit list which has an unusually high signal-noise ratio and from which I have derived much in this article.
The mixture of real and virtual realities is moving from stories to reality. The development of a new form of literature based on interactions with virtual worlds is just beginning. As these worlds intermix automated bots and real human controlled avatars with story lines and virtual spaces the possibilities seem quite limitless. Virtual spaces where we control actions and where we are the Director or see things from the views of particular characters demands the development of new fictional languages. Sure sounds like fun stuff to me!