Q+A: iNK Stories
iNK Stories is a digital storytelling studio here in Dumbo that is a paving the way for a new wave of cinematic participation on every scale of the VR/gaming immersive storytelling landscape.
We sat down with founders Navid Khonsari and Vassiliki Khonsari, and partners Andres Perez-Duarte Sam Butin to talk about the games they've made, the impact they've had, and what's in store for the future of VR and interactive gaming. Read on, and join us in honoring iNK Stories as one of Dumbo's best futurists at the 2020 Annual Meeting!
What is iNK Stories?
Vassiliki: iNK Stories is an independent studio based right here in Dumbo. We tell stories across platforms; both traditional and emerging. We work in film, television, episodic, games, and interactive, using mediums of both virtual reality and augmented reality.
And why VR/AR, as opposed to other mediums, traditional or otherwise?
Vassiliki: We see VR as an exciting platform to explore narrative storytelling. With VR, we can move beyond the idea of just telling people's stories, and can offer our audience direct agency in the stories, in the worlds that we’ve created. In doing so, audiences have this first-hand “ah-ha” moment or experience in this story-world– that's super exciting for us as narrative designers.
Storytelling is great in that spans generations. On the other hand, it can be difficult to get those generations all on the same page. Do you try to cater to specific age groups with each project or do you try to be all inclusive so people of any age can enjoy?
Sam: We always say that the story drives the medium, so it really depends on the project. What I think is cool is that when you're working with games, you can cater it to all different types of people that play games. One of the cool things about games is that the way you present it to people is really democratized. You can deliver to people in the Middle East, Africa, Asia–all over the world. You get to engage with different communities through games much more than you do through other storytelling devices. That’s one of the cool things for us–figuring out how you can have a global impact with local audiences as well.
Vassiliki: And our projects have been translated into seven different languages and have access to global audiences worldwide. Each project is different, delivering different messages and storylines. We really put the audience at the center of the development of each project.
We see VR as an exciting platform to explore narrative storytelling. With VR, we can move beyond the idea of just telling people's stories, and can offer our audience direct agency in the stories.
Can you tell us about a recent favorite project you’ve worked on?
Andres: Right now we have Fire Escape, which is a new Hitchcock-ish/Rear Window type of game where you get to see into all these different kinds of lives. We’re about to expand this into new headsets, consoles, etc. so we’re very excited about that because it’s something that we’ve been working on for a while now. It’s a story that we’re all very familiar with and I think we all can relate to as New Yorkers; or even if you’re not in or from NY it’s something that everyone can relate to. Everyone wants to know what’s happening across the street. So with this project we’re just excited to share this story with even more audiences.
And what’s on the horizon that you are excited about?
Navid: An exciting new arena that we’ve recently stepped into is television. We’re developing a TV series that is multinational in terms of its storytelling approach, taking place in both the United States and in Korea. We’ve been fortunate enough to get some veterans to work with us who are extremely skilled, having previously worked on shows like The Affair and House of Cards, and we’re excited to dive into that.
Our gaming objectives are growing more and more with partnerships in both Europe and here in the US. We have a project that we’re calling “Blind Funk”. What's interesting about this one is that we're taking a look at where we stand today–with how people are interacting with the news, the media, social media, etc–and then taking a look back at a historical moment, and trying to bridge the gap between the two. And at the same time, we're putting a mirror in front of our own faces and reflecting on where we’re at right now in terms of how we’re engaging with each other. The game mainly deals with the whole concept of spying, fake news, and privacy.
people would come out and say things like “Oh my god! I love the game, and I learned something by accident!”
You have a game called 1979 Revolution that is actually teaching and educating people about the Iranian Revolution. How does that make you feel, knowing that your games have impacted people in more than one way?
Andres: Something that we started hearing when we released 1979 is that people would come out and say things like “Oh my god! I love the game, and I learned something by accident!” That is so encouraging! We love to see people react that way and understand that there’s all different types of games, but also all different types of learning experiences.
Navid: The idea here is that, with the right approach, you can entertain and engage, and through that process be able to educate. For us, we see that gaming in particular is probably the strongest platform for putting you in the shoes of other people. Through this experience, you're able to get an understanding and an education of what a certain kind of group of people have experienced. In the process of interacting by actually "being in the shoes" of the other person through a VR game, we come realize that we’re actually not that different from others. We want to help bring people together.
Here at iNK Stories, we look to usher in the next evolution of storytelling engagement with platforms that work across the entire entertainment ecosystem.
The theme of this year’s Annual Meeting is futurists. What is the future of VR and interactive storytelling, and how is iNK Stories shaping that future?
Vassiliki: Other than allowing major studios to take the lead with content in virtual reality, we really believe in telling meaningful stories and being able to dig up and represent independent voices in new technology. And I think that’s a future that we’re all invested in paving. And how do we bring entertaining, meaningful, fresh perspectives to new technology and engage audiences in new and different ways that are not only just telling people stories but are allowing them to experience them firsthand.
Sam: That’s the interesting challenge of designing storytelling on platforms where you give people agency. You have to be willing to give people a certain amount of control which is an interesting and sometimes terrifying aspect to think about. In the case of games like 1979 and others, you give people a place to make their own decisions. And when you’re playing throughout history–which is the cool about games like 1979–you’re bringing to life a world that’s lost in time. So one of the powers of gaming is that you could recreate the locations of that time period. For newer projects, we’re thinking of ways that we could play with time and create these virtual worlds that were actual worlds and blend that together and really utilize the power of gaming and interactivity for cool stories.
Navid: What we’ve seen in the past five years is how much media has changed, and how it’s being consumed. For us, what’s exciting about the future is that we have a stake in each of these kinds of platforms and can tell a story in each one. What’s exciting is to be able to work in these different platforms, but at the same time figure out how are all these things going to come together. How are we going to be able to engage in a television show or a short series that’s also going to have elements of gaming in it? How am I going to bring elements of virtual reality that’s also going to allow me to watch tv at the same time as I’m playing a game? That’s what’s really exciting.
Vassiliki: Here at iNK Stories, we look to usher in the next evolution of storytelling engagement with platforms that work across the entire entertainment ecosystem.
What brought you to Dumbo?
Vassiliki: We came to Dumbo because we’re hardcore Brooklynites and for us Dumbo offers this amazing opportunity to be in the epicenter of a big creative hub. There are a lot of production studios, a lot of our peers are here, and it's a great place that a lot of our collaborators love to come to and visit so we love hosting people in Dumbo.
What’s your favorite place in Dumbo?
Vassiliki: Brooklyn Roasters is a big one.
Navid: Yeah Brooklyn Roasters, it’s a good space where you can actually hang out and drink coffee, maybe get a book and relax.
I also love to photobomb people over by the Bridge. I feel like I’ve been in maybe 200 pictures. That and there really is this great sense of community here that we’re thrilled to be a part of.
Andres: Going off of community, you see all these lost tourists all the time looking for directions on where to go for the Brooklyn Bridge and you actually see all these people stop and help them. That to me is one of my favorite things. It’s a really charming part of Dumbo