Imagine you’re at home on the sofa watching TV on your own for the first time in a while, and you’re enjoying the freedom. You switch to the horror channel, and Freddy Krueger appears on your screen. He looks directly at you and says: “Looks like you’re alone tonight. Dangerous with me coming through your screen!”
...or it’s a romance channel, and your Hollywood crush (for the sake of argument, Ryan Reynolds) smiles at you and starts a flirty conversation about how good you’re looking right now.
…or you find yourself in a warehouse with the cast of Ocean’s Eleven planning the most audacious bank heist in history.
This level of immersion used to be a spark in the eyes of creative story writers, but it’s now possible with a new technology we’ve been working with at Charisma.ai.
Sky Live is a clever little box that sits magnetically on top of your Sky TV and brings the promise of interactive television to life in a revolutionary way. This revolution has been a long time coming (Microsoft WebTV anyone?) but the Sky Live box does three things that should grab your attention.
Firstly, there’s a sofa-facing camera with gestural recognition. This means Freddy Krueger can tell if you’re on your own or with others, and whether you’re sitting or standing. The Freddy example is not for the faint-hearted, but the technology means that characters from any TV show can react to what’s happening in your living room, and the story can adapt accordingly.
Secondly, Sky Live has a basic Android-style processor which can run a lightweight version of Unity 3D game engine. As well as supporting simple gestural games like Fruit Ninja and a strangely addictive version of Whack-A-Mole, it means interactive entertainment is no longer confined to pre-recorded branching video, but can be fluid and visually dynamic. You could tell Ryan Reynolds to dim the lights, and he’ll do it!
And thirdly, the box supports voice interactions so that, as in the example above, you can talk to the characters in natural language and they’ll speak back. What you say changes the characters’ emotions, which then influences their story goals – truly interactive drama.
We recently completed the first stage of an originally commissioned drama for Sky and XR Stories, designed to showcase the future of storytelling on interactive TV platforms. In The Rope, you are recruited as a diver and must uncover the mystery of a recent wreck alongside your dive buddy Nisha, with live comms to the surface. You pull yourself through the water using gestural camera capabilities, speak to characters powered by Charisma.ai’s conversation engine, and head deeper down along the branching guide ropes, and into the branching narrative.
The Rope capitalises on the storytelling capabilities of the Sky and Charisma.ai platforms, making you feel like a key player in the drama unfolding in front of you. Charisma’s combination of controllable and generative AI like ChatGPT allows writers to create tension and pace, while also maintaining the ability for characters to improvise at will.
Integrating our immersive storytelling tools with Sky Live’s new level screen interactivity presented exciting creative opportunities, but there were also challenges that we quickly had to adapt to. From designing informative yet clutter-free UI that is visible from 10 feet away, to finding a way to introduce the game mechanics and narrative set-up within the first 20 seconds of the experience, our learnings in the project spanned technical and creative aspects equally. With this experience under our belt, we’re excited to dream up new immersive stories that make the most of this revolutionary technology.
Sky Live opens up immense opportunities for the future not only of the Sky platform, but of all storytelling and entertainment. By combining Sky Live with Charisma.ai, we are able to bring dramatic characters to life in ways that are new and compelling. Characters are now our friends, our enemies, our supporters and our antagonists. They are aware of us, and able to react to what we do. They may even be able to find that remote we lost! This opens up a world of new possibilities for storytellers, and is one of the reasons why we designed Charisma.ai for writers – to create these evolutions of storytelling.
Most importantly, this was a fabulous collaboration between XR Stories, Sky and Charisma. We'd specifically like to thank, from XR Stories, Damien Murphy, Melody Ash and John Rose-Adams; and from Sky, Joel Bradley, Gabriela Feerick, the Bens (Ben Tomlinson, Ben Long, Ben Sales) and all the great crew in Sky Product who got The Rope to land on the Sky Live platform. We'd also like to thank the brilliant team at dBs Pro for creating the project's music and underwater soundscape.