Virtual Reality is quickly headed to the forefront of gaming, and the single-player game Rhythm of the Universe: IONIA is taking full advantage. Usually VR titles, like Resident Evil 4, are aimed at older age groups, but ROTU Entertainment went a different route, creating an educational, musical learning environment for all ages. With in-depth characters and a rich environment, IONIA aims to deliver a message of environmental preservation.
ROTU Entertainment partners with the non-profit Wildlife Warriors Worldwide, founded by Steve and Terri Irwin. A portion of IONIA’s proceeds benefit the fund directly. CGMagazine sat down with the CEO of ROTU Entertainment, Jason Parks, to talk more about Rhythm of the Universe: IONIA, VR, and environmental preservation.
Dayna Eileen: First off, tell us a bit about IONIA and how it came to be.
Jason Parks: IONIA is a single-player fantasy VR adventure for all ages. You can think of it as a blend between a movie and a game. In VR, this new genre is called Storyliving. Imagine a world where the universal language of music shapes history. Music theory symbols, note names, everything that musicians “speak” turns into lands, people, ecosystems, storyline arcs, and a lot more. The lands, based on modes of music or “scales”, are on the continent of Pangaea; Ionia, named after the Ionian mode, is the lush “Amazon” like forest. Other lands include the arid Eolia, industrious Doria, and Antarctic Locria, which will be seen in future products from ROTU.
Ionia has a fragile ecosystem, and the Harpa is the heart and soul of the Ionian Forest. With every tree felled and burned by the approaching Tritone army, her spirit weakens. You, who embodies Allegro, and your sister Allegra are Ionia’s brave new heroes, embarking on a quest to heal this mythical creature before it’s too late.
Our first VR adventure, IONIA, future games, and our transmedia based around Rhythm of the Universe is an epic story inspired by the ROTU team working with over 1000 international and indigenous musicians for over a decade. We are creating our Harry Potter or Star Wars with empathy-driven stories that leave our audience feeling inspired. We also make sure that our content supports relevant NGOs that make a direct change, so our products help promote and directly support a better future.
Dayna Eileen: Why did you choose to make IONIA available on VR and not a regular console?
Jason Parks: We originally produced live shows and other traditional entertainment forms using the Rhythm of the Universe IP. You can find some of our characters in face paint on stage via our YouTube channel. We kept looking for the best entertainment medium to tell our story. We then tried virtual reality for the first time.
Our creative director, Emir Cerman, and I put on an HTC Vive and saw the whale go by in the VR experience the Blu. I ripped off the headset and said, “this is what we are doing!” It was clear that VR was a new and exciting way we wanted to tell our story. We soon discovered our network had talented developers with years of experience, like our lead, Michael Hoag. Traditional games and other forms of media were not a good fit for how we wanted the subsequent expression of Rhythm of the Universe to be experienced.
Dayna Eileen: What was the most important thing you got across through the game?
Jason Parks: For us, a balance of easy game mechanics that anyone can figure out, an empathy-driven story, and most importantly, the visuals & sound! We use audio middleware Wwise to bring the music and SFX to life! In VR, the sound is treated in a three-dimensional way, the same as visuals. That is something we are proud of in IONIA.
Dayna Eileen: IONIA has been nominated at the Raindance Film Festival and Indigo Design Awards, as well as an official selection at 2020’s CANNES XR Development Showcase and received an Epic MegaGrant. What do you think sets IONIA apart from other VR games in these categories?
Jason Parks: Many VR games are created around a cool game mechanic or gameplay and the story comes second in the development. With IONIA a new and larger story is apparent, and the game feels as if it is an introduction, a catalyst to step inside an original story that is simple, positive, and uplifting. Everything ties to the bigger picture in IONIA. For example, here is a QA list to better understand our lead character, Allegra:
- What ages are both Allegra & Allegro?
- Allegra is 16, Allegro is 13.
- What is their village like?
- Not a village, a city. Similar to Lord of the Rings Elvish Made from organic materials. Roughly 1mil inhabitants.
- Do they go to school?
- Yes. The school is very structured. Lots of rules. Ionians have their own religion (Ut) and are somewhat strict about such. Expect perfection.
- What kind of professor is Babaton to them?
- The most empathetic. Not Ionian born. Understanding. Only one was accepted from the outside world due to his knowledge, experience, and expertise. He saved one of the Ionian elders. Somewhat quirky. Dumbledore/Yoda/Gandalf.
- *What is the significance of the Elders? Who are they? Do they interact with Allegra & Allegro at all?
- They are the ideal modus. There is an elder council—the Ionian elder was the first and is still alive. They don’t like to talk about emotions. Not as empathetic.
- What kind of language is “Ancient Ionian” in comparison to the current Ionian language? Assuming the current language is not English, what is it called?
- Ancient Ionian: Melodic. Current Ionian: Blended between melodic and rhythmic phrases (reverse speaking)
- How many species are there in IONIA? And where can I find more information about them (size, habitat, diet, demeanor, etc.)
- What is in the Book of Nozamas (what Allegra carries around)?
- An ancient book, a religious book, native to Ionia. Created from the very first Ionians (after the tetrachords – Gods, all modus). Information about all of Pangea. Some myths, some puzzles. Needs to be deciphered.
- What are the tablets used for?
- They are representations of ancient hieroglyphs. Activators. Tablet stones also have vibrations themselves. Can use stones as key: mystic vehicles to open doors.
- What was in the Ionian temple (with tablets) before it fell? Was this a place Ionians would visit regularly? Or is it only accessible to authorized Ionians?
- A ritualistic place. An ancient library. Accessible to all Ionians.
- Why is the Ionian Forest off limits?
- Only off-limits to children because it is a sacred land and is dangerous.
- Why aren’t more Ionians helping to save the forest?
- The elder sealed the city as protection against Salius Locrius who believes the Ionians will go in and save the city.
- Do Ionians ever interact with the surrounding 6 lands? If so, how often?
- Yes. Katarian Modus can communicate with all. On occasion will go to visit other lands – for a mission/purpose.
- What is their mode of transportation?
- Foot, nature, opening portals. Ionians are the teachers of these modes.
- Do they have technology? Are they civilized?
- Yes civilized but rely on nature.
- What are Allegra/Allegro’s parents like?
- They were elder Ionian scientists. Allegra & Allegro are orphaned. Part of the reason why Babaton has become a father figure of sorts.
- What is an average day like for an Ionian?
- Mostly meditation & study, keeping the harmony. Live by example.
- Kids play games & have sporting events.
Dayna Eileen: What do you hope players take away from IONIA?
Jason Parks: Humanity has wiped out an unthinkable percentage of animal life since 1970. I don’t want my grandchildren thinking of rhinoceroses as I do dinosaurs. At ROTU, we strive to find ways to use our creativity to raise awareness of real-world problems. We hope players will feel empathy for our natural world inside the game and have that reflected, even if minuscule, throughout their lives. Also, simply by playing the game, players donate 5% of the purchase to Wildlife Warriors. We hope that supporting non-profit organizations catches on and other gaming studios do the same.
Dayna Eileen: ROTU Entertainment has worked on many projects including Anthem for the World and Anthem for the Amazon. Why do you think it is so important as a company to get involved and raise awareness?
Jason Parks: Our previous music videos, live shows, and documentaries utilized over 1000 musicians representing citizens of over 90 different countries. These collaborations were the catalyst for who we are today. Everything we learned from each other’s unique musical style taught us to use our art to help the world directly. As a result, we donate or work directly with non-profits.
For example, the Anthem for the Amazon project led our team to the Peruvian Amazon with the Amazon Aid Foundation. After backpacking through the jungle, we discovered a wasteland left by illegal gold mining and risked our lives filming. The music video and documentary we made from that trip shared the optimistic voices of indigenous children, which were seen at United Nations conferences and are shown in classrooms to this day. Thus, entertainment can be a powerful tool in changing how we view the Zeitgeist of this time in history.
Dayna Eileen: Can you tell us a bit about Wildlife Warriors and their relationship with ROTU Entertainment and IONIA?
Jason Parks: Finding a non-profit public partnership for a VR game was challenging. Many state and federal legal requirements make it difficult. Still, ROTU feels it is our responsibility to put our “money where our mouth is” when it comes to protecting wildlife and contribute to the real-world efforts that are greatly needed. After a lot of research, Wildlife Warriors was a perfect candidate for partnership. WW rehabilitates animals directly, 60,000 of them, and financially contributes to conservation efforts worldwide. I grew up watching Steve Irwin, and his efforts helped propel my philanthropic nature. It is a blessing to know his family and the whole WW team supports the messaging of IONIA. You will even find a message from Rob Irwin at the end of the IONIA!
Dayna Eileen: And just for fun, what is your favourite thing about IONIA?
Jason Parks: The community! We have had such overwhelming support on comments and our Discord channel. Check out our Earth Day Challenge on www.ROTU.com. We had VR artists play the demo and then draw inspiring 3D art. I cannot wait to grow our community and reach out personally to learn their stories. We call our fans Virtual Hopepunks and feel that IONIA appeals to players who appreciate games with meaningful choices, engaging stories, casual gameplay, and memorable characters who also want to make a difference in the world. They embrace prosocial values and want their play to have a purpose.