Learning VR Can Do Pixar the Hard Way: Getting Conned by a Seagull

Gary the Gull preview VR hands on

My dinner with Gary.

This is not a game. It was the first thing I was told as a PlayStation VR headset was lowered over my eyes at GDC and I found myself on a pleasant, albeit low resolution beach. This is where I would meet Gary.

“He’ll be here in a minute,” the presenter told me. This suddenly took the form of a formal appointment; I tried to slouch a little less. I immediately gave up. My resigned posture and I were instructed to make eye contact, speak clearly, and respond to Gary when spoken to. I stare at the ocean almost long enough to wonder if Gary will like me.

Gary is overwhelmingly charming as he takes a stance opposite me. He asks me about the “Picasso-eque” doodle in the sand beside me, whether I am a fan of that stuff. I quickly shake my head no.

“Me neither,” he answers. “But what do I know, I’m just a talking seagull.”

Gary starts squawking like a madman. Yes, he is definitely a seagull.

Gary the Gull is the star of his eponymous PSVR adventure, a conversational experience from Motional that feels more like an interactive Pixar movie than a game. This has a lot to do with creators Tom Sanocki and Mark Walsh, former Pixar guys who see VR as an interactive bridge between us and their vibrant characters. These are the fellows behind Finding Nemo’s Dory and Mater from Cars.

Gary and I have a splendid time. He notices my cooler full of food, and– WOAH WHAT’S THAT OVER THERE?!

Per his warning, I look behind me long enough to hear what sounds suspiciously like a seagull rummaging through my lunch. I turn around to see his grubby beak in my cooler, or as he puts it, ‘that cooler was trying to eat me.’ Potato, potahto.

Sanocki’s Limitless technology is the reason Gary can understand my vocal responses, head nods and shakes, and even just my gaze. It gives VR characters all the cognitive recognition of a household dog, far more amazing an opportunity than it sounds. Instead of combat or quests, you will stare at a seagull as he tries to bamboozle you, you’ll nod your head at his sweet talk, you’ll turn around when he yells “UNICORN” when there isn’t one. Depending on how you respond to him and other events within the game, the interactive film’s story will see its own unique twists and turns.

The roughly four-minute demo robbed me of all good spirit and my already limited faith in birds, and while we don’t know much more about the plot that will unfold along Gary the Gull, it was a remarkable introduction to what’s looking to be a defining wave of entertainment for virtual reality.

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