Immersive and augmented reality is rapidly expanding in the digital space. With the latest innovative technology and experiences at the forefront of the minds of creatives and technologists, what better time than now to speak to FuseBox resident, Rob Morgan.
Rob is an immersive experience designer, award-winning VR/AR writer and the founder and creative director of PlayLines, an immersive AR design studio and consultancy. We caught up with him to find out more about his background, what he’s working on at the moment and some of his exciting plans for the future.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background?
About 13 years ago, you had to really live in London to have a career in media and it was the place to get most of the sorts of jobs that I was looking for. After 10 years of living in the East End of London, I didn’t feel I needed to be there anymore, so I decided to move to Brighton to switch up my quality of life, plus I knew friends who’d moved down here already.
As a narrative person I’m really into English literature, which I studied at the University of Oxford. I always knew that I wanted to do something with technology but I didn’t have any technical skills, so my whole career has always been about trying to look at and analyse how a narrative changes its relationship to its audience into a new meeting.
I take inspiration as wide as possible from the literature that I studied, film, video games and also slightly unexpected places like Live Action Role Playing (LARP) and tabletop role-playing, which is a big part of my education and story.
I always knew that I wanted to be a writer and I was interested in technology; and how it was changing the way that people talked and told stories. I'm lucky, really lucky that I've got to stick with that instinct and try out how narratives change across different media.
I started my career as a game writer at PlayStation. I was writing augmented reality games and early VR games, I then started writing dialogue in the storyline. When the hype cycle for VR was really taking off, I got really interested in VR and augmented reality. I still work in VR, write VR games and so forth, so I founded a company called PlayLines five years ago.
The past couple of years have presented a lot of challenges, has that changed the way you've approached anything?
They say the first five years are the hardest and it's been a journey, especially with the pandemic, but generally, trying to found a creative company is challenging. I sort of started on the basis of my own scriptwriting work for hire with bits of consultancy. I could scrape together based on talking about narrative, and how narrative could work and should work in various new immersive formats.
We made various installations and ran various shows and had been this close to going to South by Southwest and then the pandemic came along and shut down all of the venues. So we pivoted to more arts and culture-focused augmented reality. We did a residency at the National Gallery, investigating how AR could be useful for curators at cultural institutions, and then playing around with ideas of creating location-based art galleries on the street using AR in a COVID-safe way.
PlayLines National Gallery residency with remote, socially distanced and international access to the nation’s art collection via augmented reality.
I've done a lot of public speaking and adjusting to a post-pandemic online format for academic teaching and it has had its challenges. It's a different format but I'm a big believer in finding the virtue in what you’re doing and making it work for you. Cutting up lectures into short videos that go by topic, rather than trying to summarise everything has been a relatively new approach. As you can probably tell, brevity isn’t my strong suit, so that in itself has been a new way of working and I’m really trying to make that a positive part of the structure.
Although I started off working in VR, living inside the headset, very quickly I got really interested in the ability to add digital stuff to the real world to tell a story and this was before Pokemon GO came out. So working away on these ideas, working away trying to make the case for digital narrative.
How long have you been a FuseBox resident and how has being a FuseBox resident benefited you?
I’ve been a resident at the FuseBox since November 2021. I think like a lot of people, I spent a lot of the pandemic at home working away at a desk that was too close to where I slept and I needed somewhere where I could close the door on work at the end of the day. But that was my original thinking. I now come here to hang out and I’ve made so many connections that have been professionally useful already. So yeah, I’m a big fan.
I met Innovation & Technology Manager, Chris Chowen at a 5G event at Brighton Dome and we got talking about how I was looking for a coworking space. Immediately I thought this is going to be the right fit for me. It’s got a chill atmosphere but it always feels like something is going on, plus the events are cool. Even if I moved house, I’d still keep coming back.
I have got gigs as a result of people at the FuseBox knowing my skills and other people seeking those skills. We have also recruited from the FuseBox residencies.
What are your future plans for the projects you have created?
This year for me personally, my focus is on research and teaching. I'm currently a visiting fellow at King's College, researching location-based media - what we could now arguably call the real-world metaverse.
We’ve been filming a series of lectures (with another FuseBox resident Chris Hogg, pictured above) that I’m going to deliver at the Royal Holloway next year with funding from Story Futures Academy - storytelling for the real-world Metaverse.
We're trying to educate people in a wide range of immersive technology to then give them the grounding to go and make new work for a real-world Metaverse, or location-based digital media, whatever that ends up meaning.
VR is very relevant, video game and conventional branching narrative interactive narrative design is also very relevant. Plus, thinking about generative and AI text with narrative is particularly linked in terms of a skill set that writers are going to need to work in tomorrow's technology. There are loads of ways that we would be delighted to speak to people that think that have something relevant to the work we’re doing.
If you could summarise in five minutes, something that you think the next generation of writers should know about your technology, we would really, really love to hear that.
I like talking about narrative and AI. I could never get tired of talking about this stuff and if I can be helpful to someone else’s projects, if they're thinking about how to create the emotional components of immersion and an experience, or they need some narrative done, or they just need some dialogue or writing, I'm always happy to chat about it because this is what I do for fun and for a living.
Find out more about Rob and his company PlayLines here.
If you’re interested in becoming a resident at the FuseBox yourself, contact us today and find out more here.