Earlier this year ProPublica and the Texas Tribune published an interactive story called Hell and High Water, to raise the issue of Houston, US, vulnerability to costal storms. Now a virtual reality (VR) experience has been created from that original project, Hell and High Water VR.
Created by a team of students led by Professor Robert Hernandez from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Hell and High Water VR was created during Spring Break 2016 as a way of using immersive storytelling techniques.
Hell and High Water focused on The Houston Ship Channel, one of the US’s biggest petrochemical refining centres. It’s also home to storage tanks that contain billions of gallons of oil and toxic chemicals. The ProPublica/Tribune investigation drew on cutting-edge research and supercomputer-generated storm models to simulate a storm scientists say has about a 1 in 350 chance of hitting the channel in any given year.
“What I’ve tried to do with my courses is be proactive,” Hernandez said. “Instead of waiting for VR to be widely adopted, and other tech companies to take over and redefine journalism storytelling in that space, I want to empower my students to do that.
“By the time this technology goes mainstream, we’ve already figured out the first drafts of VR journalism. We’re the R&D for the industry. The work we’re doing is going to propel the industry forward.”
All the work carried out by the students can be viewed on the JOVRNALSIM app which is available for iOS and Android platforms. The apps include a 360-degree tour of Wallis Annenberg Hall, a VR portrait of the Angel City Derby Girls, and other immersive pieces.