What is Google Spotlight Stories?
For Motorola users the Stories app has been around for a while, but at the latest Google I/O it was announced that the interactive storytelling app would be coming to the wider Android market. And so it did. Of course, like all things Google, I absolutely had to install the app and check out those stories for myself. On the whole, Spotlight Stories definitely deserves attention and I recommend exploring the content right away. You have three animations and one live-action feature which last for a few minutes each. They are short enough to make it worth your while and keep you interested, but long enough to feel like proper stories. What is more, they are 360-degree videos, meaning that the action takes place all around you. That kind of puts you in the director’s chair or even the cinematographer’s shoes as you point your phone around and decide what’s on screen. It would be nice to see these in Cardboard VR at some point (a small part of Windy Day is already among the demos), but the concept and app functionality are impressive nonetheless.
In addition to giving you the scoop on the four experiences currently available and on the app itself, I will also rank them, because I most certainly found my favourite. But after you check out my reviews and enjoy the Spotlight experience, remember to have a look at the official website and Tumblr blog for Google Spotlight Stories. They post updates and news about the product, as well as insights from the creative processes and the cutting-edge tech involved in bringing these narratives to life.
1. Duet – a touching love story and directorial debut from Glen Keane
Once you watch this amazing animated short (that one links to the standard linear version on YouTube), you know why this is at the top of my list. The visuals are astounding, the story is compelling, the soundtrack is mesmerising and as much as I usually hate HFR, the 60 frames per second work wonders in this case. What’s more, if you watch this using the Google Spotlight Stories app, you’re in for a treat. The story has two intertwining arcs which you can follow separately, so you have to choose who to follow. Of course, you can just watch it multiple times and cover the entire world, but it is refreshingly original to be faced with picking a storyline to follow. If you want to read about the making of Duet, you can read this interview with Keane himself.
2. HELP – an alien invasion flick directed by Fast and Furious’ Justin Lin
This live-action is brilliant nonetheless and for some this will most likely be at the top. While there aren’t multiple storylines to follow, there is so much going on around you and thus quite a lot to explore and experience in the few minutes of runtime. Furthermore, it’s aliens crashing in LA’s Chinatown, so how cool is that? You really have to appreciate the effort that went into making this film, since they had to completely reconsider things that we usually take for granted when it comes to filmmaking, such as framing, lighting and editing basically. It’s worth mentioning that they had to build a special rig in order to capture the action. If those are not good enough reasons to watch Help, then I don’t know what is.
PS: It says here that it’s free for a limited time only, so you might want to hurry with this one.
3. Windy Day – the mouse, his hat and the wind. The original story by Jan Pinkava
Again, this a case where Windy day at number 3 and the story at number 4 could swap their positions in other people’s rankings. I have to say that one aspect that really influenced my decision in this case was the fact that the Buggy night story didn’t run smoothly for me, causing both the video and the sound to stutter and thus making it less enjoyable.
Nevertheless, Windy Day is the first story to have been made available on the Spotlight Stories app, back when it was only available for Motos. Also, you might already be familiar with it from the Google Cardboard demos, where a bit of the beginning of Windy Day is included.
Windy Day is a cute little story which in some ways resembles Scrat and his never-ending quest for the acorn. Sweet, funny and beautifully animated, don’t miss it!
4. Buggy Night – bugs versus frog. Directed by Mark Oftedal
Buggy Night comes from pretty much the same team that created Windy Day and you can definitely see that in the visual style. Although a bit repetitive, it’s a nice story with a twist and good sound effects I must say. Unfortunately it didn’t play well on my device, but I’m hoping future development and updates will take care of that issue. You can get a gist of the plot in comic on the right, but don’t hesitate to experience it in the Spotlight Stories app.