Become Part of a Natural History Documentary with BBC Earth - Micro Kingdoms: Senses

We recently worked with BBC Studios and immersive game studio PRELOADED to create BBC Earth - Micro Kingdoms: Senses—an experiential natural history documentary, narrated by Stephen Fry, that allows audiences to engage in a new way with stories from the natural world.

BBC Earth - Micro Kingdoms: Senses merges our world with the habitats of some of the planet’s smallest and most incredible animals. These animals have evolved extraordinary senses in order to survive--senses we can only understand by immersing ourselves in their environments. Micro Kingdoms brings animals like the leafcutter ant and wandering spider into our world, inviting these creatures to explore our spaces. Spatial computing involves audiences in the story, giving them access to the sensory and survival experiences of these amazing animals like never before. Experiences like Micro Kingdoms will pave the way for a new form of interactive and visual storytelling that will change the way we learn.


We chatted with PRELOADED Creative Director, Phil Stuart, and BBC Studios Head of Interactive, Tom Burton, to understand more about the app and what audiences will gain from the spatial learning experience.

What is Micro Kingdom: Senses?

Phil Stuart, PRELOADED: Micro Kingdoms is a natural history documentary that brings small, amazing animals into your world, inviting them to walk over your table, around your sofa, or even up your walls. Audiences will get to meet some of the world’s most fascinating animals, and see how they experience their world through their incredible senses.

How does spatial computing bring these stories to life?

Tom Burton, BBC Studios: By placing stories in the space around you it changes the context in which they are told. It engages rather than isolates. You are not asked to dim the lights and watch a screen or shut out the world by putting on a headset, the story is happening right there in front of you. With the confidence you gain by being able to see your space and having the freedom to move, it makes interaction far more natural. It really changes the way you have to think about and design interactive stories.

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How is your telling of these stories different from other similar approaches/platforms?

Phil Stuart, PRELOADED: Magic Leap allows us to tell stories that understand the space you’re in and then respond accordingly. This understanding, or “World Context,” pretty much flips the rulebook for storytellers, and opens up a whole world of possibilities. The user is part of the storytelling, and this active role encourages them to lean in, to get up close, to explore and interact with the new inhabitants.

Driven by AI the animals also respond authentically to the player and the world around them. Dropping a leaf near a leafcutter ant will encourage it to harvest and communicate back to the nest, while dropping a rock in its path and will prompt the ant to find its way around. When antagonized, the wandering spider will even charge at the player.

Given the freedom to explore the world, the user’s curiosity is rewarded with a story they become part of, and their understanding of the animals and their behaviors is enhanced. The result is a natural history story that you can only experience first hand.

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Who are the intended audiences for Micro Kingdom: Senses?

Tom Burton, BBC Studios: We tend to design our immersive experiences for an everyday audience and often a family one. Even in technologies that are still growing. It means we understand how to create experiences that have a low barrier to entry and can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. We believe this approach helps us prepare for the future and grow the popularity of new technologies in the present. How will this experience expand the way we share stories and educate audiences?

Phil Stuart, PRELOADED: We’re all familiar with stories that you can interact with, which respond to your input or interaction. But when the story reacts not just to you but your world-- your coffee mug or your sofa--the feeling is profound. When digital content understands your world it feels and becomes more real. And for a project that aims to recreate our natural world authentically, this feeling was key.

Tom Burton, BBC Studios: It’s one small step on learning how to use this incredible new medium, and we hope there are lessons here that other creators can build upon. We think that in design and format it has the potential to be a hands-on learning tool that can be installed in a variety of different contexts, and we hope to be taking what we’ve learned and developing a new generation of learning experiences.

Right now there are two animals and senses available—the Wandering Spider: Vibration and Leafcutter Ants: Smell. Why did you choose to focus on these two stories?

Phil Stuart, PRELOADED: Their amazing senses. The wandering spider lives and survives by using an extraordinary sense of touch that analyzes vibrations and movements of the surrounding air. Leafcutter ants form some of the most complex animal societies on Earth having developed an astonishing sense of smell, which they use to mobilize the colony.

Tom Burton, BBC Studios: The senses are something we can all relate to, but the twist is that these animal senses are invisible to us and mean they experience the world very differently. Magic Leap’s spatial computing technology can reveal how this works by bringing the animals right into your world. The size of the ants and spiders also created an intimate experience. We found we could encourage you to get up close, bond and interact, a bit like being a kid in the garden with your magnifying glass.

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Why did you choose Magic Leap to deliver the immersive experience for Micro Kingdom: Senses?

Tom Burton, BBC Studios: In short, because Magic Leap is the cutting edge of spatial computing, and the technology embraces the storytelling aspect that was crucial to the success of this experience.

What is the bigger picture message audiences should glean from Micro Kingdom: Senses?

Tom Burton, BBC Studios: From the point of view of the technology, it’s the huge potential of spatial computing to deliver a new class of story experience. In terms of the content, we want people to come away understanding more about the natural world and hopefully engaging with the challenges it faces. And as for what we want people to learn about our micro stars…size isn’t everything. Some of the most incredible natural wonders are happening right under our noses and life can be experienced in lots of different ways.

What are you most excited to have audiences experience?

Phil Stuart, PRELOADED: When you look down and see the ants self-organizing, communicating with each other and carrying leaves across your room to their nest, it’s pretty mind-blowing. When you come face-to-face with the wandering spider for the first time it takes your breath away. The experience gets you closer to nature, and that is of course the whole point of Micro Kingdoms.

Can you share an exciting anecdote about the experience that’s made possible with spatial computing?

Tom Burton, BBC Studios: One of the things that stood out in testing was the way people recalled and reacted to the animals and environments after they had taken the headset off. We had people stepping over non-existent banana plants in order to sit down and one person uneasily shifted their chair away from a spider that wasn’t there. This felt like the tip of the iceberg in terms of how story and play in this powerful new medium might engage people with the natural world.

The BBC Earth - Micro Kingdoms: Senses app is now available in Magic Leap World.