Popp Culture: 05/2019
This month we visited the new virtual reality experience Otherworld in Hackney, and found ourselves lost in a mesmerising 4D island of adventure.
The Elevator Pitch
Otherworld, unassumingly hidden under a railway arch near Haggerston Station, describes itself as “…the Immersion Room, The Dream Corporation's unique sense-hacking technology and portal to another dimension.”
Visitors enter one of fourteen “immersion rooms” (pods) where a combination of clever VR trickery and real world effects – like “wind” blowing – give the feeling of being transported to a fantastical digital island with 16 different adventures (games) to explore.
From the minute you set foot in the reception area, you have the impression that this has been well thought through as an end-to-end experience; with a Space Odyssey-like interior, loos that practically shake your hand when you enter, futuristic white pods lining the walls, and plenty of staff – Apple Store-style – casually approaching with iPads at the ready (but dressed on-theme in Sci Fi clothing). The practical conversations about controllers and headsets stop you suspending disbelief momentarily, but the setting is stunning and excites you for the adventure ahead, like a mini Secret Cinema.
In-world, our team of four could wander off on our own whims, or stick together as a group to tackle the multiplayer games available. We opted to start our 45 minute session together, and then explore independently.
Once set up we transported to the peak of a mountain on the island that is the hub for navigating to the four different seasonal worlds where the different games are accessed from. There was a little learning curve for us remembering how to move about, but we eventually made the jump down from the mountain, sliding down a slope with a genuine stomach-wrenching feeling of falling to the floor below. For pre-Millennial readers, it’s a bit like actually arriving inside the world of Crash Bandicoot circa 1997 (you can even pick a tribal mask).
First stop was Arizona Sunshine, a game inspired by numerous shoot ‘em ups and shows featuring the great undead.
It was truly incredible.
You have limited movement, but there is a genuine sense of terror and thrill at being able to fully look in 360 degrees and interact with your environment. And when day turned to night, the scares really ratchet up a notch. Gruesome ghouls and enemies in various states of decay were running, walking and crawling towards you from every angle. This alone was worth the trip and I could have played this for the full 45 minutes!
My comrades eventually tired of the relentless shooting and we agreed to explore. In all honesty, we had some glitches with user interface, and understanding quickly how to play the various games, which included a lightsaber-based cross between Guitar Hero and Fruit Ninja, shooting robots (instead of zombies), a DJ challenge, and an old-school platform jumping game.
The time flew by and we all felt the 45 minutes was actually a little short. Between figuring it all out, and any technical setbacks you might have, it can go very quickly. However, the trip is definitely worth it. We concluded the key was to pick a couple of activities in advance and make a beeline for them in-world.
VR and The Future
At the moment, VR experiences like this come at a premium and are rare occasions, but it sparked a lot of discussion around where it’s headed, and the kind of experiences we could be having in five, 10, 15 years time. Thinking back to Crash Bandicoot and the progress we’ve seen technically since he first appeared on the first Playstation in 1996, the mind boggles as to how spectacular these experiences could be in 2042. The scope for brands too, as they seek to offer deeper, more engaging experiences, is truly limitless (never mind the product placement opportunities)!
The genius of Charlie Brooker has already given us a hint in the Striking Vipers episode of the new Black Mirror as to how “real” we might feel in these worlds and what those implications could be. Experiencing Otherworlds truly opened our eyes to the creative (and commercial) potential ahead in VR – we may all just need to make sure we don’t actually start to prefer the world inside the pod at the expense of the one outside.