When HTC first introduced its Vive virtual reality (VR) headset in April of 2016, “The Blu” quickly became one of the most talked-about launch titles: With its ability to transport viewers onto the deck of a sunken ship, and face-to-face with a giant 80-foot whale, it offered viewers a deeply moving experience of presence and immersion. “It was a really great introductory piece to VR,” recalled “The Blu” director Jake Rowell in a recent interview with Variety.
Now, Rowell and his colleagues are at it again, and about to unveil a new version of “The Blu” that has been optimized for location-based VR. “The Blu: Deep Rescue” sends up to 6 participants onto a rescue mission to locate and save a whale at sea. The experience os one of 3 launch titles for the first permanent VR center run by AMC-backed Dreamscape Immersive, which is opening its doors in Los Angeles this Friday.
“The Blu: Deep Rescue” is the first location-based VR experience produced by Wevr, and Rowell explained that the company saw this as a chance to expand on the idea of the franchise. “We saw it as a huge opportunity to advance The Blu,” he said. The original title was very much made for VR first-timers looking for a breathtaking experience. “The home product didn’t really have a specific narrative,” said Rowell.
“Deep Rescue” on the other hand is a social VR experience, designed to be experienced by groups of up to 6 participants at a time. “Once you put more than one person in VR, it changes the experience,” said Rowell. Giving those 6 players a direction and purpose required not only a plot, but also a narrator to guide them through the experience, which totals about 10 minutes.
Wevr produced “The Blu: Deep Rescue” in partnership with Dreamscape Immersive, which has a bit of a different take on location-based VR than some of the other companies in the space. Like The Void and Nomadic, Dreamscape uses physical props to give participants a heightened sense of immersion. In the case of “Deep Rescue,” this includes the railing of an underwater platform, and controls for a kind of deep-sea scooter. “It’s another presence multiplier,” Rowell said.
However, Dreamscape doesn’t build out complicated stages with numerous doors and walls. Instead, participants are being led around on a relatively small open stage, which has been optimized to fit into typical mall architecture. And while Dreamscape experiences are interactive, the company doesn’t emphasize gamification with overly complex puzzles and challenges, as to not put participants to work too much. “It’s actually not that much fun,” quipped Dreamscape co-chairman Walter Parkes about gamification, stressing that the company would always put stories first.
The goal of each experience was to give participants the feeling that they step into a movie, added CEO Bruce Vaughn. “The audience, they are the stars, they are the characters.”
Dreamscape’s setup includes small trackers that are being attached to each participant’s hand and feet, which allows the company to estimate the movement of their bodies, and then replicate those movements with avatars in VR. The result is a more social experience, which includes the ability to give each other high-fives — or in the case of “The Blu: Deep Rescue,” allows divers to wave at each other as they zoom around with their underwater scooters.
Wevr built a total of 6 different paths for these scooters, guiding them to the conclusion of the story while at the same time allowing each and every participant to explore different areas. “Once we put you on the scooter, you want to see that other person’s story,” said Rowell, who suggested that this may drive people to try the experience more than once.
Speaking of: Wevr CEO Neville Spiteri said that his company wasn’t quite done with “The Blu” either. “Our commitment as a company is to grow it going forward,” he said, adding that the home VR version had been “a profitable franchise” for the Venice, Calif.-based startup.
All the while, the company is looking to reach new audiences with “Deep Rescue.” People who don’t own a VR headset, and perhaps never experienced virtual worlds before. Said Rowell: “We hope that it will be a beacon for people to try VR.”