A new movie launch from a huge influential director. The biggest IMAX rollout the industry has ever seen. All-star cast, enormous budget and a director who claimed fame with a very modern adaptation of a well-known superhero. All this is true of Interstellar, but arguably the most interesting part of this new franchise is the virtual reality (VR) tie-in developed to promote the movie.
Currently on tour in the US and UK, Intersellar‘s VR experience is similar in concept to that of Pacific Rim: Jaeger Pilot. Its use of recognisable locales from the film is a conscious design decision rather than a lack of originality and the fact that the player is simply automated throughout (there is no controller present and no option for player input at any point) results in a product that anybody can use. It’s simple, it’s direct and it’s impressive.
The high quality of the visuals is not to be overlooked. The short 3 minute experience is littered with items of interest and recognisable objects, adding an attainable sense of scale to the craft upon which you are placed. The player is lead along an automated path with their only input being the ability to look around, and yet that exact input is enough. This isn’t a brand new AAA production asking for a chunk of your money: it’s a teaser for an altogether different product that is looking for your investment.
As you peruse the vessel upon which you are based, slowly meandering through areas of semi-interest and casually informing yourself about the feel of the surroundings – the rules of the world you now inhabit – a voice suddenly tells you that the artificial gravity is about to be turned off. A moment of judder ensures that a physical reaction is presented; the chair upon which the player is sat moves in-tandem with the sudden shift in player perspective, but it passes in a moment. Your body registers the change, and now free-floating along a pre-set path is just as natural as forced ambulation.
The brightly lit innards of the steel can you have been calling home for around a minute offer intrigue in their ambiguity. There’s nothing here; nothing but brushed steel with a few dents and other hallmarks of years of wear-and-tear. Stationary, fire extinguishers, cupboards containing miscellaneous items of little interest. These are the mis-en-scene. They build a world that is instantly relatable and easy to become involved in. It’s not a world away from every day life, but it’s easy to fall in love with the idea of physically being worlds apart.
Floating upwards trough a tight tube as you approach your final destination you see a ladder aligned with the wall face running underneath you. As you reach the exit your eye line naturally follows the curve of the ladder, and doing so brings another long corridor slowly into view. However, due to the momentum you are under and the lack of gravity, this corridor doesn’t feel like you’re simply turning a corridor, but rather that it demands a quick and sharp drop to reach the bottom. Vertigo, for those who suffer it, is likely to be stimulated at this point. The holy grail of VR design: stimulating emotions and physical reactions that demand a feeling of ‘presence’.
It’s only another moment til you reach the cockpit and your experience ends. You’ll soon realise that you simply spent a few minutes moving along a set-path and simply looking at pretty pictures that had been drawn for you by an artists knowing that would be all you were doing. It’s like a monorail ride around a theme park; items are thrown in specifically to draw your attention as the designers know exactly where they’ll be able to draw your eye line to. However, this is not all Interstellar‘s VR experience offered; it presented a high quality world different to – yet familiar enough – our own world and achieved moments that other VR experiences are crying out for. This is a significant sign that as other industries begin to pay more attention to VR, things will only get better.