Hands-on: The War of The Worlds Combines Theater With VR In London – UploadVR


War Of The Worlds VR

Jeff Wayne’s The War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience is a musical interpretation of the classic H.G. Wells science-fiction story. The project has been around for some 40 years as a rock opera musical experience with an album that’s sold 14 million copies and many sell-out stage performances too. Now, it has been re-created as a theatrical experience with VR interspersed throughout.

The new ‘War of the Worlds’ experience is focused on vignettes based around the key events from the rock opera.

The Location

Guests buy their tickets and reserve their slot online and arrive at an imposing building in London that has been transformed for the experience. On entering, guests are greeted by a giant (captured) Martian scout. After being registered, and assigned to their group, they wait at the ‘Spirit of Man’ bar. They then enter the attraction and are led through the story of the Martian invasion first narrated via an impressive holographic screen – only then to be thrown back in time to the events themselves.

Three kinds of immersive technology are employed in the experience – first with 3D viewers that usher the audience into the world of the 1800’s. Placed in a themed observatory viewing the heavens. This star gazing experience is interrupted by the devastating Martian invasion, and one of the live actors becomes the first victim to the invaders through an impressive practical special effect. The guests are then ushered deeper into the the venue by a soldier, where they take refuge in a nearby house only to be confronted in a darkened sequence by the aliens.

Backpack VR With Vive

We moved to the first use of full VR in the experience – the guests donning backpack PC’s and putting on HTC Vive headsets; they exit the house and enter a virtual re-creation of the countryside and come face to face with a 300-foot Martian fighting machine – gazing up as this monster blasts the surrounding landscape with its heat ray; rushing to a bridge for shelter the group then exit, helping their wounded guide.

Then to the second VR experience, groups jump onboard boats that are steered by their guide. This ends up in the heart of the naval battle between the Royal Navy battleship Thunder Child – protecting an escaping ferry from the attack of a Martian fighting machine. Escaping by only the skin of their teeth, the audience is ushered to ‘The Red Weed Bar’, where a pause in the action takes place and guests can purchase drinks.

The action resumes, rushed from the pub to a church. Guests in confessional boxes don their VR headsets again to see what’s happening in the church. Eventually, the audience stumbles on the underground remnants of humanity and see their fanciful plans to rebuild from underground – this enigmatic part of the “rock-opera” recreated using a dome display. Guests lay back within the enclosures, soaring through futuristic spires, from the imaginations of the mad Artilleryman.

Finally, the experience concludes once again in VR, guests entering their own personal hot air balloon that soars over the wasteland of the English country, seeing the abandoned Martian machines, as they succumb to destruction by the natural microbes of the planet. After this extravaganza the audience re-emerge into the main lobby of the attraction and the ‘Spirit of Man’ bar, where it all started.

The Achievement

One of the major elements the developer successfully captured is the use of motion-captured actors, rendered in the virtual environment, in a believable manner. While the technology still shows its limitations, the VR elements of the experience worked well and this is definitely something that is unachievable at home.

The 110-minute event is a two-part experience which bonds the audience together and offers a natural pause to the unfolding action. VR is used to place the audience in peril and wonder at the same time. The inclusion of a full bar with themed cocktails and refreshments, along with souvenir pictures of your group’s survival on this visit; all add to the social element of the proceedings.

At the opening of the attraction at the end of May, Andrew McGuinness – CEO of dotdotdot, the developers behind this undertaking, said they hoped the experience will continue beyond its initial run through August.

This attraction places the bar high for others to emulate. This is much longer than the 15 or so minutes of “Hyper-Reality” experiences, such as The VOID’s ‘Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire’. This is also more of an audience experience than an interactive VR game installed at an arcade somewhere. The 110-minute “immersive theatrical experience” charges some £49.50 ($62) per ticket. I was provided free entry to evaluate the experience.

About The Author

Kevin Williams is an author and presenter, as well as a consultant, specializing in the immersive out-of-home entertainment industry. He co-authored the book  “The Out-of-Home Interactive Entertainment Frontier” and is working on a new edition. He can be reached at [email protected]

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