I’m a sucker for awards shows (the Oscars are like the gay Super Bowl to me!). So I was in my element as I watched the two-part 2021 Raindance Immersive Awards, which were hosted in the social VR platform VRChat, with audiences also watching the livestream in-world in both AltspaceVR and NeosVR, as well as remotely on YouTube (the videos are below).
The Raindance Film Festival is the largest and most important independent film festival in the U.K., showcasing features, shorts, web series and music videos by filmmakers from the U.K. and around the world to an audience of film executives and buyers, journalists, film fans and filmmakers.
Powered by HTC VIVE’s Viveport and VRChat, this year’s Raindance Immersive (October 27th to November 21, 2021) comprised immersive VR games and experiences competing for jury awards, as well as the Spirit of Raindance Awards, which are selected by the festival team. Raindance is the only film festival in the world to recognize and award VR on such a scale, so this was a major event!
The Raindance Immersive Awards ceremony for 2021 was in two parts. The first part was held yesterday. The cameraman for the event was my friend (and the co-producer of the upcoming second season of the Metaverse Newscast), the talented social VR videographer Carlos Austin.
If you have never visited VRChat, I think that this 1-hour-and-40-minute video is your prefect introduction! You really get a sense of the wonderful variety and diversity of avatars which are available in VRChat, as well as a good look at the Embassy virtual world where the ceremony takes place.
Carlos deftly steers his camera around the avatars milling about and chatting with each other at the very beginning, before the event starts, and it feels as if you were in a cocktail party, overhearing bits and snippets of conversations! I loved it. (If you want to skip right to the awards ceremony proper, it starts at the 27:56 minute mark, and it runs until the 1-hour-and-13 minute mark, followed by an afterparty.)
The awards handed out in Part 1, in order, were (all links go to the description page on the Raindance Immersive website, with a promo video and more information):
The MetaMovie is exciting beyond words. It may actually be now doing what history will see as the beginning of a brand new interactive movie entertainment industry.
—Karel Hulec of NeosVR (where Alien Rescue takes place)
This afternoon, I had the privilege of participating in the impressive new MetaMovie production Alien Rescue, created and directed by Jason Moore and starring Marinda Botha, Nicole Rigo, Kenneth Rougeau, Craig Woodward—and you!
Yes, you don’t just watch Alien Rescue; you’re a key part of the show! There are two roles: Hero and Eyebot. The Hero is the one audience member right in the centre of the story, where they role-play with the cast. Heroes can say or do anything they want, and they can even affect the storyline (the woman, who was the Hero of the performance I attended, landed up giving a hilarious nickname to one of the characters, which became a running joke throughout the rest of the performance!).
The rest of the audience are small, mute Eyebots, who only communicate with the actors via red, green, or yellow lights, but who play an integral part in moving the story forward (often by scouting ahead and warning the Hero and the other actors to hidden dangers). Even better, you can maneuver your Eyebot to catch the performance as it unfolds from any possible point of view! You can choose to follow a particular character if you wish, or you can just wander around as you please, and follow your fancy.
The actors in Alien Rescue are all professionals with years of VR acting experience, physically located across the globe, from New York to South Africa, from Kansas to Connecticut. This troupe has been working closely together for nearly three years. All the actors used the HTC Vive Pro Eye headset, which features eye tracking, along with the newly released Vive Facial Tracker, which tracks the movements of the mouth and the lower face. These added expressions—subtle shifts of the eyes, a blink or a wink, a slight grin or a strong grimace—help bring their avatars to life. Here’s a demonstration of just how realistic avatar movements can be with these features enabled.
At times, the action splits into two separate conversations or scenes. One example was when we all entered a laboratory through a series of dark, winding corridors, while the two actors ahead of me (leading the group) were having one conversation, and the two actors behind me (acting as a rear guard) were having a second one! As an Eyebot hovering between these two groups, I heard snippets of both conversations, which felt like a very natural and intuitive way to learn more about the characters, much as if you were drifting from conversation to conversation at a cocktail party (only this one was with random, weird alien creatures popping up!).
Speaking of alien creatures, all the imaginatively designed avatars in Alien Rescue were created by the very talented Chris McBride (NeosVR username: Ultranique), whom I interviewed in season one of the Metaverse Newscast (back when he was still practicing his artistry in avatar creation on the former social VR platform of High Fidelity, before he moved to NeosVR to work on the MetaMovie project):
And here’s another Metaverse Newscast interview I did with director Jason Moore (again, two years ago, in High Fidelity, when Alien Rescue was still in its earliest planning stages):
(Fun fact: I was the original Hero, and was the very first person to experience the MetaMovie Project, many years ago in High Fidelity, on their first project, called A Very Old Mystery in New New York.)
The set for Alien Rescue is just absolutely insane in its overall dimensions (the following quote comes from the press kit I received). The production design was by Zach Harris (NeosVR username: Nexulan), who managed the entire design team.
With seven large and detailed maps (game lingo for levels, or areas of a world), Alien Rescue immerses audiences into a dark and spooky sci-fi environment with barely-lit passageways, creepy labs, and eerie soundscapes. The crown jewel is the incredible Blackhawk Spaceship, at 160 meters long (nearly two football fields) and 55 meters high, with four levels and over twenty rooms. And, our maps are all connected using a custom programmed ‘instant teleport’ system that reduces load time from one map to the next to zero seconds. Audiences traverse the world of Alien Rescue seamlessly and instantaneously, without the typical “loading screen” found in most VR games and experiences.
Jason Moore tells me:
Lead Programmer was Raul Anthony “RueShejn” Ybarra. He did all of the programming using LogiX. He invented the ‘instant travel’ system that gave us those seamless transitions from map to map, he’s a freaking genius.
This afternoon’s performance was the last of a series of private, invitation-based shows before the official premiere next week. According to a press release:
This form of live storytelling in the metaverse is truly new, therefore the prestigious Raindance Film Festival has selected the work to have its world premiere there in late October 2021.
I am telling you right now: you do NOT want to miss this event! It’s the most incredible and imaginative thing I have experienced in virtual reality all year (and trust me, I’ve seen a lot in these past twelve months of pandemic lockdown). The MetaMovie project is a genre-defying mix, combining elements of cinematic storytelling, video games, role playing, improv, and immersive theatre into something completely new, different, and exciting. GO SEE THIS! I loved it!!
Now, a few important points. You can experience Alien Rescue in flatscreen, desktop mode, but obviously for greater immersion, virtual reality is the way to go! Experiencing Alien Rescue in VR requires a PCVR setup. All major VR headsets will work: HTC Vive, Valve Index, HP, Oculus Rift, and Oculus Quest (tethered or Air Link). The minimum graphics card requirements are a Nvidia GTX 1060 or AMD RX 570 with a minimum of 8GB of RAM. A wired connection is strongly recommended!
You should know that you will need a higher-end CPU and GPU on your personal computer to experience the show comfortably in VR; I have an Intel Core i5-6600 chip and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX1080 graphics card on my PC, with 16GB of RAM, and I crashed—twice!— while loading the map for Alien Rescue (however, once the world was fully loaded, I encountered few problems). Every so often, one of the actors’ voices would get all robot-y, but any such audio problems were temporary.
The show is approximately an hour and a half long, from beginning to end, and if you stick around, you might even win an award for your participation in a ceremony held in the credits lounge. (I won two awards!)
The MetaMovie presents; Alien Rescue, an innovative project conceived by Jason Moore, in which the user embodies the starring role in a LIVE-performed Virtual Reality cinematic adventure. The project [was] selected by the Venice International Film Festival [which took] place online from September 2nd till 12th, 2020.
The MetaMovie project is an ongoing series of experiments exploring immersive, interactive storytelling inside the virtual reality metaverse. It combines cinema, video games, interactive theater, and role playing activities like D&D to create an entirely new way to experience a story: from the inside. In a MetaMovie you don’t just watch the story, you’re part of it.
As ‘the Hero’ you are the lead player. Your co-stars are played by live actors who lead you on an immersive and cinematic adventure and you have the agency to do or say what you want, and even affect the outcome of the story. Curious, but not exactly a hero? Experience the story as an ‘Eyebot’ without needing to interact with the other characters.
The world of live immersive work is upcoming. The Venice International Film Festival selected three of these projects for this year’s VR Expanded edition. Besides the fact that these experiences offer consumers live entertainment from the comfort of their own home, it also creates job opportunities for actors all over the world. Something that’s more relevant than ever since we’re dealing with COVID-19.
Here’s the two-minute teaser trailer for Alien Rescue!
And here’s the best part: you can take advantage of a special free offer to help iron out the last few bugs in performances of Alien Rescue before ticket sales to the general public! Jason Moore left the following message on the RyanSchultz.com Discord:
I’m Jason, the creator and director of the MetaMovie Presents: Alien Rescue. Alien Rescue is a live immersive asymmetric PCVR/Desktop experience that puts you in the middle of an action packed VR movie where you role play with five live actors. We’ve performed at the Venice Biannale VR festival and won a Special Mention award, and we are gearing up for our public launch in a few months.
Currently we are running preview shows to squash the bugs and I’m here offering free tickets for some upcoming shows! Please come check us out, give us your feedback, and help us bug test!
We run on NeosVR, which is available for free on Steam. The days/times of the shows are:
• Saturday August 28th, 2:00pm ET • Saturday, September 4th, 2:00pm ET • Saturday, September 18, 2:00pm ET • Saturday, October 2nd, 2:00pm ET
Click the link below to go to our website, where you can select the day of the show you want. Then you’ll get taken to Eventbrite and you can use the Discount Codes below to get your free ticket.
Please only take a ticket if you are sure you will use it. Please only take 1 ticket, not multiple tickets. And please note we are still working out the bugs…..
Discount Codes: • Saturday, August 28th, 2:00pm ET Sidekick2808 • Saturday, September 4th, 2:00pm ET Sidekick0409 • Saturday, September 18th, 2:00pm ET Sidekick1809 • Saturday, October 2nd, 2:00pm ET Sidekick0210
Jason Moore has posted a project update for his MetaMovie (MM) Project on YouTube, to thank the backers of his project and to show off some of the work they have been able to do on their new production, Alien Rescue, on the NeosVR platform:
I think this project is a win-win for both parties. The MetaMovie Project benefits from the many features offered by NeosVR (such as really alien-looking aliens!) and NeosVR benefits from the exposure and attention that the MetaMovie Project brings to the platform. No doubt, fans of Jason’s previous MM work on High Fidelity will come over to NeosVR to see and participate in his latest production, Alien Rescue!
Here’s a previous episode of my show, the Metaverse Newscast, where I interviewed Jason Moore about the MetaMovie Project when it was still on High Fidelity (they moved to NeosVR in August, after this was taped):
Notice how Jason Moore has been able to bring over his tuxedo-clad bulldog avatar over from High Fidelity to NeosVR! I think this is wonderful, ground-breaking project in immersive entertainment, and I would like to wish both Jason and his team at the MetaMovie project, as well as the NeosVR team, every success in this endeavour.