I am happy to announce that the long-awaited season 2 of the Metaverse Newscast has begun! For our first episode of the second season, I interviewed Jason Moore and Chris McBride of the MetaMovie project! We talked about their latest immersive theatre production, called Alien Rescue, which I had previously reviewed here (October 2021).
I’d like to thank Carlos Austin, my co-producer and director for this season, along with Victor Posa, who did additional camerawork. Oh, and I do apologize for my avatar in this episode! I used one of the mouth-enabled robots from the avatar setup room in Neos, to use with my Vive Facial Tracker, but I didn’t realize until after we stopped filming that my avatar’s tongue was sticking out a lot of the time! (Oh well, live and learn! I’ll probably switch to a different avatar the next time we record in NeosVR.)
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
Overall, the fact that I can have an expressive, fully animated avatar inside a metaverse is blowing my mind.
Not too long ago, I was invited by Carlos Austin and Jason Moore to pay a long-overdue visit to NeosVR, where we met up with XRiEL (a.k.a. Ari Tarr), went over to Jason’s workshop, tried on some cool avatars, and rode some fun vehicles!
Here’s the full one-and-a-quarter hour video which Carlos kindly posted to YouTube:
Enjoy! As you can tell we had a lot of fun. Carlos was the cameraman capturing the shenanigans, and we were later joined by iBrews (a.k.a. Alex Coulombe). This video also makes a great introduction to NeosVR if you have never visited before! Of particular interest is Ari showing just how easy it is to rig an avatar within NeosVR:
Thanks to Jason, Ari, Carlos, and Alex for a wonderful afternoon! I had to bow out a little early (at the 50-minute mark in this video) to avoid becoming VR sick, but the antics continued after I departed!
At the 53-minute mark, XRiEL/Ari demonstrates what he can do with his avatar, wearing a Vive Eye Pro VR headset with eye tracking, the Vive Facial Tracker, plus Valve Index hand and finger trackers, and also three Vive pucks attached to his hip and both his feet. Yes, his eyes and mouth are mirroring his facial motion in real time!