HTC Vive uses zombies to push VR in East London

VR meets an immersive zombie theatre experience in East London.

Hackney in East London seems like an odd choice for a zombie apocalypse but here I am. When I signed up to fight zombies in Virtually Dead, an immersive theatre and VR experience, I was given strict instructions to head over to the bridge for my meeting point.

As I approach the bridge, I see two soldiers sitting on a bench next to a parked army truck eyeing me suspiciously. I stare back at them, equally suspicious. Two soldiers who just happen to be sitting near a bridge does seem quite random. Is it them?

“Virtually Dead?” I call out to them somewhat awkwardly.

“Yeah come on over,” the soldiers beckon.

And so it begins. Once the other zombie fighting recruits like me arrive, we are told to hurry up and jump in the back of the truck in utter darkness and then we are whisked away to a secret training facility where we are given instructions on how to stop the zombies from taking over. There are 35 actors involved in this experience that covers over half a kilometre, and true to 'army' form we are told to put on our boiler suits, do push-ups when we step out of line, and to speak up when spoken to.

Immersive theatre productions have been around for some time and lots of theatres are experimenting with different technologies to provide exciting experiences to audience members. CoLab Theatre is using Augmented Reality and geolocation to help audiences’ spot people in a crowd. Punchdrunk blurs the lines between the spectators and performers giving the spectators ownership on which actors and story they choose to follow.

HTC Vive found a perfect way to market their VR headset by teaming up with Noma Labs, aka “the millennial experience experts” to mix Virtual Reality with immersive theatre for the first time. It's an interesting experiment in many ways as while the business world has been getting carried away with the amazing potential for VR in retail, education and so on, less is known about VR in the consumer world. A recent survey of 3000 people in the US revealed that two-thirds aren't even aware of VR headsets. 

But did the VR and immersive theatre integration work?

Sort of. The HTC Vive is restricted by its cables so you can only move around within a certain vicinity. So it didn't really 'integrate' as such into the main show. But it served as a good introduction for those unfamiliar with VR and provided a nice contrast to the 'real-life' zombie experience as we got to shoot zombies coming at us with a choice of guns while our scores were tracked. It also lasted for a surprisingly good length of time before we were pulled back into the 'real' world of zombies with the actors.

From a gaming perspective, the HTC Vive experience was fun but I much preferred the theatre experience when we were running around, laughing and trying not to get bitten by the zombies. I would much rather have been shooting them instead.

I thought there would be more zombies too and while there were lots of 'jumpy' moments, the experience was not 'terrifying' as it was marketed to be. Some of the dialogue also felt a bit over-run and I felt there should have been more action. Virtually Dead may not have scared me but it definitely made me laugh. I enjoyed it and for HTC Vive – it's a clever move. 



Also read

Google's Tilt Brush: Finally, a magical VR experience

Theatre & tech: A perfect match of innovation & cash?