On a Friday night across the street from a Regal movie theatre, a line beings to form in Los Angeles, California for a horrific experience like no other. Power lines and ethernet cords stretch across the parking lot as just under 100 people wait outside two trailers with the words “Insidious: Chapter 3” plastered on the sides. As I walk up the steps I hear what sounds like gunshots coming from inside followed by gut wrenching screams. My heart beats faster as I venture through the decrepit, looming hallway and start to wonder who makes it out alive.
Beyond the entranceway was a waiting room filled with sensors ready to trigger interactive thrills throughout the “ride.” The lights flicker above as the room shakes objects nearby on a bookshelf against the wall. Skulls, candles, and tarot cards vibrate, startling those who walk by. A gatekeeper bangs on a door in front, telling the next person to enter the darkness on the other side.
Cautiously, I peer around a corner. Then, suddenly, from within the shadows, a zombie girl quickly jumps out of the darkness jabbing an electric taser at me. She chases after me, and I swing closed a wooden door with the lighted marker number “3” hanging above the frame. I hear her trying to claw her way inside as a television screen surges on.
Are you ready?
At this point, another door opens and a girl with a mangled up skirt is standing next to a computer desk and an antique chair. She ushers me inside and straps a pair of Oculus Rift DK2 goggles to my face. For the second time in my journalism career, I am anxious to teleport myself into something horrific. My hands shake subtly as I grab the headphones right as the VR experience begins.
Out of nowhere, I am transported to a room similar to the one my actual body is planted in. The virtual entranceway in front of me creaks open and lunges the chair and myself into another environment. A creepy lady talks to me, warning that “they” are coming for me and she can’t stop them. She reaches out and a points toward a figure that appears in an instant. The room shakes, the chair I’m sitting in rumbles, and the glass from a window break into pieces. Then, darkness – eerie darkness.
My eyes start to see something, a lot of things. Ghost-like beings circle around me with white sheets draped over them. Air streams hit my body sending a shiver down my spine. Something brushes up against my arm, and I fling my hand back ready to fight whatever may come at me. Screams fill my head, and then…..!!!!!
Well, I won’t ruin the ending for you, but I will say that the Insidious VR experience has a startling conclusion that has people jumping out of their seats, literally.
With the experience over, there are several key points that stood out to me during the event. For one, VR tours are going to be a big spark in the momentum towards mass adoption of the virtual reality medium. Getting people to try virtual reality for the 1st time by introducing them to a franchise is a nice way of progressing the movement even further.
With that said, there were a couple of sustaining problems plaguing the demo throughout the entire night. First, when I showed up at my designated RSVP timeslot, the organizers informed the steadily growing crowd that they were encountering some issues booting up the system. The PCs that they had were sucking up a lot of energy and processing power which was bogging them down. Because of this, we had to wait an extra hour or so before anyone could venture inside.
Waiting for hours just to try out a 7 minute VR experience is a lot to ask someone when the movie theatres and food establishments are a block nearby. Still, the general level of enthusiasm continuously rose, and the people generally seemed like they were willing to wait. It was a “virgin” experience for most – this is a medium that only few could easily access – so getting a chance to don VR goggles for the 1st time was an opportunity that many did not want to pass up.
Despite waiting in the cold, the experience itself was pretty impressive. This stemmed from an intriguing combination of haunted house scare techniques culminated together with physical “4D” interactions while the VR demo went on. The suspense kept rising while those ventures through hallways running away from real people dressed as zombies. Once they finally got to the VR demo room and sat down, there was a sense of urgency and excitement that has been unmatched in my writing career so far. Horror experiences are great for VR since the genre knows how to tap into the medium perfectly, invoking a rollercoaster of emotions along the way.
After the demo was made, Blumhouse Productions, the company behind movies like Insidious and The Purge, brought in trailers and designed the mobile haunted house around the VR demo complete with sensors and custom environments. A great example including sending bass signals into the chair that people sat on causing it to shake, which was a nice touch. Even better was the use of air flow to freak users out along with what felt like a feather to make them become immersed into the scene, feeling like they were actually there. The best part was at the end, but I’ll let you experience it for yourself to fully understand.
Still, there was a thought that kept coming to mind while going through the demo, “Is this really what VR needs?” For now, the answer is “yes.” More people need to try out the medium so that they can go home and tell their friends how awesome it is. Tours like this help spread the movement. Yet, at the same time, the novelty of experiences like this will eventually wear off quickly. As someone who has teleported into countless VR demos, I found myself getting bored fairly quickly for something that I knew would only be a causal experience.
Even after the experience, although still worth the trip, I know that more substantial experiences need to arise fast. If we keep jabbing people in the eyes with these type of cheap thrills without producing repeatable, useful content, the medium will surely die a slow and painful death before it even reaches the hands of millions of hopeful consumers.
Now, despite the criticisms above, I do firmly believe that the teams behind the Insidious experience did a fantastic job at using the medium to market a movie. The intermingling of real world objects and haunted house-style interactions startled me at times, and that is hard to do. They achieved the reactions sought after with spectacular results and recorded the responses the entire time. Not to mention, the use of sensors to trigger events was genius. Sure, I was curious enough to find out where they were placed (like under a mat on the floor and so forth), but they were hidden well enough to startle just about anyone who ventured inside.
Would I recommend someone try the 4D experience? Absolutely! It is a thrill ride that will scare the pants off you if you let it. So, get your friends and get to the nearest demo location as soon as you can.
To find out where the Insidious trailers will be stationed next, visit their website to reserve tickets. Upcoming spots include San Francisco, Dallas, and Long Beach. Snatch those RSVPs up while you still can.