This week’s Game Developers Conference will be a who’s who of gaming gods and icons, and the big, new thing that every gamer is hoping to get their little trigger happy joystick fingers on is virtual reality. VR is set to make a huge play at the gaming conference, and one of the most buzzed about experiences comes directly from Epic Games and Fox, who have teamed to create an immersive virtual reality experience based on last year’s Oscar-nominated box office smash, The Martian.
The Martian VR Experience will make use of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets to place players directly in the center of a shortened version of the film as stranded astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) himself. For 25 minutes, players will walk a mile in Watney’s clunky space boots while marooned on Mars in a fight for survival. With a full 360-degree perspective of a harsh, barren Mars environment, users can drive a rover across the planet’s surface, play basketball with the poop potatoes you grew to survive (seems like a misuse of resources, but whatever) and even pilot a spacecraft.
Developed by the Fox Innovation Lab and Robert Stromberg’s (Oscar-winning art director for Alice in Wonderland and Avatar) VR company, The Martian VR Experience also boasts hands-on involvement from the film’s director, Ridley Scott, who serves as an executive producer. The experience is powered using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4, which hosts the virtual reality technology. Stromberg enlisted Heavy Iron Studios, another game developer, to create prototype hand controllers specifically for The Martian VR Experience that work in conjunction with the Oculus or Vive, giving players more functionality within the five interactive segments of the game, making it the first of its kind for long-form VR storytelling.
“We treated the project like a normal film production,” Stromberg said. “I wrote a script that was approved, then worked with The Martian editorial team. While they were cutting the film, we were working on the VR entity. We worked with the VFX (visual effects) companies to get the models from the film in the VR experience, which ended up being very helpful.” Since production on the VR experience began after the film wrapped shooting, they had to employ 2D scenes from the film in the VR storyline, something Stromberg says won’t happen in the future. Rather, VR experiences will be created in tandem with the source material, allowing the actors to shoot moments and interactive portions for VR.
The Martian VR Experience was initially planned for release alongside the theatrical debut of the film, but the retail delay of the HTC Vive nipped those plans in the bud. Now that the Vive has a set release date for April 5, and the Oculus Rift is expected to arrive shortly before that by the end of March, eager gamers can expect to become Matt Damon stuck on Mars very soon. As for a price point, the president of Fox Home Entertainment Worldwide, Mike Dunn, notes that it will more closely align with the cost of a film for home entertainment purposes rather than a video game. Get ready to cheaply inhabit life on Mars!