In just over 12 minutes I was transported far, far away in a room no bigger than a NY apartment. I didn’t fall down a rabbit hole, open a magical wardrobe or get beamed up by Scottie. Instead, I experienced Dreamscape Immersive’s foray into the virtual world at Alien Zoo, the closest thing to Star Trek’s holodeck I’ll probably see in my lifetime.
While virtual reality (VR) is nothing new, the technology is still somewhat in its infancy and far from being able to fool the user into thinking the virtual world isn’t a simulacrum. But Dreamscape’s truly immersive experience is nothing short of a giant leap forward. In fact, while VR happens to be the technology employed, the Alien Zoo experience should be referred to as simply Immersive (with a capital I).
Dreamscape Immersive describes the experience like this:
You are about to enter a world where you can touch, feel, and smell your surroundings. In this unique experience, you will walk side by side with massive beasts, play with adorable and exotic creatures, and fight the most deadly predator in all the cosmos. ALIEN ZOO uses an entirely new VR technology that engages all of your senses in the thrill of an epic theme park adventure and the awe of a great film.
Intrigued yet? Maybe a little skeptical?
But in search of all things amazing, I entered the Alien Zoo on a Saturday with my mind as open as I could get it. Upon registration, you select your avatar––in my case, I was able to lose 20lbs and gain an 8-pack with a simple touch of an iPad. Next, you suit up in a lightweight backpack, goggles, fingerless gloves and boot spurs that looked fit for Karl Lagerfeld. So far, so good.
The futuristic gear was just the beginning. Instantly, my six comrades and I were transformed into our new personas and stepped into a capsule that ascended up to a new world. Once there, we moved freely through space, hovering around and amongst the most magical creatures. As they approached, I was compelled by their curiosity and couldn’t help but reach out to pet them. And OMG were they real?! I was able to feel them nuzzling my hand with the rough texture of their trunk. It blew my mind to caress the Elqui, a trunk horse and one of the many creatures we experienced. We played ball with the mischievous Frogcats and popped what can only be described as ‘neon bubbles’ to release a light spectacular.
Once in the depths of a dark and dank cave, we reached down to pick up working (virtual) flashlights which pointed our beams to scare off the ferocious Sicari. We could smell the wet dew of the rainforest and feel the water spray coming down on our cheeks. All of our senses were involved and then some: motion, sound, scent and eye-opening sights. As we walked amongst each other on our collective journey, one could only imagine the limitless depths of imagination this world could conjure.
Alien Zoo is cool, no doubt about that. But what makes it amazing?
- Alien Zoo is very much experience-driven, not just using technology for the gimmick’s sake. So often technology drives the experience. In order to showcase the emerging capability, creators get mired in detail the audience often finds meaningless. But Alien Zoo is, first and foremost, a story. A journey where technology enables adventures but just as quickly disappears. While the story is short (my journey was just over 12 minutes even though Alien Zoo’s website suggests 40 minutes is the typical time), I marveled at witnessing grown, skeptical adults engage easily and willingly in virtual play. We were all too busy being amazed to focus on the technology and the fact that we were standing in a small, unadorned room in Century City.
- Alien Zoo was familiar yet fantastic. For an experience to be truly amazing, I contend there has to be a baseline of familiarity to give you the security to let the experience rise above expectations. In psychological terms, the familiarity principle. But in experience terms, it’s about taking an expectation or norm and exceeding it in ways not previously imagined. Just as Cirque Du Soleil turned the circus upside down and Tesla got us thinking differently about what a car could be, Alien Zoo uses the familiarity of visiting the zoo to take guests on an out-of-this-world journey.
Alien Zoo is Immersive. What Dreamscape Immersive debuted is a holistic, sensual, emotional approach to storytelling where the VR technology simply disappears. That is really amazing in and of itself. They promised an experience “where digital is real,” and boy did they deliver.
The Alien Zoo has been extended to March 14, 2018. If you can’t make it in person, explore here: http://www.dreamscapeimmersive.com/index.html