FUTURE FLIGHT MISSION TO MARS: 360 VR DROP TOWER
We’ve been talking with a lot of people about 360 VR recently since the success of Future Flight at the Houston Super Bowl’s fan experience at Discovery Green back in February. That was where we took visitors on a 2-minute ride to Mars while they ascended a 90-ft drop tower. The event lasted just 10 days but we sent 27,000 people on an imaginative journey to Mars with the help of NASA with zero down time and no incidents of rider discomfort or injury.
Since then, lots of opportunities to use VR have come our way. Yet we often find ourselves having to spend more time on sharing what we learned in created Future Flight with prospective clients than on how we might achieve what they have in mind. This is due to many people not fully understanding what it takes to produce a successful VR experience.
So, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
PROVIDE PROPER CONTEXT
While the thrill of the drop tower plummet was always in the back of their minds, Future Flight riders knew they were going on a virtual journey to Mars. This gave them a context for what to expect, truly appreciate the experience, and still have room to be surprised when the seating ring actually dropped. If you keep too much of the VR experience a secret, your visitors/guests/riders/viewers will be distracted in having to ascertain their whereabout and presence within the story you are trying to tell instead of allowing themselves to become fully immersed within it and develop the all-important sense of presence needed to enable the VR content to trick the brain into making it a plausible reality.
AVOID SENSORY CONFLICT
We had to maintain a strict rule of sensory dominance so that riders never had their own sensory inputs trigger conflicting stimuli to the brain. For the initial ascent up the tower, visual stimulation was dominant so while riders felt a slight sense of movement as the seating ring rose up the tower, they were primarily fixated on the VR presentation’s visual stimulus of traveling to Mars. Once the seating ring reached the top of the tower, we held it there for 10-seconds to allow riders complete presence while on Mars without and mechanical movement to disturb the awe-inspiring visual panorama of being on the red planet’s surface. Only then when the the seating ring released and the riders dropped for 5-seconds did we allow the vestibular system to become dominant by motion blurring the visuals as a warp speed race back to Earth. This allowed the brain to downplay visual stimulation while the vestibular system was communicating the sudden sense of plummeting. Throughout the entire ride experience, soundscaped audio content maintained a consistent storyline and sense of place for riders so that no matter where they were on the journey, they felt safe, captivated, and completely immersed in the experience.
EXECUTE WITH CONFIDENCE
We needed to overcome some significant challenges; syncing the VR content playback to the drop tower ride mechanism, remotely triggering 12 wireless VR headsets at the same time, continually recharging a stockpile of 100 VR headsets over the course of 8-12 hour days, and doing so with Houston Super Bowl volunteers many of whom would have to be trained minutes before going on duty. By the way, this all had to happen with less than 72-hours to set up and 10 days later needed to disappear within 48-hours to return a beloved City Park back to its previous lush condition. We knew we could create a visually stunning experience. We had the full support of the Johnson Space Center and NASA’s incredible content assets. We partnered with G.E.S as our symbiotic creative collaborator and full-service live event production team. We had A.R.M. Rides as our ride technology vendor who was excited to push their proven portable drop tower to the limit while maintaining operational excellence and safety guidelines at all times. We had a host committee/home town base of volunteers ready to go into action. And we had a HD Interactive as our systems integration programming partner who had helped us solve many other technical challenges in the past. While we all had the same resolve to “be the first to do this” we also shared multiple concerns about “could this really be done?” But by assembling a team with proven capabilities in their own areas of expertise, we were able to create something unique that none of us could do on our own while staying out of each other’s wheel-well in order to expedite production and maintain an awesome communications flow.
So before you even begin to think about what you may want to do with your great VR idea, take a moment to make sure that you are giving your audience the proper context to maximize their VR experience, not introducing any conflicting sensory stimulation, and have assembled a robust team with proven chops to bring your VR experience to reality.