The Virtual Arena: London’s Immersive Time-traveling Experience
The application of XR into the attraction and amusement landscape is covered by industry specialist Kevin Williams in his latest Virtual Arena column. An amazing immersive adventure based in 1605 London is experienced with the launch of The Gunpowder Plot.
The creation of an immersive experience that audiences will be prepared to pay ticket prices to participate in has been a constant challenge. The mixing of the right level of immersive, with live performance and themed environments has been attempted as both stage performance, art installation, and attraction. And London played host to the latest adaption of this process into the mainstream.
Based on the historical character Guy Fawkes, and the turbulent period of English history he was embroiled in, Layered Reality has launched The Gunpowder Plot. This is an immersive experience, combining theatrical theming, and live performance, alongside immersive projection, and virtual reality.
Located on Tower Hill in the shadow of the historic Tower of London, the Tower Vaults venue has been transformed into an entertainment space, bar, and dining hospitality. The developers have previous experience in offering this level of immersive entertainment, following on from their successful deployment of Jeff Wayne’s The War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience – which we reported on previously.
Layered Reality in collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces and Figment Productions has been working to launch this ambitious historical reinterpretation of the gunpowder plot. Figment Productions, best known for their work in creating the ‘Derren Brown’s Ghost Train: Rise of the Demon’ theme park attraction; has worked hard to create a virtual recreation of the London of 1605. The developer employs over 50 actors to be represented virtually within this experience, including accurate period costumes.
The developer does not stop there, representing the old London landscape, with the Thames, the original London Bridge, and the surrounding castles so lovingly that you will want to be able to visually navigate the streets of the historic city – eventually lost to plague, and the Great Fire of London. The VR elements of the experience are broken into three distinct portions of the overall adventure for the audience. With the crossing of the Thames by rope, a harrowing night crossing across the river, and an audience with the King!
Image credit: Mark Dawson
The adventure is a true immersive experience and builds greatly on a more theatrical representation of the immersive elements. A troop of well-known stage and screen actors fill the cast – led by Tom Felton, better known for his portrayal of Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies. It is the interweaving of the immersive technology with the live actors that has become a signature of Layered Reality’s artistry.
In groups of up to 16, guests are transported through time, with their guides being real actors, using their performances to immerse the audience, complemented by the theming of the vaults. Along the way there are sequences where guests don HTC Cosmos Elite VR headsets and immerse further into the action sequences of the story, concluding with the group having to agree on the moral decisions they should take impacting the conclusion of the adventure. The whole experience lasts over an hour and is broken up with the signature-themed pub area, halfway through the adventure, for the guests to mingle.
Aside from the obvious opening night jitters from the technology, the overall experience was an amazing undertaking and offered a compelling and fun adventure. Only wishing that we could have spent longer admiring the incredible historical recreation rendered virtually of the old city. The experience will be moving from soft opening to taking bookings and is expected to be the first of many immersive themed experiences based on popular properties.
In an interesting quirk of history on its own, the location of The Gunpowder Plot experience is situated in the same vaults that some 28-years ago housed the Legend Quest VR experience. Developed at the time by pioneers, Virtuality, in collaboration with Virtual Reality Design & Leisure, the first true multi-player fantasy VR game was incredibly rudimentary but pointed to the abilities of this fledgling technology. Jump forward to 2022, and again the Tower Hill location offers a tantalizing glimpse of a future in a technological endeavour that will start a revolution in guest entertainment.