Tribeca’s Virtual Arcade returns once again to bring groundbreaking immersive experiences.
One of the largest independent film festivals in the world, the annual Tribeca Film Festival is responsible for delivering some of the most impactful and most-talked-about creative projects to NYC audiences. The nine-day affair hosts a variety of public and private screenings, live conversations with prominent actors/directors/influencers, experimental art installations, and a slew of other fascinating exhibits and events.
However over the past couple of years, it’s Tribeca’s Virtual Arcade that’s managed to capture a surprising amount of attention from both regular guests and industry-insiders. A relatively new expansion to the Tribeca Film Fest, the Virtual Arcade exposes attendees to an impressive collection of some of the most ambitious immersive entertainment projects currently in development.
Fortunately, we were able to hit the show floor ourselves. After adjusting to the overwhelming amount of neon lights and bleeding-edge tech, we dove head first into the action. Here are some of the best highlights from the show floor so far:
BIIDAABAN: FIRST LIGHT
Set in future Toronto, BIIDAABAN is an exploration into the ideologies that come paired with indigenous languages. Described as an “indigenous future,” the experience guides users through several set pieces located within a dystopian Toronto currently in the process of being reclaimed by nature. Beautiful scenery of a decayed city surrounds users as they’re exposed to specific portions of indigenous languages.
Creators Lisa Jackson (Anishinaabe filmmaker) and Mathew Borrett (3D artist and illustrator) hope the experience is capable of not only spreading awareness around indigenous languages, but help explain the circular nature of the ancient dialects. Newcomers will leave with fresh knowledge on a rich heritage while those familiar will find plenty of references to appreciate.
Perhaps even more exciting are the plans to deliver BIIDAABAN to actual indigenous peoples for them to experience and enjoy.
CAMPFIRE CREEPERS: MIDNIGHT MARCH
Another spooky 360-degree experience from the fine folks over at Dark Corner, Campfire Creepers is more-or-less Goosebumps VR with a PG-13 rating. The 12-minute 360-degree/180-degree experience follows a group of young campers forced out on a midnight run by their twisted counselor. At one point, a camper with the unfortunate nickname of “Smelly” is pushed to his limits, eventually revealing a horrifying secret that could spell doom for the rest of the campers.
Created by director Alexandra Aja of The Hills Have Eyes and Horns fame, Campfire Creepers feels like the culmination of all of Dark Corner’s hard work up until this point. The experienced immersive horror studio has scared us before with nightmares such as Catatonic and Mule, but Campfire Critters is by far the most impressive piece of content they’ve created so far. Their use of the D-BOX motion simulation chair was also an excellent choice, providing not only a more intense, interactive experience, but at times a more cinematic one as well. I’ll leave you with this: if you think kids are off-limits for monsters in a Dark Corner experience, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
There will also be a Cinema360 screening of the alternate Campfire Creepers: The Skull of Sam shared-experience starring Robert Englund aka THE Freddy Krueger later in the week.
OBJECTS IN MOTION AR CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR
Nope, that is not a typo. Objects In Motion AR Closer Than They Appear is a celebration of both the 21st and 19th century. Originally a critically acclaimed theatre piece, this intuitive installation tasks you with using an AR headset to explore a cardboard maze filled to the brim with archaic objects.
By scanning over certain objects such as record players, vintage lunch boxes and classic literature, you unlock various hidden media clips ranging from viral internet videos to historic new reports. For example, scanning a book of classic Roman culture unlocks a short video of an accordion player performing on a Roman street. Another includes a record player tucked in the corner that unlocks the famous Mozart Opera scene from The Shawshank Redemption.
The experience rewards curiosity, something I was truly impressed with as I went along further and further into the knickknacks paradise. With no real indicators as to which objects are intractable and which aren’t, my only option was to genuinely explore my surroundings. Some easter eggs even had more complex instructions.
WHERE THOUGHTS GO: PROLOGUE
Running 23 minutes, Where Thoughts Go: Prologue is a soothing and thoughtful experience taking place in a world where people’s thoughts exist as sleeping creatures. By touching one of these floating little guys, you activate a personal message left by a previous user. These are in response to intimate questions asked by the experience throughout that pertain to matters such as love, fear, and desire.
In order to listen to the responses of others and progress further, you’ll need to open up and contribute your own messages. Don’t worry, the booth is a comfy isolated tent and all answers remain completely anonymous. You even get a chance to see just exactly how many others came before you upon completion, a nice little addition I found very satisfying.
I had to wait a little longer to try this experience as DJ Steve Aoki was in the middle of his own session, but once I did I was so glad I did. Dinner Party tells the true story of Betty and Barney Hill, an interracial couple who made headlines in 1961 when they made the first official report of a UFO abduction.
In this VR rendition, the Hills have employed the assistance of a hypnotist to recover their memories of the unbelievable night and decide to listen to the tape of their dramatic session while hosting a dinner party. As the memories return we learn that this experience, while ecstasy for one, may have been torturous for the other.
Overall a daring project with some truly impressive particle effects. In fact the only thing more impressive than the 360-degree experience was the realistic dining room set. Each user was seated in front of a decadent 1960’s dining room table on swiveling chairs for maximum comfort.
ARDEN’S WAKE: TIDE’S FALL
A continuation of the original Arden’s Wake VR experience presented at last years festivities, Arden’s Wake: Tide’s Fall continues the story of Meera, a young, resilient woman searching for her missing father in a post-apocalyptic Earth overtaken by water.
We’ve stated before that Arden’s Wake essentially feels like Pixar in VR, but Tide’s Fall takes the already captivating story to a whole new level. Not only does the expansion continue Meera’s thrilling journey, but it also improves upon the original Arden’s Wake in almost every way conceivable. The animation is slicker, the textures are more detailed and for the first time our characters finally have voices. And who voices Meena you ask? Oh, just academy-award winner and Tomb Raider herself Alicia Vikander.
In terms of animated VR storytelling there are very few studios that can stack up against Penrose Studios. So long as you don’t mind publicly crying on the show floor, definitely give this one a shot.
Narrated by Lupita Nyong’o, My Africa is a 360-degree documentary short dedicated to covering the impressive efforts by Northern Kenya tribes to protect African wildlife from poachers. Participants step into the shoes of, Natlwasha Leripe, a young Reteti Elephant Sanctuary keeper as she cares for a newborn elephant.
Watching the combined efforts of African tribes use rudimentary tools on such a massive scale was an unbelievable experience. From digging for water, to coordinating animal rescue efforts with modern wildlife organizations, it’s incredible to watch these dedicated people accomplish so much despite their disadvantage.
This was also a VR experience that featured a beautiful installation. Attendees sat on swivel stools in the center of a serene safari layout giving you a real sense of Africa’s beauty, further emphasizing the need for its protection.
JACK: PART ONE
From the studio that brought you Invasion! comes Jack: Part One, a mixed reality experience that combines VR animation with “immersive” theatre. Once strapped into your VR headset and PC-powered backpack, oh yeah this is a cool one, you’ll begin your journey as Jack in a twisted reimagining of the classic fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk.
This is one of those experiences that needs to be seen to be believed but with an award-winning studio like Baobab behind the wheel, you know you’re in for something special.
LAMBCHILD SUPERSTAR: MAKING MUSIC IN THE MENAGERIE OF THE HOLY COW
With a wait line as long as the title, LSMMITMOFHC is a cooperative VR music-making experience in which multiple participants can jam out together using a variety of bizarre music-making devices to create their own original song. A follow-up to last year’s Life Of Us, the team opted to once again go the coop route and the results had participants grinning ear-to-ear.
A collaborative effort between VR/AR technology company Within, band and inventive Youtube superstars Ok GO and Oculus, the 10 minute musical is an absolute assault on the senses with insane colors, friendly animal characters and robots. I mean you’re writing music by playing with farm animals, what more do you want?
The much-anticipated follow-up to Owlchemy Labs’ smash-hit Job Simulator, this updated rendition ditches the cubicle in favor of some fun in the sun. Much like Job Simulator, you’ll have a plethora of tasks to accomplish as well as a whole bunch of fun side activities to mess around with.
However, whereas Job Simulator revolved around menial office labor, Vacation Simulator instead chooses to focus on more light-hearted pursuits such as grilling, collecting various bug life, water polo, the list goes on. There’s also a healthy amount of progression available as players are encouraged to accomplish basic tasks to unlock even more activities.
For instance, collecting a certain amount of particular objects for one instructor eventually unlocks your diving certificate, allowing you to hit the deep end for some VR scuba diving. There’s a whole collection of robot attendants, each providing a new activity with hidden potential.
Of course all the silliness and cartoon nonsense you’ve come to love from Job Simulator has returned, from humorous robot diving instructors, to spur-of-the-moment beach dance parties. Lets just say the staff member that helped me into my headset was having a good laugh while watching me in the background.
THE DAY THE WORLD CHANGED
A thoughtful piece commemorating those who lost their lives to the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, The Day The World Changed seeks to raise awareness about the incredible destructive power of nuclear weapons and the devastating effects as a result of their use.
Co-created by award-winning filmmakers and virtual reality pioneers Gabo Arora and Saschka Unseld, the experience accomplishes this by surrounding users in a post nuclear city as they view first-hand testimonies, data visualizations, and various other media clips pertaining to nuclear warfare. Everything from WWII-era footage of post-bomb Nagasaki to news segments reporting on the rise Cold War arms race is displayed in front of the user and on the decrepit walls of the bombed-out city that surrounds them.
The most interesting aspect was that this was a multi-person, shared VR experience. While strapped into the headset I was joined by two other users, all of us watching the harrowing footage, standing next to one another as fog-like creatures. At points, it almost felt as though we were an alien race viewing the destruction humanity has brought upon itself.
It was an extremely emotional journey that made wonderful use of VR’s immersive capabilities to place users in the center of the destruction. Key data visualizations highlighting the amount of nuclear weapons currently in existence was literally shocking.
Again, these were just some of our highlights from the last two days. There’s still plenty to see and even more to do, so if you’re in NYC and interested why not swing by? Tickets for the Virtual Arcade are available now starting at $40.
For a full list of the Virtual Arcade installations you can check out this detailed exhibit map (PDF).