New Zealand’s capital has transformed into an interactive VR city in hopes of enticing tourists and potential residents.
Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, looks to become the world’s first gamified VR city through a VR experience called WellTown, which promises to inject you directly into the heart and soul of the vibrant city, putting you in the shoes of both a tourist and resident.
Once you’ve put on your VR headset and enter WellTown, the first thing you’ll experience is the awe and beauty of Wellington’s Mount Victoria Lookout as you gaze down upon the city from its stunning 196-meter (643 ft) summit. It’s here that you will choose your avatar for your Wellington VR adventure and meet your guide – voiced by Wellington native and actor, Cohen Holloway – who will assist you through your entire experience.
WellTown was a perfect opportunity to bring two worlds together – promoting Wellington as a city, but also focusing on human storytelling, all through VR. To do this, creators looked at the hundreds of unique characteristics that summed up Wellington and then whittled it down to six experiences they felt represented Wellington the best.
You’ll be busking on New Zealand’s iconic Cuba Street as the new drummer for local band Orchestra of Spheres using your hand controllers as drum sticks, running a coffee cart and throwing cups at zombified commuters as they seek out their morning caffeine fix, and joining other Wellingtonians as they jump off of a diving platform into the Wellington Harbour by climbing up a ladder and then aiming your body into the water.
Complete these tasks to prove you’re a true Wellingtonian and win some extra bling that you can add to your avatar.
WellTown, however, is more than fun games; it’s also an experience designed to showcase how incredibly beautiful the city truly is in hopes of sparking a increase in tourism.
For example, one portion of the experience will have you standing in the middle of Wellington’s beautiful native bush listening to New Zealand’s birds sing right before sunrise in an audio VR experience that will use your headsets stereo speakers to encourage you to look in every direction.
Another part of WellTown lets you swim with a Southern Right Whale that has recently been spotted frolicking in Wellington Harbour – the first time in 8 years – along with other marine life that call the harbour their full-time home.
Your final VR experience involves you standing on a barge gazing into the starlit sky. Celebrating the rising of the Matariki star cluster which signals that it’s Maori new year, a time when all New Zealand reflects on the past year and then look forward into the future.
WellTown is an idea created by WellingtonNZ, the region’s tourism organization, as a way to showcase the cities “creativity and lifestyle through new technologies being developed right here in this city,” said Anna Calver, General Manager of Marketing and Communications of WellingtonNZ, adding, “It shows off how beautiful our city is, our creativity, and our quirky hipster vibe.”
To bring the VR city to life, WellingtonNZ turned to the award-winning VR/AR storytelling creators from Wrestler for their skills and guidance on what VR users and world travelers would want from an experience like this.
In the official WellTown press release, Wrestler co-founder Kat Lintott, says they struck upon the gamification of Wellington as a novel way of telling the Wellington story. “It allows people to experience the Wellington lifestyle from afar, showcases the creative tech talent in the city while also appealing to the legion of VR game fans globally.” Lintott continues, “We used city-wide data supplied by Wellington City Council to create the virtual Wellington City and then added a layer of story and gamification though utilising motion capture, CG, 360 interactive video and photogrammetry.”
Glen Puklowski, Creative Director for Wrestler said, “We found quickly that with VR, we wanted to get up and move about, so we created this thing called body-storming.” According to Puklowski, the team would physically act out what each scene would look like before they developed it in VR.
Your immersive Wellington experience also features Explore Wellington, which is a collection of 360-video tours around Wellington attractions, such as going behind-the-scenes at Weta Studio (producer of Lord of the Rings, Avatar, and soon-to-be-launch Alita: Battle Angel) and other cool Wellington experiences – all curated by a team made up of Wellington tourism experts.
“We wanted to give people a sense of that so they actually come here not in VR, but in real reality,” said Calver.
Tourism has benefited very well from VR experiences. A 2016 YouGov study on travel booking trends sought the opinion of over 10,000 travelers across 21 countries. The results showed that 51% of travelers found VR to be very appealing as a tool to explore vacation ideas.
WellTown is a remarkable and innovative approach to tourism. WellingtonNZ’s idea might be the first to transform an entire city into a gamified VR tourism experience, but surely, they won’t be the last.
This idea could theoretically be used on any city/town/destination around the world as the ultimate promotional tool. It goes beyond looking at photos or watching 360-degree videos – it allows you to actually interact with the location and immerse yourself in its offerings through gamified experiences, all without having to pack your bags, find a dog sitter, or book a flight.
WellTown is available now on SteamVR and Oculus.