VR enthusiasts gathered this past weekend for the SoCal Virtual Reality conference held at the University of California Irvine. With a day packed full of panels, demos, and entertainment, VRScout was able to sit down and chat with one creator about his VR experience that can be described only as an execution electric chair.
Tucked away in a questionable room separate from the main demo hall sat an intimidating looking chair that one would immediately recognize from execution chambers. The high back dark wood grain protruded with wires and wrapped itself with leather straps around the armrest. An ominous sign placed on the seat of the chair summed up the feeling in the room, “Caution”.
Before conference attendees could enter the room and become “prisoners”, they were all asked to sign a waiver, each wondering if they had any heart problems or metal objects in their body as they signed. Upon entering the dark room, the prisoner is asked to take a seat. Soon straps are placed on their arm, a haptic vest is wrapped around their chest, and an Oculus Rift DK2 headset is placed over their eyes. The prisoner is immediately transported in VR to seeing a character version of them sitting in a jail cell awaiting execution. A TV glow displays a fuzzy image of the electric chair they are strapped into. Waiting, wondering, fearing. For the final scene, the prisoner is now seated in the chair, staring at a switch that can be pulled at anytime to give the final shock. Your heart races and the Kor-FX haptic vest beats loudly on your chest. Waiting, wondering, and then finally zap. You have just been executed.
The entire VR experience is one exhilarating head game, playing off each participant’s fears and anticipation. The VR electric chair, dubbed Old Sparky, is the latest creation of David Green and a number of other collaborators to bring this current iteration of an experience to the public.
David Green has been working as a game developer for almost 15 years. Working on everything from indie titles to AAA titles. His latest company Warped Imagination brings together indie game developers to hack together and build experiences that stretch a person’s imagination. So it’s no surprise that Old Sparky would take shape and VR would be a part of the experience.
The VR electric chair began its development and testing at an OCVR hackathon last year. The electric chair experience, built in a weekend, originally came to life with the help of Green and a few like-minded developers who wanted to see how far fear-inducing experiences in VR could be taken. Green wanted to “immerse a person in a VR horror experience that wasn’t another jump simulator.”
The chair has indeed changed over time with three different versions. Green recalls, “At first starting off as an office chair with tin foil, then onto a rickety old dining chair converted to look menacing, and then into the final custom built chair [today].”
The reactions from participants of Old Sparky are sometimes subtle, but many times obvious by the electric shock. Greens says “a lot of time and care goes into making sure it’s safe and terrifying,” with the latest version of Old Sparky having taken a few months to finally finish. Made in collaboration with “inventors” from Oval Integration and Monster VR, Green couldn’t be more proud.
It has been almost a year since the public has seen Old Sparky. In a way, Old Sparky was in retirement according to Green, “partly because we have to test the thing at all the different intensities by shocking ourselves every time it’s prepared.” However, thanks to a group of excited members on Twitter asking to bring it back from retirement, the VR community got to experience their first shock and hopefully not their last this past weekend at SoCal VR.
Image Credit: David Green & VRScout