I crept through the shadows in an underground cave, with my gun ready and my back against the wall. I looked every which way for aliens.
Flying creatures approached — I shot at them. Aliens were then visible from a distance, I shot again and also used a grenade for more impact. … Sometime later, I found myself face to face with the threatening Xenomorph — and I was out of ammo!
But I wasn’t actually in a cave. I was standing on a stage with minimal props, carrying a prop gun, and wearing virtual reality headsets. This was all a proof of concept of a multiplayer VR game from FoxNext, based on the Alien franchise and expected to open to the public before the end of the year.
When completed, plans call for the experience to be set in a roughly 2,000-sq.-ft. free-roam environment for four players, using specially-created prop guns with haptic effects and hand tracking. The game will also incorporate environmental effects such as heat, mist, a motion platform and physical elements to create a visceral experience.
But this first look was more than a preview of where the future of VR and entertainment might be heading, it also signals an expanded initiative from FoxNext, the recently formed immersive entertainment unit that’s exploring the future of storytelling and technology, working across Twentieth Century Fox Film and Fox Networks Group.
There are three business units within the division: FoxNext Games, FoxNext VR Studio and the newly-rebranded FoxNext Destinations (previously Twentieth Century Fox Location Based Entertainment).
“FoxNext was created to support our motion pictures and with the view that technology is creating an opportunity for us to really revolutionize the way stories will be told in the future,” FoxNext president Salil Mehta told The Hollywood Reporter. “There’s enormous innovation occurring that allows real interactive storytelling, and we created divisions to focus on games, VR and location-based entertainment. We’re trying to define the best ways to create content for each.”
“In location based entertainment, we are doing a lot already,” he added. That will include developing experiences for the 36-acre Fox World Malaysia, which is slated to open in 18 months. Planned attractions include those related to franchises including Alien, as well as Night at the Museum, Ice Age and Planet of the Apes.
“There’s an incredible opportunity to marry this with what we’re doing in VR and bring VR to locations,” Mehta said. “We have an incredible property in Alien and with the timing of the movie and the experience, we can make something genre defining.” He reported that Fox is evaluating other Fox film and TV properties for VR location-based attractions, but while he declined to name them, it’s not hard to imagine that those brands may include Avatar or Planet of the Apes.
The Alien proof of concept is being developed by FoxNext, working with iP2 Entertainment, a tech developer and operator of out-of-home experience centers, and its sister company, VR content creator Pure Imagination Studios. Both Fox and iP2 have already been working to get VR technology right. The demo, for instance, uses a Gear VR headset but was adapted to use iP2’s proprietary wireless VR technology; production of the content, meanwhile, involved volumentric capture techniques.
“We are constantly assessing properties for the potential they have in the VR attraction space, and being immersed in the Alien universe inspires some of the most compelling and emotional reactions,” said Joshua Wexler, co-founder of Pure Imagination.
Fox was also early to jump into VR content creation for headset owners. That included its first VR short, based on Fox Searchlight’s Wild; The Martian VR Experience, made with Ridley Scott; and most recently Alien: Covenant In Utero, also made with participation from Scott and currently available on various VR platforms. These were made through the Fox Innovation Lab, Fox’s research and development center, though future VR productions will be created via FoxNext.