Dreamscape Immersive presents Alien Zoo

I have been waiting for Virtual Reality to break through to the mainstream for years now.  Every time I experience something–a game, a story, a virtual paintbrush–I think “Ok, this is awesome. Surely VR will be embraced by the masses now!” Sadly for me and other VR fans, it has remained a tantalizing taste of future entertainment, still not easily available to most people.  True, there are home headsets that I have a little experience with.  But the real WOW experiences for me have been the room-scale or location-based installations. They truly have the capability to show the full potential of VR beyond the visuals from a headset.

Enter Alien Zoo. The first exploratory adventure from Dreamscape Immersive may finally, gloriously, be the tipping point that turns VR into a viable form of entertainment. Not only did its initial run sell out, but they extended it for almost two more weeks, through March 14th, and that sold out too.  Here is a glimpse of what people can’t wait to see:

A Different Focus

Most of the more elaborate VR experiences so far have involved blasting away at enemies of some kind. From Media Geeks’ review last year of a game for the HTC Vive (here), to the dedicated IMAX-branded virtual reality “arcades” (here), the heavy hitters of the burgeoning industry have been fast-paced and combat-oriented. Alien Zoo goes another way.  They really focus on the narrative, starting as soon as you walk into the lobby.  There is no hardware on display.

Anatomical sketches

Instead, you see drawings of fantastic creatures, and wooden shelves with books and instruments.  You are put into an academic frame of mind, ready to learn, not ready for battle.  Further emphasizing the immersion is the individual avatars that each person chooses, which are realized as full bodies when you put on the headset. No mere floating hands, you can look down and see your entire body.  You can recognize your friends (as long as you know what avatar they chose!) and give them a high five.  A maximum of 6 people all share the space together, and it really helps to have other people sharing the same new reality with you.

More Than Visuals

Modern computer graphics can create pretty much anything, but it’s one thing to see them on a video game or movie screen and another to be surrounded by them. The environments and animals all around you are majestic and creative, with more than a hint of Pandora from “Avatar” in a few of them. It’s really more of a nature safari than a zoo.  There are no cages; instead, the group moves through an open world, interacting with a variety of species as they pass by.  This is where Alien Zoo really shines. Wandering among these creatures would be a thrill even if you only got to see them, but the experience doesn’t end at amazing graphics.

You will get to use multiple senses and even physical objects to enhance your journey.  This includes some surprising ways of interacting in a Virtual Reality environment that I hadn’t seen before. These moments thrill the participants and any other company should take inspiration from them. Dreamscape has found ways to make Virtual Reality more believable through old-fashioned technology instead of computer graphics.  It’s so simple that it’s genius and opens up more potential than I’d previously considered.

The Impact

There is a positive message in Alien Zoo at the end of the story.  It was a little on the nose, even though I fully believe in the lesson they want to impart.  However, since the experience is recommended for kids as young as 10, I think its inclusion is appropriate. I hope many children visit the Alien Zoo and take the message to heart. Not only would I have no hesitation bringing children to this, I would genuinely like to bring my parents.  I have a strong suspicion that they don’t really understand what VR is, even after I described it. If Alien Zoo was sticking around, I would bring both of them here next time they visited. I think they would love it, and as they are not exactly up to date with technology, I think this would amaze them in all the best ways.

As I mentioned above, I would like nothing better than for this type of entertainment to gain traction and spring up all over the country.  Empty storefronts in malls are perfect for these kind of attractions, and I want a menu of different stories.  I want options for all different tastes and age ranges, with new things to discover in each one. Mostly, I want people to see that VR is for everyone. It is not just for teenagers, and it’s not just about blasting the generic bad guys.  Those have their place, but the options are unlimited, so why pigeonhole this technology into such a small box? Give me a play-date with Frogcats any day!

I can’t wait!

Almost Perfect

Other than very minor technical glitches (nothing is perfect), I saw 2 small downsides. First was the size–while 6 people worked perfectly fine, it also leads to some people getting a slightly better experience than others.  Some of the surprise interactions were limited to 4 or fewer participants, although the others can at least see what’s happening.  And 6 people did make the viewing area a little crowded, so if you want to walk around for a different view, you may have to jostle past some other participants.

The second was the lack of control.  With the experience being on a fixed path and time, there is no chance to linger and enjoy the parts you like best.  Since I was trying to soak it all in at once, I chose a broad view instead of closer inspections of individual elements.  Then again, given the opportunity, I would have likely lingered at every spot because it was so beautiful.  Maybe this downside is only a result of Alien Zoo being so good in the first place!

Go If You Can.  Take Everyone.

The whole run is sold out, and I believe they cannot extend any further. They are going to take their show on the road and introduce the magic of Virtual Reality to other corners of the country.  But if you have connections, or know a friend who’s going…try to join in!  If they somehow extend the run, scoop up tickets.  And if all else fails, I hope you keep this in the back of your mind for the next Dreamscape experience that comes to town.  When that happens, grab your friends, your kids, your parents, and go be transported!
To learn more about Dreamscape Immersive and Alien Zoo, visit their website here.

Puts you in the right frame of mind.

Ryan S. Davis

I love board games, thrill rides and travel. I'm happy to watch and review all kinds of movies, from mainstream blockbusters to art house indies. As a Warner Bros. employee, I'm privileged with a glimpse of Hollywood many don't see, but my opinions here are my own and not representative of the company.

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