In about 30 seconds, a crowd of IOI Sixers, armed enemies from the Ernest Cline novel "Ready Player One," are going to come charging and shooting at me and two compatriots. We have guns, but I've been told this army is basically invincible and if I get cornered, it's best to teleport away and keep shooting.
I wouldn't describe this as my ideal situation.
But hey, I'm at South by Southwest wearing a wireless HTC Vive headset with some serious firepower in each of my virtual hands. This is no time to cower in a demo room, especially with people watching.
So, after sort of waving to one another, the other two players and I get cracking, taking out as many Sixers as possible, collecting coins along the way. I land a couple of head shots, some long shots, and try not to do the thing I do when I get to play in virtual reality: unleash a string of obscenities that would make my mother blush.
"Rise of the Gunters" is just one of eight virtual reality experiences that HTC Vive, in partnership with Warner Bros., has announced in advance of the upcoming film adaptation of "Ready Player One."
While the dawn of promotional VR experiences might strike some as fun but ultimately unnecessary, using VR to promote a movie about VR is not just a meta move.
"With this being a VR film, a lot of people are going to learn about VR," HTC Vive's senior manager for product marketing, J.B. McRee, tells me.
They might just want to try it for themselves, and VR still has an awareness campaign to wage.
For the unfamiliar, "Ready Player One" takes place in 2045 when real life isn't so great but there exists a virtual world called the OASIS that's a whole lot better. Folks like main character Wade Watts spend most of their time in the OASIS, even attending school there as avatars of themselves. But when creator of the world James Halliday dies, there's a Willy Wonka-esque hunt through challenges steeped in classic video games and '80s pop culture. The stakes are control of OASIS as well as Halliday's money.
The movie adaptation, directed by Steven Spielberg, comes out March 29, but the novel, which appeared in 2011, has held near-holy book status for the virtual reality community, which hopes to one day create a VR world: the metaverse.
At SXSW, "Ready Player One" has taken over event space Brazos Hall. If you're not messing about in VR, you can wander around a giant room soaked in the pop culture references the book so celebrates; there's a wall of cassette tapes, a DeLorean and the top half of the Iron Giant.
The VR experiences I try on the above floor, powered by the Vive Pro, are directly inspired by the book but also riff off of '80s video games. Fracture, for example, plays off the fictional Halliday's favorite '80s arcade titles. With one hand, I grasp a ball and with the other, hit it at ginormous translucent cubes to get points.
Another experience, called Smash, places me in something of a neon-lit tunnel where I beat back orbs before they can get past my head.
I'm all over the place, arms flailing. With one overzealous swing, I step past the Vive's digital boundaries, called the Chaperone, and smack the controller into the wall. The woman running the demo tells me it happens all the time.
There's also a more low-key affair called the Distracted Globe Music Experience in TheWave VR, inspired by the zero-gravity dance club in the book. It's all dim lighting and bright neon. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears plays in the background.
Much like in the book, I can fly around the club. I can even summon a dance floor of light-up squares to appear beneath my nonexistent feet. It's nice to get a break from shooting bad guys.
McRee tells me the experiences come from different developers Vive's worked with in the past. They'll soon be available through Steam and Viveport and in certain VR arcades around the country.
In Rise of the Gunters, we complete our mission in an ominous, glowing, golden atmosphere, which is more than I can say for myself when playing Gauntlet. In Gauntlet I carefully make my way through a dungeon, picking up gold coins, ready to shoot shuffling zombies with a bow and arrow. Finally, there are too many. They're getting in my space and I mutter something like, "Oh god, no thank you" as they finally finish me off.
We might not have the metaverse yet, but we've got floating dance clubs and teleportation. And mercifully, the Sixers and zombies stay in your headset.
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