Virtually Dead – not even zombies could stop us playing with the HTC Vive

Bring spare underwear

We were recently invited to a tech/theatre event called “Virtually Dead” to play with the HTC Vive. Having experienced the VR headset before and loved it, we jumped at the chance to again become immersed in other worlds. Everything seemed normal until we received further information in the form of a personalised email from a US military soldier. He told us to come to a secret location in London at a specific time. At the location we found several other “recruits” and were soon whisked away in the back of a military vehicle by intimidating soldiers.

Bouncing around in the darkness of the vehicle set the mood for the day. The jeep, the strict soldiers, the mystery location; it all felt realistic and we were intrigued to learn more about what was going on. Well, it was realistic apart from Linkin Park playing in the vehicle. Apparently soldiers listen to Linkin Park but I was under the impression that nobody did.

We arrived at a secret training facility where recruits were being prepared for missions involving an ongoing incident in the United States. Everywhere you looked there were military officials taking notes, using sniffer dogs, and keeping everyone in line. We were sent into the facility to train for killing zombies and part of this involved using VR to simulate what we would be up against. We used the HTC Vive to play a zombie game and it was amazing as usual. The gameplay was 3 times longer than we would have guessed because time really does fly when you’re killing zombies.

Running for our lives

The plan was straightforward: go to the facility, learn about the incident in the United States, train for it and leave. Sounds fine. However, things went horribly wrong during the training and we had to work together to escape the facility. There were several big scare moments and they were really well constructed. The whole experience was less like being in a haunted house attraction and more like being in a horror movie or episode of The Walking Dead. Indeed, we kept referring to everyone as Coral. The soldiers and assorted cast consisted of 35 experience actors that helped (or hindered) us through 1 km of military facilities, labs, and tunnels. If you’ve experienced a live theatre experience like Secret Cinema then you will have an idea of what it’s like.

The VR demo was integrated into the live theatre experience perfectly and made the whole evening flow at a good pace. It’s no surprise that 10,000 tickets were purchased instantly and that some are selling for 5 times the normal price online. We spoke with some of the evil organisers of the event including James Cadwallader of Noma Labs. He told us that the entire production involves around 100 people including the 35 cast members.

The aftermath

Having escaped the facility intact (but sprayed with blood), we emerged through a tunnel and into a bar. All good things end with a bar. Amazingly, the experience didn’t really end as soldiers and even zombies were all over the place and in character. People were chatting beside ammunition boxes and occasionally having to watch their drinks when a chained zombie got a little too close. Everywhere we looked there were tiny details. In the toilet there were signs warning about infections and the hallways were covered in newspaper clippings and maps. The organisers really thought of every detail. Even the food available at the bar was in the style of military “rations” that were both tasty and healthy.

The Vive

As if a bar, zombies, and even a band weren’t entertaining enough, there was another opportunity to experience the HTC Vive and try several other demos. There was Google’s Tilt Brush, an underwater experience, and a space pirates game. We tried them all but spent most time in the space pirates game because pew pew. If you haven’t actually experienced VR on a device as good as the HTC Vive, you probably think people are exaggerating when they say it’s like you’re literally inside the game world. It really is that good. During the underwater demo we were supposed to be amazed by a giant whale swimming by, but found ourselves crouching down and inspecting the railings on a sunken ship. It really feels like you can reach out and touch them.

You wear the Vive as a headset that’s connected to a PC. Headphones complete the illusion that you’re inside a virtual world. The Vive shows you a grid to let you know when you’ve moved too far, which makes the entire experience more enjoyable and relaxing. You don’t need to worry about knocking over something in the room; you can remain immersed and ignore the outside world. The Vive isn’t the cheapest VR option but it’s certainly the best we’ve used so far. The Vive costs £689 to preorder and will arrive in May.

Virtually Dead

The entire Virtually Dead experience is a must for anyone interested in VR or having a unique, terrifying experience. What better way to experience the immersion of being in a virtual world by also being immersed in a real-life zombie disaster? Virtually Dead is only taking place in London and Paris and runs from March 17th to April 3rd. The good news? The tickets are only £30 for the entire experience including the interactive theatre, the HTC Vive demos, and the bar. The bad news? It’s already sold out. But there’s more good news! An additional 500 tickets are going on sale today (March 17th) at 3pm. You can buy them at the Virtually Dead website and you can go yourself or bring a group of up to 10 people.

You really have to experience the Vive and other top VR headsets to appreciate how good the technology is now. This makes the headsets difficult to advertise and seeing people reacting to the Vive on TV ads won’t do it justice. We strongly recommend trying to get tickets if you want an unforgettable day and a chance to play with amazing VR tech.

Bring spare underwear though.

Images © Noma Labs