How Assassin’s Creed and The Martian are pioneering a new VR experience


Alongside ‘HMD’ (Head Mounted Display) and ‘ATW’ (Asynchronous Timewarp), there’s a new VR acronym in town.

‘VRX’ stands for Virtual Reality eXperience and it describes VR entertainment applications that are designed to promote new TV shows and movies.

If you’re a sceptic, you might dub them VR ads… But these are ads worth watching.

VRX applications are typically 2-3 minutes long and typically appear in location-based promotions where they can be tried out. The Sleepy Hollow Virtual Reality Experience, for example, debuted at Comic-Con in 2015, transporting fans of the show (via an Oculus Rift) into a spooky graveyard to face the headless horseman. It bagged a 2015 Creative Arts Emmy Award for “Interactive Media, User Experience and Visual Design”.

Interstellar VR is out of this world

Jurassic World and Interstellar also spawned their own VR shorts. Jurassic World: Apatosaurus is a 360-degree video that takes you up close and personal with a huge CG dinosaur. While the Interstellar VRX recreates the film’s spaceship, The Endurance, in Unreal Engine 4, allowing fans to climb aboard and explore it in virtual zero-G.

Making these VR mini-movies is no small task. According to Framestore, who worked on the Interstellar VR experience, modelling The Endurance took a team of 20 people two months. The challenge was “to generate excitement around the film without revealing the plot.”

The Martian VR is a mini-movie

More recently, The Martian VR Experience set the creative bar even higher with a 20 minute, offworld adventure that casts you as Mark Watney, stranded on the surface of the red planet. Ted Schilowitz at the Fox Innovation Lab worked closely with Ridley Scott and director Robert Stromberg to ensure that The Martian VRX was as close to the blockbuster movie as possible.

Unlike the Jurassic World and Interstellar experiences, The Martian VR Experience has more of a story to it. But this creates its own particular challenges.

“One of the things that’s so intriguing about this medium is creating the illusion that something’s actually happening to you,” Schilowitz told The Verge. “Am I believing this is actually happening to me? I’m no longer watching a movie or television show; this is actually happening around me.”

acvr experience

Assassin’s Creed VR isn’t a game

The forthcoming Assassin’s Creed virtual reality experience has even closer ties to its source material. It was reportedly filmed with 360-degree cameras alongside the video game movie that stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

“We’re capturing and re-creating the world from the film in really high quality, using massive textures [and] complex geometry,” said Matthew Lewis, president of Practical Magic VR. “It’s all being painstakingly done with 3D scanners. When I say painstakingly, it was our team that was literally there in a warehouse in Malta in the summer, scanning swords and weapons and costumes from this movie.”

Lewis has been keen to stress that the Assassin’s Creed VR experience isn’t a game. None of the VRX examples here are. They are multimedia spin-offs, marketing tools that are far more immersive and powerful than a traditional website or a trailer.

Until we reach a point where VR movies become a viable form of interactive entertainment, VRX could be the next best thing. These experiences, when done right, could establish an exciting new medium, one that puts you inside a movie and lets you be a part of it.

Get ready for these virtual reality experiences with a SAPPHIRE VR-Ready graphics card.

Main image via Framestore VR Studio
Dean Evans
Dean Evans is a long-time gamer and reviewer who built his first PC at the age of eight. He is powered by That Media Thing, a collective of journalists who believe in the power of passionate content.