John Wick is back: The hitman from the 2014 Lionsgate thriller by the same name isn’t just gearing up for his second movie, in which he will once again be played by Keanu Reeves. He’s also at the center of a new virtual reality (VR) experience that HTC is currently showing off as part of its global roadshow for the HTC Vive VR headset.
Lionsgate teamed up with Venice, Calif.-based VR startup Wevr to produce the “John Wick” VR experience, which lets users become Wick, and explore the Continental Hotel on his behalf. In the movie, the hotel is a safe haven for assassins, a kind of base camp that they can use to rest their bones and prepare for their next missions without the fear of work-related injuries. In the VR experience, it’s also a place of mystery, in which users have to figure out how to bribe the concierge, pick up dubious clues, and finally dodge bullets as someone breaks the Continental’s code of conduct and attacks their hotel room.
The fully animated VR experience makes use of the Vive’s motion tracking technology, allowing users to freely move around within a 10-by-10 feet space — which is enough to actually walk into that mysterious elevator or check out the hotel suite. Oh, and you’ll also have to get on your knees to escape the bullets once the attack starts. The experience also incorporates the Vive’s two handheld controllers, adding the ability to touch things, and for example move the lever in the hotel’s virtual elevator to get it to go up and down.
Lionsgate is getting ready to launch a full-blown VR video game based on the “John Wick” franchise next year, and it also recently started to film a sequel to the movie. That’s why the timing couldn’t have been better when HTC approached the studio about content to show off the capabilities of its Vive headset. “You’re not always going to be part of a global roadshow,” said Peter Levin, Lionsgate’s president of interactive ventures and games.
He added that “John Wick” was in many ways the perfect property to adapt to VR. “It’s a very immersive environment,” Levin said. “It just immediately sucks you into a very discreet world.” Wevr was hired by Lionsgate to produce the experience which is shown off as part of the roadshow, while the game itself will be developed by VR game studio Grab, and distributed by Starbreeze.
Wevr co-founders Anthony Batt and Neville Spiteri recently told me that producing experiences like these is all part of the company’s quest to explore the space between narrative and interactive entertainment for virtual reality. As part of that process, Wevr is currently developing a platform for cinematic VR experiences that goes beyond just bringing 360-degree video to VR headsets. Instead, Wevr’s platform will allow creatives to use what Batt and Spiteri called “story triggers” — objects that viewers look at or touch to unlock parts of a story. “In VR, the agency is all given to the audience,” said Batt.
Thus far, startups like Wevr and studios like Lionsgate still operate based on assumptions about what their audience is going to want. None of the more advanced VR headsets is available for consumers yet, and we don’t even know yet for how much they are going to sell for. Facebook-owned Oculus is going to ship its Rift headset some time in early 2016, and the HTC Vive headset will become available at around the same time. Right now, demos and roadshows like the one put on by HTC are the only way for enthusiasts to get a first glimpse at the technology and its promises.
But even with that little exposure to average consumers, Levin is optimistic. “Everyone leaves extremely impressed” after trying virtual reality, he said, adding: “I’m very excited about how immersive these experiences are thus far.” Levin acknowledged that Hollywood had some false starts with next-generation home entertainment technologies in the past, but he seemed convinced that VR may finally be the one to stick around. “This one feels very real,” he said.