Soon history buffs will be able to take a virtual reality trip in time to the battlefields of World War I — an immersive experience that will test just how much reality they can handle.
The VR journey War Remains — opening May 27 at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri — is a “powerfully designed sound and a custom set that allows you to feel the trench and experience the vibration of the floor as explosions surround you. Audiences will undergo the annihilation of innocence caused by the First World War and bear witness to the emergence of modern warfare,” according to the museum’s press release.
Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019, War Remains was directed by Brandon Oldenburg and produced by MWM Interactive, while the audio was designed by Skywalker Sound. Dan Carlin, the political commentator behind the popular podcast “Hardcore History”, narrated the 15 minute VR episode.
Before finding its permanent home in Kansas City, the VR simulation opened last year for a limited run in Austin, Texas. Through technology designed for “empathy amplification,” as Carlin calls it, War Remains produced such a visceral experience for many that it led to some cutting their VR journey short.
For Carlin, finding a creative “sweet spot” was key. “If you are recreating a negative experience, how realistic can you make it before no one even wants to do a simulation of it anymore?” he stated via a live Zoom preview.
“If you get scared you can take off the headset, but obviously the real soldiers couldn’t do that,” Brandon Padveen, the Associate Producer at MWM Interactive, remarked in the Zoom call.
While the room itself is only 25 feet by 25 feet, some have become so engrossed in the experience that they have tried to climb up over the walls, Padveen said.
For director Oldenburg, his favorite part of the simulation was “the moment that you realize that there are tanks on the field and they cross over you and the sound of horses. The combination of this ancient visceral battle technique of using horses to the modern mechanization of war clashing right there in real time is just so heartbreaking and terrifying.”
We wanted to simulate what it was like to lose your hearing to an explosion,” Oldenburg continued. “Skywalker sound does an amazing job of putting ringing in your ears. You feel it, but you can’t hear it… I think it makes a lasting memory of what it was like even though it is not even coming close to the real thing. You can walk out alive unscathed.”
Due to the graphic nature of the simulation, viewers must be at least 14 years of age and veterans and those suffering from PTSD are asked to use caution.
Unable to make it to Kansas City? While not immersive, the museum is offering an at-home version of the simulation so those interested can get a feel for the experience.
To learn more or register for the VR simulation, click here.