What happens when 2 players, one in VR and another in real life, investigate the tortured mind of an abuse victim?
Emilie has been kidnapped, drugged and locked up in a basement room for years. Whilst in captivity, she had a baby. Her torturer stole that baby and left. As the drugs wear off, she recovers consciousness and jumbled memories...
How can someone escape his mind after a traumatic experience? Should one exhume or bury his most distressing memories? What does it feel to live in the consciousness of an abuse victim? Can Emily solve her own mental maze and find her baby?
Those are few of the questions that Marc Herpoux and Hervé Hadmar, writers of the France Télévisions police drama noir Witnesses (Les Témoins in French) wanted to explore. The trick? Using the script of the show, Marc and Hervé wrote a ground-breaking transmedia experience where 2 players, in two juxtaposed realities, would jointly lead an investigation in Emilie’s perturbed mind and ultimately try to free her.
What we did
The team behind this ambitious project included VR studio Exzeb, film production studio Cinétévé, escape games specialists Labsterium, Web Interactive Studio HKI and interactive developers Alter Equals.
The experience consists of a two-person escape room investigation. One player explores the physical room where Emilie, the victim, was held captive, whilst the other, fitted with an HTC Vive, steps into her unconscious. The VR player would communicate clues to the IRL one based on memories he would uncover in VR. Conversely, the IRL player would solve enigmas and interact with physical objects to help move the VR story forward.
In VR, Emilie and her fragile state of mind is represented as a ghostly silhouette made of collapsing particles. Firstly, Exzeb choreographed and directed the motion-capture of an actress embodying those extreme emotional disorders.
Secondly, to give Emilie’s silhouette its oneiric particles appearance whilst allowing for real-time interactions between her and the player, we created a custom Unity plugin. That enabled us to change the particles shape, size, color, pace, or direction in real-time but also to programme Emilie to look away or disintegrate when the player came too close.
Then, to enable dual playability we built an app enabling communication between the VR experience and the IRL installation. Buttons, switches and sensors in IRL would trigger events and actions in VR. Progress in VR would conversely impact the secret inner workings of the real room.
Finally, in order to maximise reach, we worked with HKI to develop a WebGL version of the game, enabling people to play at home, one from a tablet, the other from a smartphone slid into a branded Google Cardboard.
From a storytelling point-of-view, Free Emilie was a world-first, taking on numerous technical and narrative challenges. The experience, a full-fledged 45-minute layered realities collaborative escape game, was built in Paris-located escape room La Piece where it ran sold out sessions for 4 months.
It received numerous accolades from the press (including The Drum, Le Journal du Geek, Les Ecrans…) and paves the way for more creative explorations at the crossroads of the real and virtual.
Cinétévé / France Télévisions