Cinequest 2019: Eclipse VR

First off, Backlight Studio calls their experience “Hyper Reality,” not “Virtual Reality.” That’s a little bit marketing, but it’s also fair. One of the best virtual reality set-ups I’ve experienced, as soon as the rigs are on, it’s transporting.

Using HTC Vive and mobile processor backpacks, Eclipse has players walking on a limited space, but the landscape adjusts with you so it feels more expansive. Both the controls and the floor are haptic, giving a layer of sensation that not many VR events provide. Very interactive, Eclipse makes it easy to slip into character — though it’s reassuring to hear your friends’ voices coming out of the other armored space explorers.

Set in 2085, the story of Eclipse has players investigating the disappearance of a space ship. It’s been found, but with no life left on it, so a new mission has been sent to find out what happened. According to BackLight’s brochure, it can be played with 2-4 people, so a stalwart team of Mercury News reporter Sal Pizarro, filmmaker Oscar Arguello, Fanboy Planet podcast producer Ric Bretschneider, and myself donned visors and found ourselves in high-tech suits.

Trailer Eclipse – 4D Virtual Reality Experience from Backlight Studio on Vimeo.

All four players “awake” from a cryogenic sleep, and a timer on their wrists limits the adventure to 30 minutes. Stepping out of their pods, the group splits into two teams. The Red Team must explore the ship, while the Blue Team heads for the control room to monitor their companions and steer them out of danger.

Both teams have puzzles to solve, and a few hazards to avoid. As these things tend to do, events in Eclipse got creepy, even before the dead body. BackLight doesn’t just use visuals, either — they’ve got an impressive sound mix happening, with cues that are almost subliminal adding to the dread. It all feels deadly serious in the moment, but it really looks like this (and thanks to Cinequest co-founder Kathleen Powell for capturing the moment)…

BackLight has developed several experiences, including one for Disneyland Paris set in the Marvel Universe. Is it the future of cinema? Eventually. The prediction has been made every time virtual reality takes a step forward. One advantage that BackLight has is that all the equipment they use is available for home purchase, as opposed to location-bound like The Void at Downtown Disney and various mall locations.

You would still need someone to spot you, and haptic floors don’t seem practical for apartments at the moment. But we’re getting closer every year, and I have the feeling BackLight Studio will be leading the way.

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About Derek McCaw
In addition to running Fanboy Planet, Derek has written for ActionAce, Daily Radar, Once Upon A Dime, and The Wave. He has contributed stories to Arcana Comics (The Greatest American Hero) and Monsterverse Comics (Bela Lugosi's Tales from the Grave). He performs with ComedySportz San Jose and ShakesBEERience, in addition to occasional screenwriting and acting jobs. If you ever played Eric's Ultimate Solitaire on the Macintosh, it was Derek's voice as The Weasel that urged you to play longer. You can buy his book "I Was Flesh Gordon" on the Amazon link at the right. Email him at editor@fanboyplanet.com.