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In a distant future world, people going to cinemas will not just see movies but 'experience' them. Spectators will be a part of the cast with the help of immersive virtual reality. How would these movies be produced and how would the theaters be like?

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  • $\begingroup$ A "distant future world?" Shoot, I expect these things in the next couple years. $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Nov 12 '16 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ Consider narrowing down your question because this has many, many possible answers; it may be opinion based. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Nov 12 '16 at 16:49
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The first technical challenge is that humans have a lot of senses which would need to be catered for to achieve a truly immersive experience. Vision and hearing are pretty easy and we already have them pretty well covered by VR and it is certainly easy to imagine that headsets could be refined to a pretty convincing experience.

More difficult is your senses associated with position and movement, if you want to be able to walk about in a virtual world and interact with objects in a convincing way you need to fool a lot of sensory mechanisms in a synchronised way.

Similarly temperature, taste and smell are important in establishing a properly immersive experience.

Sci-fi interpretations of VR often involve virtual reality systems which project information directly into the brain (This crops up a lot in Red Dwarf eg Back to Reality). Although it is hard to guess how t is might be achieved in practice or if it is even possible due to the complex way in which the brain processes information and makes associations.

There is also the question of whether you are a passive spectator or actually involved in and capable of influencing the action. In the latter case you are talking as much abut a video game type experience as a movie. The difficulty here of course is that it is very difficult to both tell a good story and give the viewer/participant a feeling of agency. For obvious reasons it becomes increasingly difficult to keep producing branching storylines.

So in videogames we see various approaches to this from tightly scripted sequences of scenes such as Call of Duty type games through things like the Mass Effect series where there is an overarching story arc but coloured quite a lot by cumulative decisions by the player through to open world role playing games which might have dozens of separate story thread and hundreds of optional 'side quests'.

One way around this is by having a large number of human participants interacting with each other as in MMORPG games. One drawback here it that there isn't much quality control of the other characters which is indeed the bane of many online games.

There is also the issue of time. Mainstream cinema is usually scripted and edited to cut out big chunks of time and can shift from location to location. Again this creates a conflict between immersion where you might expect to experience things in real time and experiencing an overall story.

Another approach is that you have some sort of hybrid between live theater, roleplaying and video games so that you are essentially in a real environment with, props and augmented reality with virtual characters and special effects overlaid on a real physical set. In this case a cinema might just be a big warehouse with modular sets which can be configured to suit different productions.

There have been various attempts at this including things like laser quest and various incarnations of wargames and live action roleplay as well as TV series like Knightmare (which despite being pretty crude was in many ways ahead of its time, at least in concept if not execution).

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If you're aiming at the equivalent of a "First person" fixed movie - playing back the (fixed) experience of the main character, instead of a the current "Third person" external view - as opposed to the equivalent of a VR video game where you can choose what happens - Then you want to be able to record and play back a full sensory experience - and do the playback so that, for example, it feels like you're turning your head or moving your arm or whatever instead of just confusing / nauseating you when the view or tactile sensations shift and your body doesn't.

While you could do the recording with suitable cameras / limb position / tactile / smell sensors, the usual SF mechanism is to handwave a neural recording / playback setup - so you're interfacing with the brain somehow and recording what the actor is experiencing with their senses, rather than having cameras etc. (Which also lets you handwave away the playback kinaesthesia problem - with a neural link, you're replacing your body position state with the recorded signal.)

If you want to still have cinemas, you make the neural coupling setup sufficiently complex / expensive / in need of outside supervision to make it more sensible to rent time in a cinema rather than have your own kit at home. After all, if you're running a VR setup, that's an individual setup rather than a shared big screen.

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If your definition of immersive cinema is not too far from the current movie motif of telling linear stories, and as long as your technology allows adding more sensory information to audiences than vision and sound, Immersive cinema might be something like a current movie, but where where the audience can smell and feel the environment the cimema is set in, as well as look around to inspect the scenery and watch the actors from non-standard viewing locations.

The downside of allowing an audience the freedom to look and stand where they wish in a cinema world is that the cimema director will lose the ability to control the audience's focus while telling the story. In current cinema lighting, facing of the actors, and how the scenery is designed are all used to give specific emotional or narrative impact to the audience, but if they are looking the wrong way or standing in odd locations, those effects may be lost.

If your definition of immersive cinema is closer to what current video games are like, where you are allowing audience members to participate in the story, there are posible problems that creators of immersive cinema will need to overcome. We see some of these problems and some possible solutions to those problems in current videogames:

1) Are different members of the audience aware of each other (like in MMO games)? This allows audiences to affect each other's experience of the cinema, both for good and bad.

2) Are different members of the audience unaware of each other (like in single player games)? This allows people to experience being the protagonist or other charactor of their choice.

3) If playing a protagonist, are the audience given freedom to decide what happens? More fun for viewers, but scripting all possiblities quickly becomes a major problem for cinema creators. If fewer decisions are allowed, the story might feel forced or limited by the audience/viewers.

Video Games have tried to address some of these issues, with various degrees of sucess.

On-rails/tube-fed games tend to have stronger stories and impressive cinematics similar to movies, at the expense of player freedom. The player is forced to follow the script, despite what they may wish. JRPGs like Final Fantasy and games like Call of Duty fall are examples of this.

More open games like western RPGs cannot easily predict the order that the player will explore the world and so often limit how NPCs can interact with the player. Although the player has more freedom to explore the world and interact with others, it becomes harder to create a linear story for the player since they may not follow hints as to where to go next. The Fallout series are examples of this.

Some games avoid the storytelling problem by avoiding telling a story. The best example of this might be first person shooter games. They often have a backstory to explain the universe (such as World War II or aliens invading earth), but these games are the equivilent of action-adventure movies with almost no plot; they engage the player with action rather than storytelling.

In summary, I think that 'Immersive Cinema' will not be one type of entertainment, in the same way that not all videogame genres use the same methods of interacting with gameplayers. 'Immersive Cinema' will be an umbrella term that will decribe a variety of different tactics that that movies will develop to appeal to differing audience tastes for storytelling. The way these movies will be produces will be similar to current movie production if the audience has little or no effect on the story, but more like video game production if the audience has more effect or interaction with the plot. Where these immersive cinema will watched will be in special purpose buildings like movie theatres if the technology is expensive, but in home VR setups instead if the gear is affordable to the average consumer.

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Basically elaborate VR games, you might not see theater at all unless the movie/game is more of a group game than a movie.

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