The Martian VR Experience

The Martian VR Experience is an interactive and immersive virtual reality adventure where viewers are stranded on Mars from fictional astronaut Mark Watney’s point of view. The experience was released in 2016 and is based of the 2015 movie The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott. The experience is executive produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Robert Stromberg. It debuted at CES 2016 (January) but was released officially on Nov 15, 2016. The experience itself a mix of an interactive CGI environment and clips from the movie. The full experience is available for PSVR, Vive, and Oculus, although non-interactive clips of the experience were released on Samsung Gear VR as a sneak peek. I watched the experience on the Oculus Rift.

The project sets out to immerse the user and make them feel like they are stranded on mars as the movie’s protagonist, Mark Watney, was. It starts with a view of the vast Martian landscape as it zooms into your character, giving one the sense of grandness of Mars. It also overlays your view with a space helmet, giving a good sense of feeling claustrophobic in a wide space.

With the Oculus touch controllers, I could look at my hands and move them around my environment. I could pick up objects and throw them around, as well open up control panels to remove nuclear reactors. My favorite experience though was piloting the spaceship. In the cockpit, I could steer, push buttons, pull levers, flip emergency switches, and fly around hazardous obstacles. The interaction was very smooth. However, transitions occurred suddenly after you completed a task. There were times when I wasn’t ready to leave a scene and yet it transitioned. The only way to go back is to redo the whole experience again. In those scene transitions, a 2D screen is overlaid in your vision like a movie projector and a clip from the movie plays to advance the plot forward. While the cinematic clips helped push the story forward, I didn’t feel the movie scenes were necessary as they broke my immersion.

Immersion in virtual reality is all about losing yourself into a new world to the point where that world is all that exists to you. The Martian is about a man who gets stuck on Mars and Mars becomes all that exists to him. In that sense, VR was a very fitting format to use and the perfect way to create a powerful experience.