Low blue lighting, modern white walls and black leather couches add futuristic touches to Los Angeles’ IMAX VR Centre—but that all disappears once visitors don headsets and escape into a colorful cartoon universe and shoot green goo at each other.
Nickelodeon revealed the launch of SlimeZone, the network’s first multi-player social virtual reality experience, in select IMAX theaters worldwide. Kids and adults in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto, and soon Shanghai, Bangkok and Manchester, England, can step inside Nickelodeon’s virtual world and slime blast their friends, shoot at targets, play games such as ping pong and basketball, and create art projects with paint and glitter.
Non-VR players can watch the action on a screen, and participate by flying a virtual drone and shooting slime at players in the game.
While Nickelodeon has touted SlimeZone at special events and conferences such as VidCon—where the experience first debuted in 2017—this is the first time the network has made a VR interactive experience available to consumers on such a large scale.
“Our SlimeZone partnership with IMAX lets kids and families interact with Nickelodeon properties and characters by bringing them to life in new and innovative ways,” said Cyma Zarghami, president, Nickelodeon Group, in a statement. “This new VR experience will also show the creative community how we are using technology to create unique forms of entertainment for all ages.”
Indeed, SlimeZone is a project born in the Nickelodeon Entertainment Lab—a research facility experimenting with interactive technologies across virtual reality, augmented and mixed reality, real-time rendering and artificial intelligence, and defining new ways to communicate and connect with digital audiences.
The IMAX experience is a prime example of how the television company is leveraging its intellectual property to fully immerse fans into what is no longer just a linear, 2D series, and creating new ways to tell stories, says Chris Young, senior vice president of the Nickelodeon Entertainment Lab.
In fact, the potential for VR opportunities—such as bringing SlimeZone to IMAX theaters—is reaching a point where it’s starting to influence the network’s big-picture plans such as the projects it decides to greenlight.
“We’re talking about the whole thing from the beginning,” Young said.
And Nickelodeon is also working with VR startup Dreamscape Immersive to co-produce an original experience.
Yet despite advancements in the medium, it’s clear VR is in its early stages.
“These are the big grey brick cell phones we’re putting on our heads,” Young said of the hardware.
But experimentation is the key to growth, and that’s part of the reason Nickelodeon was drawn to IMAX, which has made a significant investment in the technology
“We want to engage people with the IMAX brand in a new way,” said Bryan Kurtzman, VR content associate at IMAX.
The IMAX VR Centre in Hollywood is one of seven global facilities dedicated solely to virtual reality experiences. It’s IMAX’s flagship studio, and the company’s only standalone theater.
“Everything that we do comes to Fairfax [Ave.] first,” Kurtzman said. “It’s a testing ground to work out any kinks.”
The facility feels like a cross between a Disneyland ride and a Virgin America flight, with an entry area and onboarding room where people watch an informational video, before going through a narrow doorway into the main facility.
Technicians set people up with headsets inside 12-foot-by-12-foot pods. Each experience ranges from eight to 12 minutes, and costs between $10 to $25 per person. Players in different pods can come together in the same virtual space.
The ways in which VR is being applied continue to evolve. For instance, although this is not in practice yet, SlimeZone has the ability to allow people in pods in different physical locations, such as New York and Los Angeles, to play together virtually.
“As this technology continues to grow and these opportunities exist,” Young said, “I would imagine there would become a day where that’s inevitable.”