The Ghostbusters franchise already came to virtual reality in the form of a location-based piece courtesy of The Void, but PlayStation VR owners can now have their own experience at home with Ghostbusters VR: Now Hiring. The first chapter of the experience, entitled “Firehouse,” puts players in the role of a newly hired member of the Ghostbusters team who is required to poke around the company’s headquarters and capture a ghost with a proton pack and ghost trap.
The experience, which runs roughly 10 minutes in length, was built by CreateVR with creative input from series producer (and original Ghostbusters director) Ivan Reitman. I had the opportunity to try it out yesterday during a press event, and it was a fun way to spend a few minutes — particularly given the episode’s $6.99 price tag. It obviously requires a PlayStation 4, PS VR headset, and PS Move controllers, and once the experience begins players are greeted by a ghost guide named Mooglie, voiced by Patton Oswalt.
Moving around in Now Hiring doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a feeling of true immersion — players press a button on the Move controllers to select a spot where they want to “teleport,” even if it’s within the same room — and dedicated buttons on the controller reposition the player 90 degrees to the left or right. But interacting with the environment itself is intuitive. I pulled open panels of a hot dog cart before finding Slimer there causing mischief, and when I came across a proton pack I quickly was able to assemble its pieces until it was in working order. The same goes for using the proton pack wand and iconic ghost trap. You’re not really using much more than the Move controller’s trigger button to utilize the various weapons, making it easy to pick up and master in a few moments.
The episode ends with a cliffhanger — I’ll avoid spilling the details for those that are eager to play the game themselves — but “Firehouse” is just the first episode in a planned multi-chapter story. Jake Zim, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s senior vice president of virtual reality, explains that the second chapter is nearly ready to go, and that the creative team will then be looking at audience responses to get a sense of how it should shape or change the series in future installments.
But talking to Zim, it’s clear that a project like Now Hiring is just the first step in a much larger and ambitious strategy to bring the studio’s intellectual properties to a variety of immersive mediums. “VR, for all intents and purposes, is the tech of today. Augmented reality? Coming very quickly,” he tells me on the Sony lot after my demo. “Immersive theater, projection-based theater, mixed reality, blended reality... all of that is immersive entertainment. Non-traditional, non-linear content. And the group here is really about producing that type of content. When you pull back and look at the macro opportunities for entertainment, it's really about how do you immerse people in worlds.”
The key to pulling off that kind of mission is a sense of creative continuity, and Reitman has played key roles in both The Void’s Ghostbusters: Dimension piece and Now Hiring. When it comes to working in virtual reality, “I think the real complexity is in the storytelling rules,” Reitman says. “I remember getting into philosophical arguments right off the bat about whether you can edit. Whether you can change lenses. Whether you can just cut into another room, as opposed to going through some fade out and fade in.”
Now Hiring is a fairly short and simple game, and doesn’t really push any boundaries in terms of the formal or structural characteristics of VR. But it’s also clear that Reitman sees the medium as one that’s ripe for experimentation, with an ability to emotionally impact audiences hasn’t even been scratched yet. “We're really at the scale of watching silent movies on a white wall,” he says, “where people are still worried about cutting to a close-up, because then they think the train is coming through the wall.”