Lionsgate releases John Wick: Chapter 2 theatrically on February 10, but fans can step into the assassin’s shoes early via a pair of different virtual reality experiences from Starbreeze. The developer has created a highly-replayable, 90-minute first-person shooter game, John Wick Chronicles, for the HTC Vive. Additionally, it crafted a separate, shorter (7-12 minutes) and much more physical location-based game, John Wick Chronicles: Arcade Edition for IMAX VR Experience Centers (the Los Angeles location opens February 14).
Brooks Brown, global director of VR at Starbreeze, told [a]listdaily that virtual reality opens up experiences very different than classic console or PC games, where the player is disembodied from the character. “VR changes how you perceive the film world and characters,” Brown said. “We’ve been lucky working with Lionsgate to expand on the world and touch on story points from the film, dealing with Lance Reddick’s character, Charon.”
The game is set in the Continental Hotel from the films, offering players a non-stop wave of targets to eliminate. The game was created by Lionsgate and Starbreeze in collaboration with Grab Games, Big Red Button and GameCo.
Brown said the development pipeline for this game was similar to a film pipeline. That opened the door to work directly with Reddick with voiceover. “VR is a nice bridge for people like Lance to flex their muscles in a place that’s comfortable,” said Brown. “It’s just far enough away from film, but not all the way to games.”
In this first Hollywood project for Starbreeze, it was a learning process for the team involved. The arcade-based version of the game was designed for a broader audience (players in LA have ranged from 8 to 90 years of age) and takes advantage of the advanced headset, which offers 5K resolution and a widescreen view that opens up more of the world. The arcade game also incorporates an MP5 gun, while the HTC Vive version uses that platform’s standard controllers.
The VR Arcade version also shares the same 12 x 12 base as the Vive room-scale set-up.
“We’re trying to establish a standard, but also give you some place to play,” Brown said. “I pride myself on thinking how in shape I am and then after 10 minutes of holding this MP5 and ducking, moving and shooting it becomes like cross fit. It’s a level of intensity that we found that both casual and core users are happy with, since location-based VR has to cater to everyone.”
While John Wick Chronicles was designed as a single player game, Brown said it features leaderboards and classic arcade tropes to encourage consumers at IMAX VR Centers to come back and try to beat their best scores.
With the films carrying an R-rating for violence, the game has been toned down to a Time Crisis-level of violence. That classic arcade shooter franchise from Namco received a Teen rating for its home console versions.
“We have guidelines letting people know about the violence,” Brown said. “We’re being watchful of things kids can play. Unlike Payday, our other major game franchise, even though he’s an assassin, John Wick is a good guy.”
Brown said Starbreeze has partnered with Lionsgate marketing to cross-promote the games and the new film globally. In certain territories, Starbreeze will have pop-up demos in movie theaters. In the US, HTC has selected John Wick Chronicles as a retail demo, allowing customers to play the rooftop level of the game in stores.
As more VR Arcades are rolled out around the globe, Brown sees a future in which there will always be a technology gap between what can be experienced in location-based environments and what gamers at home can play on HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
“Our partnership with Acer has given us access to ridiculous computers and our headsets go beyond anything available at home, which allows us to create amazing experiences with more lighting effects and particle effects.”
John Wick marks the first Hollywood collaboration for VR at home and in the arcades, but Brown said it’s just the beginning for the company.