Syfy’s New VR Show Halcyon Launches With VR Press Conference!
Recently, you may have hear talk of a unique new Syfy series called Halcyon, set in the world of virtual reality. This innovative new idea, which launches online today, is the world’s first hybrid VR scripted series. That means the episodes are a mix of 10 short-form (i.e. 5 min) linear episodes, interwoven with 5 episodes viewable/playable through the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR systems. If you don’t have the appropriate VR tech, there is a ‘catch up’ attached to the start of each episode so you don’t miss anything.
When you come to look for an air date for it, you’ll see it’s on Syfy UK, 26th September 2016 at 8:55 pm. Only the first episode is being shown on the channel though as a promo, with all the episodes, both linear and VR, available right now on halcyon.syfy.co.uk.
Set in the year 2040, the series is centred on Blake Creighton (Michael Therriault) the CEO of the world’s leading Virtual Reality company; Halcyon. Having cornered the market on VR, Halcyon has discarded the VR headset and allowed users to access the virtual space using neurological implants that manipulate the senses to create a virtual world. When Creighton is found dead, presumed murdered, Detective Jules Dover (Lisa Marcos) and her partner, Asha (Harveen Sandhu), must consider if this could be the world’s first virtual crime.
To launch Halcyon, a few weeks ago, I was invited down London, not only to view the first linear episode and VR episode, but also got a chance to ask questions of the cast in an actual virtual reality press conference! Myself and a couple of other journalists were guided into a press suite at Syfy’s offices, and asked to don some VR gear…
…yes, I know I look like an idiot, but I looked great inside the VR! 😉 What I was greeted with was a full virtual press room, which we were invited to explore. After some basic instruction on how to move around, we went and chatted with some of the other guests, who hailed from the US, China, Germany, and various other countries around the globe.
It felt a little odd at first, but pretty soon I found myself happily talking to a developer in America, or a journalist in China, mingling like you would at any normal party or conference. People were clustered in groups, some using more advanced VR systems than us, which even allowed for hand gestures and expressions. Even though the avatars themselves were pretty basic, you still felt like you were all together in one room, just chatting away!
After some general chit-chat, we were asked to head to the stage area, where we were greeted with with virtual versions of BAFTA-nominated director Benjamin Arfmann (Random Stop), Stefan Grambart, Creative Director of VR developers Secret Location, and actress Harveen Sandhu, who plays Asha on the series.
After a short introduction, things proceeded pretty much as they would at any normal press junket. Stefan goes on to explain that about how the whole concept for Halcyon came into being.
“Syfy came to us and said they wanted to do something that was digital inherently digital from the get-go. So not just a show that was created and had a digital component to it, but was really thought of from a digital standpoint from the beginning. So we pitched a few different ideas, and Halcyon was one that I pitched, around the initial logline, which was – the scene is virtual, but the crime is real.” He continues “I just liked this idea of combining virtual reality as a medium, with the idea of virtual reality being part of the story.”
I pitched a question to Harveen about whether she had used, or been a fan of VR before becoming involved in the series. “Not at all!” she replied laughing, “In fact, I didn’t even know what virtual reality really was! It was completely new to me, and whilst we were shooting the series, I kept trying to imagine what it would end up looking like, and how we would marry the reality with the VR.” She continues “I actually just got to see a few of the episodes just before this conference, so the whole thing is just brand new, and really really cool! I guess now I’m a fan!” she concluded laughing.
Director Benjamin picks up the conversation continuing “It’s interesting, because Harveen has a stage background, and the way we did the VR, we weren’t shooting 360 video, which actually is a lot more theatrical, and i think Harveen would be wonderful at that if we ever did something like that. Our VR element is designed in Unity, so is much more like a game. So a lot of what Harveen was doing for the VR was voice acting. And that was interesting as well, because game development is a lot more iterative than film and tv. You have the possibility to continue playing something again and again. So for Harveen that involved coming in and doing a lot of additional VO work. I think we re-recorded with her 3 times to get different versions.” Harveen takes over saying “And that too was a new experience for me. Isolating that aspect of a performance, which is a necessary thing to do for something like this. It was a great challenge.”
Things carried along, with journalists from around the globe asking questions, and I found myself watching the avatars as they were speaking, which of course wasn’t necessary, but it’s what you would do in the real world. With all questions asked, we said our goodbyes, and returned to the real world office in London, having experienced a very innovative way to launch a very innovative new series!
Dave has over 20 years experience in the digital industry, and is founder and editor of Geektown. Obviously a huge geek himself, he can often be found in front of the latest tv show or movie, on various video games, or with his head in a comic book.