Adventure Lab is launching virtual reality experiences that let you go on an adventure with your friends, accompanied by a human host. These experiences are like guided escape rooms, but you play remotely over the internet using the Oculus Quest VR headset. Although the San Francisco-based studio was founded in January 2019, this kind of social play turns out to be exactly what many people need during the pandemic lockdown, its founders say.
Players can schedule 40-minute adventures with up to four friends at a time using Oculus Quest VR headsets. Each session can be different, thanks to the human host, who can go off script or change things around for returning players.
The first adventure is Dr. Crumb’s School for Disobedient Pets. In this VR adventure, your team of humans takes the form of different pet avatars in the co-op experience. They put their minds together to solve a puzzle, as if they were in a physical escape room, except this takes place online in a connected VR space. And you have a human host, played by an actor/performer, who may either try to help you or thwart you on your quest to get through Dr. Crumb’s lab.
The founders of Adventure Lab are Kim Adams and Maxwell Planck, who serves as CEO and is a 10-year Pixar veteran. He was the technical cofounder and chief technology officer at groundbreaking Oculus Story Studio, where he won an Emmy for his work on the VR story Henry and a Peabody Award for Dear Angelica. At Pixar, Planck worked on technical teams of films like Up, WALL-E, and Cars.
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Adams, who serves as chief operating officer, was a producer at Pixar. She also led creative technology teams at Google Spotlight Stories and Facebook and was the head of production at Oculus Story Studio, where she and Planck worked together and became thought leaders in the VR space.
“I became really fascinated with working in new technology, working with artists and engineers on trying to crack problems and do things that we’ve never done before,” Adams said in an interview with GamesBeat. “I went over to work at Google spotlight stories at that time. We were working with Justin Lin and some other really interesting directors posing the question to them: ‘What would you do with this new tool? How would you tell a story?’ And I really fell in love with VR and new technology.”
When Oculus Story Studio shut down in 2017, Adams moved over to work on augmented reality at Facebook on the Portal team. But she and Planck were thinking about the right time to get back into VR, which they believed would make a comeback after its lackluster start.
“We’ve been watching the market produce more immersive experiences, immersive theaters, escape rooms, and even the rise of board game sales,” she said. “We felt this yearning to do things in a more immersive way. And as the Oculus Quest was coming out, we felt it would be a game changer for VR, and so Max had this idea about live hosted events.”
That idea turned into Adventure Lab.
“I’m super proud of the work we did at Oculus Story Studio,” Planck said. “But we needed to create an adventure where the people who are in the headset are the heroes, instead of people following a journey.” He added, “They can work together. It’s cooperative, much like … escape rooms are. And when you show up, there’s someone like a clue master in an escape room, or a dungeon master in Dungeons & Dragons. They are there to make sure you have a great time.”
The host can give you hints as you solve the puzzles or serve as your antagonist or secret agent handler. “The idea of being there with a performer makes this experience uniquely ours and something that is exciting,” Planck said.
How it works
Players can jump into their first mission to investigate Dr. Crumb’s School for Disobedient Pets after stepping into the shoes of newly recruited secret agents for the Virtual Intelligence Agency. The players are connected online with the live host, who puppets a robot nemesis character and follows a script but can improvise as needed. Disguised as animals, agents find themselves swept into an unexpected maze of puzzles and games that put their brains and brawn to the test.
The virtual platform provides gigs for actors and other performers, and Adventure Lab has trained a few of these hosts already, with more to come as demand picks up. Guests who buy a session can jump in at the designated time and are greeted by the live host. The host is a guide, a clue master, and a performer who embodies different characters while leading the players through a series of time-based puzzles.
Support for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Valve Index is coming soon. A 40-minute show will cost $100 for up to four players. For a limited time, the company is offering a 50% discount if guests use the coupon code OG-LAB-RAT.
The team bootstrapped Adventure Lab with friends and family and raised money from Boost VR in January. The company currently has three full-time employees, plus other contractors. Axion Studios, a team in Singapore, has helped the company create its VR assets. Two more episodes for the Dr. Crumb franchise are in the works.
More than 300 guests have already gone through the adventure, which has helped Adventure Lab tune its experience.
“It’s been interesting to see how hands-on a host should be,” Adams said. “In the soft launch, we found that if the performer is really engaging, the default reaction for the audience is to just sit back and not interrupt. But that’s exactly what we don’t want for cooperative play.”
Planck and Adams believe virtual is the new normal. During lockdown, people have had to overcome technology barriers and are desperate to find ways to feel closer to each other — beyond a virtual meeting. And with the closure of movie theaters, theme parks, and family entertainment centers and the cancellation of concerts and events, billions of entertainment dollars are waiting to be claimed.
On top of that, an unprecedented number of performers are now looking for work and for ways to connect to their fans and followers. Adventure Lab can put those performers to work on live performances again. Performers can get a share of the revenue and promote their showtimes on their social networks, and famous actors and other celebrities could even charge more for their performances.
“We are excited about creating a new marketplace for performers, to bring hosts and guests together,” Adams said.
“In the long run, we want to prove that this is a new kind of entertainment,” Planck said. “We think this is a big idea, and we are bullish on where the VR market is going. We want to create this form of entertainment that people love that brings our guests and hosts together.”