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Twentieth Century Fox's Spaceshot: 'The Martian VR Experience' to Debut at CES

Two-time Academy Award winner Rob Stromberg directed "The Martian VR Experience."

Twentieth Century Fox

Director Ridley Scott’s film 2015 “The Martian,” in which a stranded astronaut relies on his ingenuity to survive on an alien planet, served as a fitting subject for a journey into uncharted territory of a different sort — creating a virtual-reality experience based on the movie.

Twentieth Century Fox will unveil “The Martian VR Experience” at the annual CES tech expo in Las Vegas this Thursday, taking invited journalists on a 20-minute interactive journey to the Red Planet to confront challenges similar to those faced by the film’s central character, Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon.

“The main objective was to take VR to a place that is beyond what we’ve all seen,” said Rob Stromberg, the two-time Academy Award winner who directed the project. “The goal really was to, for the first time, assemble a full narrative storytelling piece in tandem with pushing the cutting edge of the technology itself.”

Other Hollywood studios have been experimenting with VR. Disney developed a Google Cardboard app, Jakku Spy, to promote “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and Paramount offered demos of a “Paranormal Activity” VR game in kiosks outside AMC theaters with the debut of “The Ghost Dimension,” its latest installment in the horror franchise.

“The Martian VR Experience” is an even more ambitious undertaking, said Chris Milk, chief executive of Vrse, an app that offers a curated library of virtual-reality experiences.

“This is the largest, most forward-thinking and innovative project that the studios have done to date,” said Milk. “For one, everything [has been] done as a marketing vehicle for a larger tentpole movie. Whereas this — while it’s connected to the film — it is a long-form, standalone piece of immersive entertainment.”

“The Martian VR Experience” marries elements of interactive gaming with spectacular visuals from the film in a way that effectively transports the viewer into outer space. The eight-month-long project was developed alongside the film, with Stromberg working in collaboration with Scott’s RSA Film and the Fox Innovation Lab.

“We wanted to portray the film in an authentic way,” said Stromberg. “The story was there, but we had to figure out how to condense it and figure out how to make it immersive and interactive.”

Twentieth Century Fox

Stromberg used scenes from the movie to advance the story, in between interactive segments in which the user playfully tosses potatoes at targets in the crew’s habitat-turned-greenhouse, retrieves a container of buried plutonium to keep warm and pilots a Martian rover.

In one particularly intense activity, the player attempts to retrieve solar panels in a gathering dust storm, as cinematic score and dialogue heighten the tension.

“That’s what separates gaming from cinema,” said Stromberg. “There’s an emotional quality.”

The process was not without hiccups — Stromberg describes it as “inventing in flight.” He said something as simple as adding a music cue can trigger a ripple effect, producing cascading errors. Each software update from Oculus would break down what had been built.

“That’s happened four times,” Stromberg said. “Right when you come up for air, you’re plunged down again.”

Fox Home Entertainment Worldwide President Mike Dunn said that “The Martian VR Experience,” which builds on last year’s short-form VR project based on the movie “The Wild,” was designed to push the boundaries of storytelling in a new medium — and result in quality entertainment people will be willing to purchase.

“If VR is going to be a real platform, consumers need the opportunity to buy content — and there needs to be content that is commercial,” said Dunn. “That was our objective here — to build a piece of content that could be sold.”

It will be available this year for the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR. Pricing has not been announced.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.