An interactive experience simulating a nuclear disaster inside a CAVE.
- Atit Kothari: Programmer
- Maoyang Li: Programmer
- Chuck, Tsung-Han Lee: Artist
- Hye Jeong Jeon: 2D/3D Artist
- Brentt Kasmiskie: Experience Designer/Producer
In Meltdown I was the experience designer, producer, and ultimately one of the actors. As the experience designer I came up with the initial idea and worked with the team to iterate and implement changes based on playtests and faculty feedback. I also helped design the experience around our desired interest curve by working to change the maze and tweaking how and when the floor shook to create the best feeling of danger and tension. As the producer my job was to take notes on meetings and make sure they ran efficiently without getting too side tracked. I also acted as the go between for the group and the faculty. I was also one of the actors for the experience where I helped introduce players to their role and give them instructions on how to operate the game. I was also in charge of creating props such as the security console.
Meltdown was created at Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center as a three week project in a class called Building Virtual Worlds. Building Virtual Worlds, or BVW, is an interesting course where students are grouped into five person teams for a few weeks while they build an experience using non-tradition input and new devices. The class is broken into five projects each project lasts between one and three weeks. The class culminates in the BVW Festival where the faculty choose the best project to show and then alumni and industry professionals are invited to the campus to experience what the current students have created.
Meltdown was created in round 4 of BVW where the challenge was to create a story driven experience. In this round we were given a few new platforms and the first week was devoted to creating ideas and then pitching for the platforms. The platform we went with was the CAVE. At the ETC our CAVE consists of a room with three walls that are projected on, surround sound, special lighting systems, and a programmable motion floor. We began brain storming on how best to use this space. We took the advice of one of out seniors and thought the CAVE was well suited for an actor to assist in the experience. Godzilla had recently been released and we knew we wanted to replicate the powerful moment where Mr. Brody loses his wife in the tunnels as she is trying to escape from the nuclear disaster. The game became about a newly hired nuclear safety technician as they manage a nuclear disaster.
To achieve this we turned the CAVE into a control room. The right wall was covered in security monitors which displayed live action footage of Chuck and Gina, the two employees who travel to the reactor to check on it and then must escape when the disaster occurs. The front wall is a floor plan of the facility with multicolored doors on it. Each door corresponds to one of three buttons on the custom made security console that is positioned on the motion floor in the center of the room, this is where the player sits. The left wall displays an image of a hallway and the containment door. The containment door can be shut by hitting the big red button that is also found on the security console. When the disaster occurs the screens change, sirens go off, lighting changes, and the floor begins to shake. Throughout the experience the floor shakes more violently to let the player know how bad it is in the facility and to add tension to the experience.
To accommodate maximum throughput of guests we set the scene up as a bit of a show piece. The audience gathers in the hallway, the door opens and the supervisor (an actor who needs to use imrpov acting) walks out surprised by a tour because they were expecting a new employee to be coming by. The supervisor then asks the audience if one of them is that employee, if no one volunteers then the supervisor is mildly upset that they had a no show and says they will need to find someone else. This leads to them offering the job to any takers. One audience member steps forward with a little more encouragement from the actor and the audience. They are seated at the console and the supervisor gives them a brief introduction to the controls and walks the guest through guiding the Chuck and Gina down to the reactor. It is at this point that the disaster occurs and the supervisor says lets the guest know that they can save Chuck and Gina, but they must also save the city by closing the containment door before radiation can escape. The experience takes roughly 3-5 minutes. There are three ways the experience ends.
- The guest closes the containment door sealing the two people inside. After sealing the containment door the player is shown a video in the containment door window of the two people begging them to open the door as they slowly die. In this ending the player saved the city and everyone in the facility at the cost of two lives.
- The guest leaves the containment door open. This is followed by the front wall exploding and a nuclear blast is shown to the guest. In this ending the player has destroyed the city and killed everyone in the facility.
- The guest successfully guides the two people out and closes the containment door behind them. When this happens Chuck and Gina exit from the containment door and celebrate being saved with the guest. In this ending the player saves everyone.
We were fortunate to have Meltdown make it into the 2014 Building Virtual Worlds Festival where hundreds of guests could experience it. This meant we needed to be acting in the CAVE for around five hours. During this time we needed to add a new ending to the game because one of our actors had responsibilities at another game and left. So when the player saved Chuck and Gina we were only able to have Chuck come out, we had to improvise that Gina was somehow left behind. Check out the footage from the festival below, and forgive our poor acting skills.