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Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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This may be the closest we ever get to a true Blade Runner VR experience

la 2097
This may be the closest we ever get to a true Blade Runner VR experience

There’s no in-film environment quite like Ridley Scott’s depiction of post-dystopian Los Angeles in Blade Runner (1982). There’s a lot of other cyberpunk rooted films that have borrowed its signature grimy aesthetic, but the fact remains that Scott nailed down the seedy atmosphere and disillusionment that lies in the depths of all large cities—and no one else has really replicated it as well ever since. Blade Runner remains a widely-praised masterclass of science-fiction film, one of both technological and filmmaking depth that was awe-inspiring for its time and beyond. Now, New Zealand-based developer E’van Johnston has his own fresh homage to the film, with the Oculus Rift-bound VR experience L.A. 2097.

L.A. 2097 isn’t a grandiose, scene-by-scene recreation of Blade Runner, and instead lays its sights on a simpler scene. You’re in the shoes of Deckard—or, at the very least, a Deckard-like individual—gazing around the metropolis where you reside from your quaint balcony. The experience isn’t a direct recreation of Deckard’s balcony, nor is it of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles, but it feels like a sliver of the city from the film all the same. In an interview with Road to VR, creator Johnston described the experience, “The balcony feels to me as if it’s situated in a rather humdrum, pedestrian corner of the vast, towering metropolis,” he said. “Melancholy and nostalgia mingle. And so I set out to capture those feelings and a project them onto and into the viewer.”

A quiet reimagining of the core atmosphere emitted in Blade Runner

L.A. 2097 doesn’t seek to overwhelm the viewer with dizzying landscapes or frenetic action. It’s a quiet reimagining of the core atmosphere emitted in Blade Runner, or as quiet as it can be in a large city. It’s a space to relax and reflect. You can faintly hear the zipping of flying cars overhead, and the soft pitter-patter of rain as it falls all around you. Buildings are illuminated by striking neon glows, but it’s only from far away from your own haven of an apartment. On the balcony you, or faux-Deckard, or any other citizen of a futuristic Los Angeles, are safe. Free to simply admire your surroundings, and soak it all in.

The particular scene from Blade Runner that Johnston reimagined for his VR experience.
The particular scene from Blade Runner that Johnston reimagined for his VR experience.

The VR experience is merely a hobby project created by Johnston, with production beginning sometime in 2015. L.A. 2097 isn’t technically a “complete” experience, according to Johnston, and it may never be complete. If possible, he one day hopes to add more neon signage, more variation in the vehicles that fly overhead, maybe even single-occupant transports. Anything that’s plausible in the replicant-ridden world of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles is ripe for reimagining within L.A. 2097, especially with the wondrous technology of virtual reality.

You can keep up with any updates on L.A. 2097 on Johnston’s Facebook page, and download it in its current incarnation here.

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