Reshaping the experience:
Technology as entertainment
Have you ever wished you could throw on a Ghostbusters uniform and battle some ghosts yourself? Well, Sony created a program to grant that wish: "GHOSTBUSTERS ROOKIE TRAINING," an interactive augmented-reality (AR) experience that lets players zap and trap ghosts just like in the movies. Through a collaborative arrangement with Sony Pictures Entertainment ("Sony Pictures"), the project took a demo of AR technologies and turned it into a fun-filled entertainment experience. The Sony designers and engineers behind the project worked to fuse Sony technologies and Sony content into a new world.
How to turn technology
into a unique experience
The origins of the GHOSTBUSTERS ROOKIE TRAINING initiative trace back to an AR glasses demo that was in development at the Sony R&D Center. Instead of just experimenting on a single technology with isolated development elements, the engineers behind the glasses wanted to create an integrated customer experience and get direct feedback from the gaming world, the entertainment industry, and regular users so that they could figure out what technologies they would need to apply AR in an entertainment mold and what challenges they would have to navigate through. Eventually, they came to the design team with an idea: what about using AR to transform real spaces into "play spaces?" What if we could create a new take on entertainment experiences? Hearing what the engineers had to say, the design team thought of the optimal route to take: a collaboration with Sony Pictures in Los Angeles, California.
After hearing about the idea, the Sony Pictures marketing team sent the Sony design team a list of feasible titles for a joint project. The designers then went through the options film by film, thinking about how each one might translate into an AR-geared experience. When the team got to Ghostbusters, they knew they had a winner. It was a popular movie with a clear, familiar worldview. It was a good fit for AR technologies. It helped that plenty of people on the team were huge Ghostbusters fans growing up, too. Once the choice was made, the work began. The translucent ghosts were relatively easy to render via AR technologies, so the team got to playing with the idea of enlisting participants as "rookie Ghostbusters" on a mission to locate and exterminate "real ghosts" in an outdoor setting. Straightforward, fun, and exciting-it checked three key boxes, so the team floated the concept of the experience to Sony Pictures executives and original Ghostbusters (1984) director Ivan Reitman. "This is great!" They said. "Let's do it at our studio!" With that, the project got the green light.
GHOSTBUSTERS ROOKIE TRAINING took place at one of Sony Pictures' outdoor studios,
complete with cars and set pieces from the original film.
Designing another world
against an everyday backdrop
There were several main objectives of the GHOSTBUSTERS ROOKIE TRAINING. The overarching goal was to fuse the ordinary and the extraordinary into a brand-new entertainment experience. Naturally, the team also had to come up with the right technological means for making the experience a reality. The other core aim was a more conceptual one: immersing players in a distinctive cinematic ambience and getting them to take command of the experience like they were the stars of the whole show. To get the ball rolling, the developers focused on what would make extraordinary, out-of-this-world experiences feel real. It all started with that abstract idea, which the team prototyped into potentially feasible approaches.
The process involved a lot more than just visual content. From the weighty, mechanical "Ghost Traps" and the tactile sensation of shooting laser beams at ghost targets to set pieces that would need to start moving out of the blue, the team started looking closely at times when everyday reality and movie-magic unreality would overlap. As they dug deeper, they got around to the idea of creating interactions between physical things-people and objects, for example-with virtual imagery, like setups where a virtual ghost would appear to move something physically occupying the space. They then went about weaving those eye-popping, catch-your-breath moments into the whole scenario of players walking around a city set in an actual studio environment in search of ghosts. For the team, it was all about making the encounters with the space's otherworldly inhabitants as realistic as possible-like everything was taking place in normal, everyday life.
After storyboarding some ideas, the team began testing prototypes and developing the story for the experience.
Hand beams are just one of the many ways that GHOSTBUSTERS ROOKIE TRAINING blends the usual and the unusual through AR, tactile technologies, and other elements for a unique entertainment experience.*
To pull people into the Ghostbusters universe, the team used gaming elements that would enhance the experience's entertainment payoff. The key feature of AR is that it lets you see the real world along with virtual content, which is why the development team decided to make the experience a team effort. Each team had three members: one responsible for spotting ghosts, one in charge of placing the "Ghost Trap" for capturing the ghosts, and one tasked with getting the ghosts into the trap. They all had to communicate and work together, and AR let them do that: they always had a foundation in the physical surroundings and their teammates in real space. The developers also counted players' steps and tracked their speeds during the design phase, using their findings to time and stage the ghosts' appearances just right for the biggest-possible wow factor. Over the course of the game-design process, the team was constantly working to balance the image-recognition technologies with the emotional impact of the overall experience.
During the development process, they also realized just how much the experience hinged on sound. Enlisting the help of PlayStation? sound teams from Japan and overseas, the team designed background music and sound effects to help set the scene for players and lead them from location to location—all to add another, invisible dimension to the realism of the experience. The process of setting the scene stretched beyond the AR and sound elements, too: the developers decided to have players don near-replicas of the jumpsuits from Ghostbusters before starting their journey to get the immersion element flowing right away. The players then headed into the game with "guides"-bona fide actors, not just staff members-leading the way with energetic flair around a meticulous rendering of the Ghostbusters world, full of sets and props that could have been pulled straight out of the movie. The AR glasses even featured network connectivity, a touch that gave both the experience and the technical side of the project a high-grade finish.
The team had to decide where and when ghosts were going to appear, so they went back and forth between the drawing board and testing setting to get the optimal overall balance.
The physical items in the space -from costumes to sets and
props- all served to immerse layers deeper in the look and feel of the film.*
(L) An artist from the Ghostbusters comic book handled the visuals for the tutorial video;
(R) Two participants take in the experience.*
(Top) An artist from the Ghostbusters comic book handled the visuals for the tutorial video;
(Bottom) Two participants take in the experience.*
A new model for entertainment
blending the ordinary and the extraordinary
The GHOSTBUSTERS ROOKIE TRAINING event at the Sony Pictures studios gave film professionals and game creators a unique taste of an innovative entertainment experience. As they monitored the test runs, the developers were thrilled to see the players talking with each other and going after ghosts with an almost childlike energy—they even gave each other spontaneous high fives after successful captures. "It was like an extension of being in a movie theater," one participant said. Another noted the fusion of the ordinary and the extraordinary, saying, "The experience is so fresh, so personal. When you see things unexpectedly sneaking into your regular, everyday sphere of existence, it's quite a feeling." They got feedback from the mind behind Ghostbusters, too; director Ivan Reitman loved what he saw of the prototype in development. "This is it," he said. "This is the vision I had for the film 35 years ago."
To gather as much feedback as possible, the team also held a GHOSTBUSTERS ROOKIE TRAINING event for the general public at Ginza Sony Park. It was a big shift, going from a movie-like experience in a sprawling outdoor-studio space to a gaming experience in a bustling 3D indoor space, but the response was just as enthusiastic. The development team has plenty of feedback to work with now, and they want to turn that input into even better entertainment experiences where the real and the virtual come together.
(L) L to R: Tsukahara (engineer), Eric Reich (Ghost Corps, which oversees the Ghostbusters brand), Yamagami (producer); (R) Ishii (designer)
GHOSTBUSTERS ROOKIE TRAINING fused real space and AR technologies into an interactive,
At Sony Design, creative minds are always looking for new ways to turn cutting-edge technologies into
entertainment experiences for the world to enjoy.