High Tech Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Orlando – The Halloween Horror Nights virtual-reality experience is back with the usual dose of terror. A cloak of mystery is a big part of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. In each scare zone and in each haunted-house maze, you are right to wonder what is lurking around the corner. For 2016, Universal is introducing the Repository, a virtual-reality space that differs from the traditional conga-line house approach. Members of the creative team behind Repository recently shared a few facts — none too spoilery, I’d say — about the experience, which will debut Sept. 29 (nearly two weeks after HHN kicks off) and run through Oct. 31.

The Repository VR

Here’s what we know about the Repository experience at Halloween Horror Nights:

+ Folks will enter in groups of four people, each with a role to play, says TJ Mannarino, senior director of art & design at Universal Orlando. “You have to work together to solve a mystery,” he says. “Each of the four persons has a particular task within that group so you have to depend on each other.”

+ The Repository adventure starts in a real (non-VR) place with story characters, then the VR kicks in going to “places you could only dream and think about,” Mannarino says. Later, out of VR, “you have to take what you’ve learned, what you’ve seen, what you’ve experienced in the supernatural world and put it together to solve the mystery.”

Live performers are involved in the story. Universal “didn’t want to abandon what we do and what our guests love, which is that interaction with live characters,” Mannarino says.

+ Folks in the Repository will strap on head-mounted devices (aka HMDs) “that will transport you to the paranormal realm,” says Justin Schwartz, an advanced technology director with Universal Creative.

+ Universal had a virtual-reality display that previewed the revamped Incredible Hulk Coaster at Islands of Adventure earlier this summer. If you participated in that, well, the Repository is completely different, down to the headsets and the technology, Universal says.

The Repository VR

“The level of image quality is very, very different. This is a whole other level of virtual reality,” Schwartz says.

+ In the Repository, you’ll be able to walk around, inspect your surroundings and interact with (and see) your three cohorts. “what they do, how they react becomes part of our show, too, which is also unique and different,” Mannarino says.

+ Universal has been monkeying around with tech — including RFID, augmented reality, Beacon and such — for about five years. It started concentrating on VR about 18 months ago.  “we evaluated all the latest and greated virtual technologies out there,” Schwartz says. “Tom [Geharty, fellow advanced technology director] and I spent a long time looking at everything.”  Last year at HHN, they “did a very limited VR test component. We coupled it with other types of technology,” Mannarino says. There were live performers in the test, and the results were positive, he says.

+ The physical experience stretch of Repository will take 25 to 30 minutes, Mannarino says. But Universal suggests blocking off 90 minutes of your Horror Nights night. Folks are asked to arrive 30 minutes before their reservation time, and, at the end there’s a photo op and a place to hang out (a “debrief room”) and discuss what just happened.

+ Mannarino sees Repository as a new part of the HHN mix, an interactive theater experience. “Instead of calling it like a 10th house like some people have said, I kind of see it like a new component to this event, where it is something that is really different,” he says. “It has house elements, but it has show elements and now it has these technology elements.”

Reservations are required to go to the Repository. It costs $49.99 per person on top of HHN admission. To make reservations, call 407-224-7840. For more information about the event, go to halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando.

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