#900 Sundance: Combining Live Theater with Open World Exploration in ‘Anti-Gone’

Anti-Gone is a mixed reality play that features two actors performing in front of a wall that has an open, virtual world projected on it. One of the actors spends the majority of the time in VR navigating this world and interacting with the other actress who is a motion-captured suit. They each have simultaneous embodiments in both the virtual world and the co-located, physical reality as the story unfolds through a series of choices they make on their journey through this virtual world.

The narrative structure is based upon the comic book also titled Anti-Gone by Connor Willumsen, and the mixed reality adaptation is described as “set in a post–climate change world raging with late-capitalist rebellion and excess, Anti-Gone is a quest for happiness in the sunken city, where the characters shop, score drugs, and hotbox cinema.” The narrative structure is an inverse tree in that the characters have more options at the beginning of the show, but it narrows as time goes on and always ends the same way.

This gives the characters a lot of latitude to make a lot of choices at the beginning of this experience for how they want to navigate this open world. The interactions are pretty low-key, hanging out, chilling, and largely center around taking psychotropic substances that invoke a variety of different altered states of consciousness.

For me, the implications of the technological infrastructure behind Anti-Gone is one of my biggest take-aways from this experience. They self-describe Anti-Gone as “part theatre, part Twitch.tv, this groundbreaking play is a feature-length livestream game telecast.” It is a seamless blending of the virtual and the real, and the virtual world is being driven by an open session of Unity where the director and lead artist Theo Triantafyllidis is controlling a virtual camera rig with five different perspectives. He can control NPCs in real time and trigger virtual events based upon what the actors do, all while being the actual virtual director of what cinematic, window/portal view that the audience and actors see of this open virtual world.

There’s a lot of other live elements including musician Cameron Stallones and lighting, as well as an off-stage actor to provide additional narration and other characters that appear throughout the narrative experience.

I had a chance to sit down with director Triantafyllidis and musician Stallones to talk about the evolution of this project, their inspirations from Twitch.tv livestreaming and Dungeons & Dragons, how they formed the bulk of the potential narrative arcs in rehearsals, what aspects of the experience are live, dynamic & changing, and their overall experiential design process that is blending the virtual and the real, the improved moments and planned narratives, and the open world exploration and more limited set of possibilities.



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Music: Fatality