It may be 2018 in Austin, Texas, but in one corner in the midst of SXSW, it’s Columbus, Ohio in the year 2045. That’s the setting of Steven Spielberg’s new film, Ready Player One, based on the smash hit novel by Ernie Cline. The Warner Bros. media team transformed an Austin nightspot into the futuristic setting of the film for the interactive festival.
Waiting in line to enter the experience, I was asked to give the staff a username, and I was equipped with an RFID bracelet. Once inside, I stepped into an antechamber dressed up as the interior of the cramped, ramshackle trailer owned by the protagonist, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). Wade’s voiceover narration explains the futuristic setting and that to escape his squalor, he escapes into the world of OASIS, an online virtual environment founded by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a tech icon obsessed with pop culture of the 1980s.
The trailer antechamber opens out to a futuristically lit tunnel leading to a nightclub housing a blend of futuristic entertainment and ’80s and ’90s retro pop-culture nostalgia. Amongst the highlights on the floor were kiosks where you could create avatars for OASIS, a zero-G dancefloor, a life-sized bust of the Iron Giant, an ’80s arcade, a Back to the Future-equipped DeLorean, a wall comprised of cassette tapes, and two lounge areas dressed in 1980s retro stylings. Scattered throughout the room were kiosks where you could scan your RFID bracelet and compete in ’80s and ’90s pop culture trivia.
Upstairs from the floor was a recreation of “the stacks,” the ramshackle trailer park Wade Watts calls his home. In each of the trailers was a VR experience featuring updated virtual reality recreations of classic 1980’s coin-op arcade games like Joust & Gauntlet, as well as experiences where you can play as Wade Watts’ online avatar Parzival, battling the evil forces of Innovative Online Industries for control of the OASIS.
Check out this gallery from SXSW’s Ready Player One experience.