Dan Carlin’s ‘War Remains’ is a stunning VR pop-up

Dan Carlin’s War Remains places viewers in the midst of World War I in trailblazing virtual reality. It’s an unusual art project from the podcast icon—but one that makes total sense.

War Remains offers viewers the perspective of a soldier in the trenches. The VR experience pulls the audience into one of the deadliest battlefields in history with interactive and immersive technology that demands your full attention.

The pop-up made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival and later moved to downtown Austin, Texas, where the final version opened to viewers this summer. It runs until Sept. 1.

Carlin has been podcasting since 2005 and his Hardcore History series has received millions of downloads per episode. The Oregon native told the Daily Dot that he’s become conditioned to discover ways to tell stories utilizing new mediums. Creating War Remains was an opportunity for Carlin to share a narrative using different technology, he said.

He partnered with MWM Immersive in producing War Remains with development by Flight School Studio and audio design by Skywalker Sound. Carlin and MWM wanted to create an accessible “memory” while promoting growth in the VR industry.

MWM Immersive, a division of the Los Angeles company Madison Wells Media, is dedicated to interactive and technologically advanced virtual reality experiences. As a relatively new storytelling and gaming medium, virtual reality lacks a wide and mainstream audience. The talent behind War Remains hopes that VR entertainment installations become more common. If it does well in Austin, the hope is to keep the roadshow going with more tour dates.

Executive Vice President of Content Ethan Stearns says that War Remains is an accessible experience. Tickets are $40.

“Too often these types of VR experiences are pop-ups at festivals or places where they’re not really accessible to the public,” Stearns told the Daily Dot. “It’s important to us at MWM to continue to push accessibility and grow the ecosystem of VR.”

At a recent press walkthrough in Austin, Carlin said he wanted to bring meaningful memories of soldiers alive for a generation not far removed from the war’s victims. Viewers are even cautioned before entering the experience about the possibility of emotional distress caused by the chilling scenes of warfare. You flinch at the sound of a nearby bomb and suddenly become cautious about where you step.

Participants are wholly enveloped in the experience as they trek through the set of a trench complete with creaking and shaking boards underfoot, chilling winds, and sounds of surrounding gunfire. Viewers are guided through three sets dedicated to replicating scenes of WWI with authentic propaganda posters and vintage gems.

“We call it an immersive memory because it transitions between your physical world and this memory,” Stearns said. “Those mementos we have from a great grandfather or that’s been passed down through our family are our physical connective pieces to those memories and to that history, which is part of the reason why we wanted to use them visually in the opening of the experience. It’s important to connect you to that narrative because once you can put yourself into it, it becomes more of a memory of yours that you walk away with.”

War Remains combines creative and technical talent to create a meaningful, emotional, and deeply mesmerizing experience attainable to anyone willing to walk through the door. Carlin and Stearns hope the location-based experience will be a vital piece in the expansion and evolution of the VR medium.

“If you could only view this is if you had an Oculus Rift at your house, think of how self-selective that is,” Carlin said. “The thing with destination-based VR experiences is somebody can walk in off the street who has none of this equipment at home and doesn’t need any of it. This is a completely 100% encased thing that you can be a part of with no pre-purchasing.”

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Caitlin Davis

Caitlin Davis

Caitlin Davis is an editorial intern for the Daily Dot studying journalism and Arabic at the University of Texas at Austin. Her work has appeared in the Daily Texan and the Austin Chronicle.