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BBC Radio 4 Drama Explores Virtual Reality 

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In its new audio drama Quake, BBC Radio 4 is venturing into the realm of Virtual Reality for the first time.

The project, which adds to the BBC’s growing Virtual Reality project portfolio, is set as the search for survivors begins after a deadly earthquake. Quake is made up of 12 short form audio dramas – each available online only and accompanied by a graphic-novel style animation – alongside an immersive, 360-degree, 3D film of the first episode in the series, Trapped Man.

The project is an addition to the BBC’s growing Virtual Reality project portfolio Share on X

The virtual reality film is made by BAFTA Award-winning video production company BDH Immersive. Each of the subsequent episodes feature an accompanying animation made by Eight Engines.

The VR film was made by BAFTA Award-winning video production company BDH Immersive Share on X

The film – which sets the scene for the rest of the series – takes place inside a collapsed building. Viewers watching on VR headsets, on YouTube and the Radio 4 website will become a central character in the drama, Trapped Man. As the viewer’s eyes become accustomed to the darkness, the sights and sounds of their surroundings become apparent.

“Trapped Man VR drama production represents a breakthrough for both radio and virtual reality productions, offering exciting new possibilities for both mediums in the future,” says John Durrant, Director at BDH Immersive. “Radio drama is a powerful medium. It creates an alternative reality to explore in the theatre of the mind. The audience brings the pictures and the actors bring the emotion. On this virtual reality stage, Trapped Man VR uses 3D animation and binaural audio to create a new sound stage, with a new depth. It takes the viewer on an amazing story with an epic scale, buried deep in collapsed building after an earthquake.”

Each stand-alone episode tells the story of a different individual caught up in an earthquake, with their stories interweaving into a non-linear narrative. Whilst the series starts with Trapped Man and ends with Search and Rescue, the remaining ten episodes can be selected in any order, allowing audiences to create the narrative that suits them.

According to the BBC website, “This pioneering audio drama series is inspired by the remarkable digital revolution in humanitarian efforts. With the creation of mobile internet, the world has found a new digital nervous system which enables thousands of ordinary people to help save lives. In Quake, this is illustrated in the episodes ‘Crowd Sourcerer’, ‘Digital Jedis’ and ‘Game Changer’, where the humanitarian effort spreads beyond members of the local community to volunteers from across the world. Quake celebrates the anonymous philanthropy of the global digital community.”

Quake will be available as a complete box-set from 15 May 2017 and can be viewed on VR headsets, on the Radio 4 YouTube channel and on the Radio 4 website. The audio will also be available as a podcast.

“Quake is designed as something that can fit into whatever space you have available in the day, choosing episodes to suit, or listening to the whole thing as a podcast. It’s an exciting innovation in how we offer Radio 4 drama to both new and existing audiences.  The slow-paced visuals offer an extra dimension to each episode, but it’s always the audio drama that leads the way,” explained Rhian Roberts, Digital Editor at Radio 4.

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Alice Bonasio is a VR Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow @alicebonasio and @techtrends_tech on Twitter.