Posts Tagged ‘immersive’

Spoilers: What is Omega Mart, really?

October 27th, 2021

In my previous post about Omega Mart I talked about it in general without any spoilers. 

Well now it’s time to dig in and discuss everything down to the last detail about Omega Mart with spoilers.

So if you want to avoid spoilers, STOP READING NOW.

 

Omega Mart

 

Yes, the above photo is of an actual sign inside Omega Mart. Seriously though: spoilers follow.

Getting in

As you enter Omega Mart, you’re handed a “Boop Card.” This is your employee badge of sorts. There’s no rush to become an employee and of course you’re not really signing up to work here.

I should point out that the real employees here have different roles. Some of them are actors, others are there to keep the place clean and safe. Regardless, guests need to follow their instructions.

What you see entering the store is a little under 1/4 of the total physical space you’ll go through on this adventure. To the left of the entrance is the bag check, and to the right is the checkout.

To be absolutely clear, Omega Mart is a real store in the sense that they have items you can buy. The only food items are things like snacks, cereal, and soda. Basically stuff that has a long shelf life. There are also gimmick boxes such as the mysterious “Done” and a can of something called “tattoo chicken.” The rest of the items for sale tend to be more gift shop items like t-shirts.

Oh and yes there’s also a typical gift shop. It’s located outside of Omega Mart though.

Back to the store. If you walk in and straight to the fridges in the back, on the left there’s the bathrooms, elevator, and stairs. To the right is the hall to the pharmacy, which is the location of the “hidden” bar called Datamosh. To be perfectly clear it’s entirely optional to visit Datamosh and has no impact on the story.

Datamosh is an upscale cocktail bar with prices to match. The theme from Omega Mart extends into the bar with drinks allegedly made from their products. One particularly alarming example is Old Fashioned Spray, a typical old fashioned cocktail dyed a shade of blue that makes it look like Windex. The worst part? The blue dye is sprayed out of a plastic bottle labeled “Old Fashioned Spray.”

There are a number of secret passages in the Omega Mart storefront, and all but one of them lead behind the store. There’s also an opening near the bathrooms where you can skip the secret passages to the back.

Before we get to what’s behind Omega Mart, let’s discuss your first mission.

Mission 1: Become an Omega Mart Employee

  • You simply need to “boop” your card with all the terminals in the store at the ends of the aisles and follow the directions on screen.
  • Two of the terminals on the back wall in the store show you your progress. The same information is displayed if you scan the QR code on your phone, or log into the Dramcorp website with the ID code on your card. Similar terminals exist throughout the installation.
  • Once you’ve learned about what the different colored cones are for, head upstairs to the employee breakroom to take a quiz on which colored cone goes with which spill.

And that’s it! You’re now an Omega Mart employee and more of the story unlocks.

Aside from the stairs, there are two other passages out of the employee breakroom. So let’s talk about what’s behind and above Omega Mart.

 

 

Secret passages: Dramcorp and The Forked Earth

On the first floor several portals to the left lead to a polluted desert town known as Seven Monolith Village, and the ones on the right lead to either Omega Mart’s factory or Dramcorp. Some also lead to the office of Seven Monolith’s gas station (“Alpha Service”) most notably the fridge door you probably saw people entering the second you walked into Omega Mart.

All of this back area is part of The Forked Earth. It’s sort of like a pocket dimension that you can enter or exit from via various secret passageways, or wormholes. Omega Mart built its factory there to take advantage of a well of an inter-dimensional life energy called the Source.

The Forked Earth was created when an alien race experimented with the Source in their dimension, and somehow accidentally fused them together.

Meanwhile former CEO Walter Dram has been adding the Source to all Omega Mart products because it increases customer satisfaction. It also has some unexpected side effects, especially on the Dram family themselves.

But before we get there, I should mention the next mission.

 

Omega Mart

 

Mission 2: Become a factory worker at Dramcorp

I forget if you have to do these in any specific order? Apologies in advance there.

  • There are two places you boop into outside the Dramcorp office on the second floor facing the factory. Both of these involve pushing a button or whatever, there’s not much to it.
  • The Source Door is downstairs behind a structure shaped like a beehive. You boop into this and then twist the on-screen knobs for a few seconds and you’re good to go.

In my opinion this mission is the least interesting one. It does two things though: it unlocks a mission and it gives you an excuse to explore the Factory.

While in the factory I encourage you to explore and experiment with the DJ pads upstairs. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover you have a new career in music? Probably not but it never hurts to try.

The Dram family

Still cool with the spoilers? Because I’m going to distill the crux of the story which takes an hour or two of reading letters, emails, etc.

So let’s get back to the Source and how it’s affected the Dram family.

Walter Dram founded Omega Mart and was CEO up until recently. He moved the Omega Mart factory into the Forked Earth to take advantage of the Source.

The new CEO is Walter’s daughter, Cecelia Dram who wants to push some kind of new age agenda based around leadership principles. She also wants you to believe that she’s supposed to be the new CEO and is pretty cagey about what happened to Walter.

Cecelia became pregnant with her now-teenage daughter Marin in a ceremony in The Forked Earth where she drank the Source with her uncle Charlie and his neighbor, an herbalist named Rose. Charlie’s an odd man who runs the local gas station, operates a paranormal tour, and makes a beverage called Mish Mash out of the mysterious glowing runoff from the Dramcorp factory.

Marin’s story is chronicled in her blog on her computer and is brought to life in this music video from the band Beach House:

 

 

Marin Dram (Marin is pronounced MAY-rin) has your typical teenage girl issues. On top of that she can’t leave The Forked Earth because she’s forever tied to the Source. Her mother rarely visits or communicates at all. She feels lucky to have a few friends her age in Seven Monolith Village.

The big Dramcorp spoiler

The big reveal is on several terminals in the Dramcorp office. This is easy to get to from upstairs but a plus one in my book if you figure out the secret passage from downstairs at Omega Mart.

So here it is: Cecelia introduces her father Walter to Marin for the first time. Marin is nearly an adult at this point. Walter reacts to the news that the Source is her father by suggesting that Marin could be the template for a new product. A furious Cecelia gets into an altercation with Walter where she accidentally pushes him into the Source Well. Marin jumps in to save him.

Since then Cecelia has been trying to rescue her daughter from the well through Dramcorp technology. However, she clearly isn’t making any sort of rescue efforts on her father.

Once you’ve learned all this you have a choice. 

Branching story paths

From here you have two options. You can help Cecelia locate Marin, or you can help Marin’s friends rebel against Omega Mart.

I should stop here and say I don’t think there’s anything stopping you from doing both on the same Omega Mart employee card. There’s no way I can say for certain because rebel activities don’t show up Dramcorp’s boop cards.

Let’s start with helping Cecelia. This is the less interesting of the two missions in my opinion, I’d skip it if you don’t have time.

Mission 3: Help Cecelia and Dramcorp

  • There’s a decryption program on Cecelia’s computer in the corporate office. Boop into the computer and save the program to your Dramdrive.
  • In Seven Monolith Village, boop into the computer at either Charlie or Rose’s hut. Run the decryption software and forward that mysterious email to Cecelia.
  • Return to the Dramcorp office and boop into any available computer. Run the leadership ascension program and wow, you’re on your way to becoming a VP or something!

Okay but really, did you want to help Cecelia? Why did you do that? At the end you get a notification that Cecelia will need your help again. Sigh… okay.

Let’s get to the mission you can and should do.

Mission 4: Side with the Rebels (Marin’s friends)

  • Visit either hut in the desert and when the hacker’s prompt appears, agree to join the rebels.
  • The three rebels have maps to where you need to boop your card in different parts of the building. Save these maps to your Dramdrive.
  • The most exciting part is the takeover of Omega Mart where the rebel’s message appears on the TV and speakers while employees “freeze” and the lighting changes. 

Once you’ve finished this storyline you will currently be asked for a name and email address for when the next part becomes available.

This is the most satisfying ending even though nothing is resolved. What I find interesting is that the same boop card allowed me to do both competing missions. Can I only finish one or the other in the future? 

Would I go back to complete the missions? I’m not sure I’d travel back to Las Vegas to finish it anytime soon… maybe if I got a really cheap flight.

 

 

In my previous post I recommended visiting Omega Mart. Since we’re going into details here I want to go into more depth.

Criticisms

Key parts of the narrative can only be accessed on one computer with your boop card. This often causes slow moving lines to form as people realize they need to access that computer. Like most people it makes me feel rushed in these situations when it’s my turn.

Although technically all of the story can be accessed from a wheelchair, some of the passageways are very narrow and short. The two huts in Seven Monolith Village have physical entryways that might be a challenge.

The slides… oh these are bad. They’re really fast and knock you around. Keep your chin tucked into your chest if you do ride them to avoid the worst of it.

The cost may turn some away, and I think that’s unfortunate. At the same time while I don’t have any insider info about the company, Meow Wolf is known for paying and crediting their artists, and providing a decent benefit package for their employees.

Praises

The physical space is really well thought out. For example, anytime there’s a piece of paper to read like someone’s mail or a pamphlet, there’s a reading light nearby. Might sound like a small thing but these design elements add up, letting you know when you’re on to something.

The employees were the right amount of helpful. As the story went on they became a little less helpful, unless they noticed a guest who was frustrated. I think this is a good balance. They’re not throwing you into the deep end nor are they coddling you all the way through.

None of this would work without the videos. The cast is good overall though I have to say Rachel de la Torre absolutely nails it as Cecelia Dram. Likewise the ads for Omega Mart have a dark sense of humor that set the tone perfectly. This extends to the entrance of Omega Mart where the somewhat disturbing Super Family Store video plays on a loop.

 

Omega Mart

 

My takeaways

Some critics call this sort of installation a “playground” which I think is fair in some ways… I mean there are slides after all. At the same time that can sound dismissive; since when did playgrounds have a lengthy story to follow and a sense of humor?

Meow Wolf went to great lengths to put this together: aside from the amazing physical space the story is told through videos, music, emails, physical mail, phone calls, lighting effects, etc. There’s so much to it I’m sure there’s a lot I missed over my three visits. I didn’t even get around to cracking the substitution cypher found in one room to be honest. Maybe I should have gone back one more time?

Despite the linear progression of the boop cards, the storytelling is entirely non-linear. The more time you spend exploring and reading the details you find, the more of the story you’ll uncover. 

Ultimately the question isn’t whether I like Omega Mart because I absolutely do. The true question is whether or not there’s a sustainable audience. I certainly hope so and I realize the current marketing push won’t last forever.

This is my first visit to a Meow Wolf installation. There are currently two others: The House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe and Convergence Station in Denver. I’m planning on visiting both at some point in the future.

I think if I had to recommend Omega Mart to a type of person, it’s the type who’s either creative or analytical enough to have immediately noticed that if you remove the first two letters of each word you’ve gone from Omega Mart to Mega Art. Because that’s what this is: one big art installation that’s up to you to figure out.

Review: Omega Mart (no spoilers)

October 18th, 2021

 

By now you’ve probably seen ads for something called “Omega Mart,” beckoning you to a specific address in Las Vegas.

If you’ve read this far, I bet you’ve already visited the Omega Mart website and learned it’s part of something called Dramcorp.

After visiting Omega Mart three times last week I thought I’d provide a review that doesn’t really spoil anything. (But don’t worry, I’m saving those for a post in the future.)

 

Omega Mart

 

What is Omega Mart?

Omega Mart is a new immersive experience from Meow Wolf, best known for The House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe.

This new story is framed by an allegedly normal American supermarket, Omega Mart. Just like your local Safeway, Kroger, or whatever the interior of Omega Mart has the same harsh lighting, the same metal shelves and price tags, and various sections like produce and dairy.

But just as the cheery jingle in some of their ads proclaim, “You have no idea what’s in store for you!”

Which is to say there’s a lot more to this exhibit than a supermarket. For one thing it’s a deeply weird supermarket. The products seem almost alien in nature. Oh and for some reason you’re invited to the employee training program.

And then there’s some sort of family drama going on behind the scenes. You need to explore and pay attention. At some point you need to make decisions about who you trust.

 

Omega Mart

 

Practical stuff

How do you get there? Taxis and ridesharing services are the best way to get to Area 15 and there are designated drop off and pick up zones. Limited parking is available on a first come basis. Unfortunately it’s not realistic to get there on public transit. Don’t consider walking there unless you’re staying on the same side of the freeway — it’s probably an okay walk from The Rio or Palace Station.

It’s strongly encouraged to buy tickets in advance. The center it’s located in is called Area 15, which may not let you in if you don’t have a ticket to Omega Mart or any of the other attractions in the building.

The entry requirements for Omega Mart forbid guns, knives, etc. and you will have to go through a metal detector and bag check on the way in. Larger bags have to be checked in for an additional fee.

Bathrooms, stairs, and the elevator are located to the left of the entrance. The staff will help guide you there if (or more likely when) you find yourself lost and need to pee.

With COVID-19 you must wear a mask at all times. Staff go around and disinfect spaces on a regular schedule so you may be asked to leave an area temporarily. 

Although all the key areas of the exhibit are available to wheelchair users there are plenty of physically challenging passages that I feel fortunate enough to still be able to do at my age. The most uncomfortable ones were the slides. These are not well made slides, they’re fast and knock you around. 

Also be aware that some areas have strobe lights, fog machines, and projection effects. There’s a lot that might give you a headache here if you’re not in the right frame of mind.

If you go to Omega Mart as a couple or small group (maybe four people max) you should stick together and use the same card. The card saves your progress in the story and you can access it anywhere on your phone by scanning the QR code on the front.

In theory the exhibit is all ages though I doubt the story would be relatable to anyone who’d never been a teenager. That said, most younger kids would probably lose interest by the time the more mature themes of the story appear. When I say mature themes I mean specifically: the story features elements of parental alienation, body image issues, and an implied “off camera” death. If you’re particularly sensitive to any of these issues at this time you may want to opt out.

There’s a bar located inside of Omega Mart. Where? You’ll have to find it on your own. For those who enjoy cocktails and don’t mind spending a little extra, I recommend ordering The Source.

Professional recording equipment is not allowed in Omega Mart but you’re encouraged to take photos and videos with your phone and share your experiences online.

I recommend booking tickets early in the day to beat the crowds if possible.

 

Omega Mart

 

My experience

For me these strange new immersive worlds are nothing new — they are the very reason I started this blog to begin with.

What sets Omega Mart apart for me was how well put together and contained it all is. The more I looked around and explored the more the story slowly unfolded itself. There were plenty of hidden clues I walked right past the first time — or a dozen times — before I realized there was something I could interact with. 

I went on three separate days during my time in Las Vegas though I could have finished all the stories in two if I’d pushed myself more. Personally I enjoyed spending my time there. By the end of my visit I kept finding myself eager to help out others who were confused or frustrated.

However there’s one very big caveat: as of October 2021 part of the story is unfinished. There’s a way to get notified when it becomes available. As a completionist type this bothers me more than it should. 

 

My recommendation: Omega Mart is an exemplary work of immersive storytelling within a large physical space. Although it’s not yet complete there’s already many hours of entertainment. Still, I understand some might want to wait until the last mission is built out.

What is SYGNYL?

February 3rd, 2021

 

Today is Groundhog’s Day, and aside from using a groundhog-based weather prediction to determine if we’ll get more winter or spring (spoiler: it’s more winter) we also have our first taste of SYGNYL, a new project from Nonchalance.

Taking a step back, Nonchalance is an ongoing immersive art project from Jeff Hull (also known as Bobby Peru) that was previously responsible for The Jejune Institute, The Latitude, as well as their associated semi-documentary films The Institute and In Bright Axiom, respectively.  Recently a fictional television series loosely based on The Jejune Institute called Dispatches from Elsewhere was released on AMC.

Back to the subject at hand SYGNYL is a podcast which you can find on nearly any podcast platform. Though the trailer (see the video above) and prologue were already available, the first episode was released today.

Of course it’s also more than a podcast, and without giving too much away there’s also a puzzle of sorts for you to solve to compliment the first episode.

Is it some sort of sequel to The Latitude? Some signs point to this including the vocabulary (Signal, Kith, Mantis, etc.) and the website has a similarly all-gray color palette. Oh and if you poke around enough you’ll find that a certain “villain” of the Latitude has also returned.

The relationship to The Latitude raises some questions, but after seeing In Bright Axiom, the aforementioned documentary about The Latitude, I think it’s safe to say there won’t be any secret society elements. As to whether any real life adventures are in store we’ll just have to wait and see. But obviously with the pandemic it would be a poor time to send people down slides and crawling through tiny rooms. It’s also unclear if this will be limited to the Bay Area.

This season of the podcast is named “A General Mystification Vol. 1” so they clearly intend to make more than one season of SYGNYL. Not that we even know how many episodes are in a season just yet.

To check out SYGNYL for yourself you can find links to the podcast here and the official website here.

Thought Experiments in F# Minor

October 30th, 2019
Thought Experiments in F# Major Thought Experiments in F# Major Thought Experiments in F# Major

 

The Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry is the home of Los Angeles Philharmonic, aka “LA Phil.”

In the early afternoon on non-concert days several tours are available. Thought Experiments in F# Minor from artist duo Cardiff and Miller is an immersive video narrative piece that leads the audience around the labyrinth-like building as a story unfolds.

Best of all it’s completely free.

After checking in at a desk just to the left of the entrance, you hand in a photo ID in exchange for an iPad and a pair of headphones. The experience starts at a specific bench in the lobby.

I don’t want to give too much away here but the video begins with an adorable cat in a cardboard box before synchronizing with the current location, and begging you to walk around with it.

A seemingly detached narrator guides you to walk from place to place with the video as you follow two characters played by the wildly talented actress Jena Malone around the building.

The story is difficult to describe, but suffice it to say it involves life, death, the space in between — and Schrodinger’s Cat.

In real life, security guards stationed at key points open doors that would otherwise be off limits to the general public during the tour hours.

At one moment in the narration the audience is instructed to look at their reflection in a mirrored wall — if you ignore this and watch the video instead, you see the camera operator as he mimics the action, revealing himself in the reflection. I thought that was a clever Easter Egg, perhaps a nod to the impossible mirror scene in the film Contact (also featuring Jena Malone when she was a little girl.)

What really sets Thought Experiments apart from any immersive experience I’ve ever done are the musical performances from LA Philharmonic featured throughout. I’m not even a big classical music fan but I found these to be a treat.

In the final segment I found myself almost dancing as I followed the camera choreography in an empty room as the video veers through a small orchestra performing in the same space.

 

My recommendation: This is an unforgettable experience — I can’t think of a single criticism, it’s the most unique and well put together piece of immersive content I’ve ever seen. Be aware it involves stairs and escalators, and it’s only recommended for those 10 years old or over due to the content. Wholeheartedly recommended.

Review: Southern Gothic from Windy City Playhouse

April 18th, 2019


Production photo; audience photography is not allowed
 

In Chicago I made a point to see Windy City Playhouse’s immersive theater play “Southern Gothic.”

It’s only my second experience seeing an immersive theater show, the first being Wonderland in San Francisco. This one is very different; the audience is expected to be a fly on the wall, sticking to the edges of the performance space.

The basic concept of immersive theater (or immersive experience) is still so new I’m not sure we have the right vocabulary to describe the different types of shows yet. The main commonality between them is there’s no clearly defined “proscenium,” or edge of the stage. Instead, audiences and actors share a common space.

Southern Gothic’s stage is custom built to reflect a suburban home in early 1960’s Georgia. The audience is instructed to stick to the walls, sitting only at benches along the perimeter with red cushions on them. Beverages can be purchased at a bar out on the home’s patio, though a couple small alcoholic beverages are served during the show and audiences are encouraged to pillage snacks served by actors off the tables.

Without going into spoilers the play concerns a house party among close white friends celebrating one of their birthdays. One of them is a shady politician, and another friend brings along a (gasp!) African American girlfriend.

It’s impossible to follow every story — and many unfold over the course of the evening — but you’re encouraged to pick one or more and dart from room to room to watch them play out.

The drama gets increasingly intense as the story continues. At one point while attempting to follow the action, I managed to slip on a particularly slick bench and spilled part of the drink I was holding at the time. I was about to alert a stagehand until I realized none of it landed on the floor — all of it wound up on my own face and shirt. Oops.

The clearances between the edge of the area where audiences are supposed to remain and the areas where the actors perform is a very thin one. For this reason the show is unfortunately inaccessible to wheelchair users.

Since there’s no way to see the entire story in one viewing it’s impossible for me to review the story itself, though I’ll say I enjoyed everything I was able to see — it was a full or nearly full house so there were moments where I didn’t have enough space to follow parts of the story I would have liked to follow up on.

What I can say for certain is the actors did an incredible job of performing while simultaneously ignoring and dodging the audience. Only in one moment did an actor accidentally look me in the eye, but they did not respond to my presence otherwise. The stagehands politely steered audience members out of the way of the actors on a few occasions where they might have crossed paths.

My only criticisms are mostly related to the stage itself. Mainly, I wish they’d gone for blocking it out based on the story rather than realism of the home. Certain story elements kept going back and forth between the kitchen and dining room but there was only one tiny passage for audience members between these two rooms which was shared by the actors. A second passage or perhaps a less realistic depiction of a home of the era with a wider passage would have served the story better.

There was one tiny anachronism that I doubt anyone else noticed; the telephone was plugged in via an RJ11 modular phone jack. This is an incredibly minor detail, but one that caught me off guard because the rest of the set looked so incredibly realistic. Every other detail like the appliances, stereo, wooden window frames (sans glass) and bathroom fixtures looked perfectly on point for the time period. I realize this is splitting hairs but it only stuck out at me because of the perfection of the other period details.

I don’t know if this is a popular opinion but I think traditional theater is a dying form of art. In film the camera can point wherever to highlight the action, whereas in traditional theater it’s fixed to the two dimensional plane in which audiences can move their eyes.

On the other hand with something like Southern Gothic the audience is free to move about the stage which affords them a form of agency to follow different stories during a single show. If I could I’d definitely see this play a second or even third time.
 

My recommendation: Southern Gothic is a solid play, though it also feels like a beta version of where theater could head to next. It’s not perfect but on a less cramped stage this could be the first in a new generation of great America immersive plays. It seems audiences agree as Southern Gothic already gained enough attention to be renewed.

Review: Wonderland from Epic Immersive

June 5th, 2018


 

This is the final month for an immersive theater show in San Francisco titled Wonderland. It’s a story based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. As the audience is sworn to secrecy and forbidden (wisely, I think) from taking photos, this will be a tight-lipped review. I’m not going to discuss details about the story or expose the secret location.

Let me start by stating that I’ve only been to one previous production that would qualify as “immersive theater,” so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But the basic rules on the ticketing website and the safety presentation before the show seemed pretty clear. Arrive sober, don’t attack the actors, and if you’re unclear or uncomfortable just say so — simple enough.

The audience went through in small groups, with the actors either drawing out or speeding up scenes to give everyone time to find their way through the dark “rabbit holes” of the space. This seemed to affect pacing in unexpected ways. My companion in our group later confessed she felt rushed at times and would have liked more time to explore.

I should point out here that this production is fairly linear. Unlike some immersive theater productions where you can stay in one spot the whole time if you wish, in Wonderland you’re ushered from one scene to the next.

The interactions between the actors and audience varied between scenes, as did the seriousness of the actors themselves. Some seemed content to chew scenery while others played their roles with more subtle humor. The only character played completely straight is Alice, which is sensible considering her story arch.

Aside from one unclear plot point near the end I found the story easy to follow and enjoyable. Perhaps the real standout star of the show is the venue itself. That said I’m biased as this particular place is one of my favorites in San Francisco — perhaps it will become one of yours as well.

Wonderland extends through the end of June 2018, you can purchase tickets here. If you go with someone else try to get tickets in the same “wave” so you won’t be split up.
 

My recommendation: If you’re the kind of person who reads this blog, I’d give it a qualified yes — as long as you meet the mobility requirements (some crawling is involved), have an interest in immersive theater, and can afford the ticket price it’s a fun and unique show. See it while you still have the chance!