When you plant a portable movie studio offering a 3D Power Rangers training simulation game in the middle of a shopping centre, you have to be prepared for the unpredictable.
"We always wanted it to be a multi-player experience because it’s so much more fun,” says Dave Budge, executive creative director at Isobar Australia. His team linked up with distribution company Roadshow Films, with the help of production company AIRBAG, to create the game, in which players see themselves in a Power Rangers-style augmented-reality landscape where they have to physically battle ‘rock monsters’ and collect Ranger coins. The experience is being launched in three Australian shopping complexes as part of promotion for the new Power Rangers film, due for release on March 24—and has been something of an experiment, admits Budge.
“[We didn’t know] how it would work with people of different sizes, different abilities, people in wheelchairs; maybe the 10th person through [the game] had crutches. You can only calibrate so far in testing”.
When a giant popcorn mascot popped down from Melbourne Central’s shopping centre cinema to check out the new experience last weekend, therefore, one or two breaths were held. “Does it work for the giant popcorn man? It did—it worked, and it was the funniest thing ever,” says Budge.
Isobar had just four weeks to come up with an idea to boost awareness of the new film, aiming in particular to catch the attention of a young generation that may not know the original franchise. Using AR was a no-brainer, says Budge. “You watch Power Rangers and you instantly want to do Power Rangers-type moves.” Single-player games and VR-style games that have proliferated in this space over the last few years, he continues, are all very well, but they look “pretty boring to an outside audience” and therefore aren’t appropriate for a mass marketing campaign such as this.
As well as being multi-player, the Isobar team concluded, the game simply had to be good fun. “With anything experiential like this, it needs to look big and impressive and shiny and draw attention to it but it also needs to be a very fun thing. If you don't come out of this with a smile on your face then we’re not doing our jobs.”
Given that the Isobar Australia office is apparently full of Power Rangers fans who used to watch the show on television every afternoon after school, problem-shooting the game wasn’t exactly an unpopular job.
“Bug testing all this kind of stuff doesn't feel like work,” confirms Budge. “You get to have these ridiculous serious conversations where the outtakes of the meeting are that ‘the lasers should come out of the robot bird slightly faster...’ You’re like ‘How is this my job?!’”
The public, it seems, has been equally receptive to the game, with players posting videos of their training sessions on Instagram for the chance to win tickets to the film. “From the moment we turned it on we had people stopping, taking photos, staring, lining up and as it went into the weekend that grew and grew,” says Budge. “There's people having fun; it’s free; you want to do it too: it’s hard to go wrong as long as it is legitimately fun and does not break.”
Assuming the platform continues to be such a hit, Budge hopes that Isobar may work again with Roadshow Films to expand this project into other upcoming action films in Australia such as Justice League and Wonder Woman, and even Dunkirk. “Obviously in Dunkirk you’re probably not perhaps in the middle of a battle, but really what you're doing is just putting yourself in the middle of a film. So even if that film is a romantic comedy, the idea is that you could be in a scene, a funny scene from that film, and experience that moment.”
Pop-up AR studios could become the 2017 equivalent of sticking your head through the cardboard cutout of a film star for a photo, Budge says—the all-new version of ‘putting yourself in the film’. Watch this space. And prepare for Morphin' Time.
The Power Rangers AR experience will be in Macquarie Centre (NSW) from March 15 to 18, and Pacific Fair (QLD) from March 21 to 23.