L.A. 2097 is VR experience loosely based on the tech-noir classic film Blade Runner (1982), and although offering only a single re-imagined scene from the film—Rick Deckard’s high-rise apartment balcony—the demo holds a surprisingly tight grip on the imagination. We spoke with project creator E’van Johnston to learn more about his atmospheric sci-fi balcony and where it’s headed next.
E’van Johnston (aka ‘Deepfield‘) is a New Zealand-based developer at mobile games studio PikPok. L.A. 2097 is a personal hobby project that Johnston says has seen sporadic development since he started it in 2015.
What made you want to start developing L.A. 2097?
I bought a second hand DK2 and tried a few demos and the like, but found I easily felt sick from the motion-based experiences. I guess that experience was the catalyst for my own project. The scene in Blade Runner, particularly the emotional aspect of the scene where Deckard is watching the city from his balcony, whisky in hand, was the main inspiration.
The balcony feels to me as if its situated in a rather humdrum, pedestrian corner of the vast, towering metropolis. Melancholy and nostalgia mingle. And so I set out to capture those feelings and a project them onto and into the viewer. I also didn’t want to create a facsimile of the apartment or the balcony [because] I didn’t want to become a slave to the details. I can be more creative and expressive this way I think.
So is L.A. 2097 the first VR experience you’ve developed?
It is indeed. And It’s been a journey of discovery to be sure. I started simple: simple shapes, volumes, no textures, boxes for vehicles etc. And I was pretty impressed with how when you were presented with such a visually simple scene—with the right sense of scale, the right audio cues—you can still express a place so vividly in VR.
So I think that became one of the foundation ideas for my project. One I’m constantly holding my progress up to. It’s tempting to start throwing textures all over the show. But I set out with the idea of keeping details implicit. Leaving the viewer room to fill in the spaces with their imagination.
The level of detail is incredible. Why focus so much attention on just one scene?
Thank you. I’m focusing on this one scene, I think, because I started out with the intention of not having the viewer move from the balcony. Or at least hoping the viewer feels comfortable enough that they would like to stay a while and relax, maybe slip into some of those feelings I talked about earlier.
Here I might mention Hitchcock’s Rear Window which is shot entirely in one room looking onto and into surrounding apartments and courtyard—watching things unfold.
Blade Runner fans (me included) can’t wait to see where this goes next. Any future plans for a larger experience?
I’m in the same boat as you. I don’t really know where this is going to go or when it might be considered complete. I expect it may never be complete and I’ll be building away at it in between real work, for some decades. As for specifics though, I would like to bring some of the adjacent buildings to life a little. Perhaps have small silhouettes of people periodically passing through the rooms, I imagine they are perhaps busy restaurant kitchens cooking for the remaining building residents.
More variation in vehicles; introduction of transports, single occupant. More animated vehicles; spinning down from the rain and landing out of sight. More Animated signage and neon…
You can keep tabs on continued progress to L.A. 2097 by following E’van Johnston’s Facebook page.