Interactive theater is all about breaking the fourth wall, removing the barrier between the viewer and the play at hand. Traditionally this is done by getting the audience involved, usually in the guise of a dinner murder mystery party which oftentimes harks back to classics like the board game Clue (aka Cluedo) and literally anything by Agatha Christie. Tequila Works‘ upcoming VR experience, The Invisible Hours, doesn’t remove this barrier as such, but rather mobilizes it, letting you observe unnoticed as every aspect of the period piece unfolds before you.

To accomplish this, The Invisible Hours gives you the power to control time. With a game clock on your left hand and locomotion controls on you right, it effectively lets you explore every thread in the story in room-scale and follow all of the seven suspects across the experience’s remote mansion, located on an island where you try to figure out who killed world-renowned engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla.

Maybe it was the tortured and endlessly womanizing Thomas Edison? Maybe it was the oil magnate’s son who has a death wish? The French actress who lies for a living? Everyone has their secrets, and everyone has dirt on someone, so there’s no telling until the very end.

A quick note: The Invisible Hours will support Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, and includes support for respective motion controllers. If you’re not into teleportation and snap-turn ‘VR comfort mode’ controls, this may not be for you.

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Getting a chance to play the first chapter (of four in total), my initial instinct was to let the story play out like a film; no stopping time and only following the main beats. It wasn’t long until a rough Cockney character slunk into the murder scene that I felt the indelible pull the power of time control now had over me. I had to retrace his steps to see what he was up to before all of this. I had to set back the clock.

image courtesy Tequila Works

Only a few minutes into the mystery, I rewound (shown in Benny Hill-esque real-time) to the point before you’re dropped into existence beside the first character to whom you’re introduced, the Swedish detective Gustav Gustav. This time, instead of restarting at the docks with Gustav, I followed the suspicious Cockney character to a side room to find him speaking to someone who wasn’t there. Was he praying? Was he insane? I couldn’t tell.

I sniffed around the entire house for clues, read every diary, listened to every bit of dialogue, and replayed the chapter over and over piecemeal until I had a full picture of what was transpiring—not only out of duty to cover this for the purpose of a written preview, but because I was honestly engaging with the story. That said, it took me an hour and a half to play through the first chapter, which would take you a real-time 15 minutes once through, an impossible task with just how interesting each character appears.

image courtesy Tequila Works

Although characters are safely on the near-side of the Uncanny Valley, they’re still imbued with humanity thanks to excellent voice acting and natural posturing. Speaking with Tequila Works’ CEO Raúl Rubio, he told me that script writing and motion capture made up a big portion of The Invisible Hours’ development time, which in his words “is not a game, or a movie, it’s immersive theater.”

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Rubio told me that although requiring a lengthy 2-year development period, the studio is interested in producing more immersive theater experiences in the same vein, possibly covering more genres like sci-fi now that they’ve created a viable mold. When asked if 7 characters was the limit for a production like this, Rubio told me that adding, say, double the characters didn’t really double the work to be done, but rather made it an exponential task.

image courtesy Tequila Works

There’s also a question of how space is used. In The Invisible Hours, the story is constricted to a small island with a single mansion. While the house is fairly large (larger than you might think), it’s intentionally designed to allow for a good mix of friction between characters as to drive the story forward. Rubio told me it’ll be some time until we see immersive theater pieces covering larger areas, say the size of a city, and that ultimately it isn’t really possible in the short-term while maintaining the same production value.

The Invisible Hours is launching October 10th, so check back then for our full review.

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  • Ian Shook

    Sounds really neat. Thanks for the write-up.

  • Gonzalo Novoa

    No full locomotion then? Too bad, I was really interested but I hate teleporting and snap turning, I can’t believe devs don’t add full locomotion in every game for those of us, many, who don’t get sick.

    • johngrimoldy

      Agree with the frustration of no full locomotion. However, it’s possible the game may still be engaging enough to overcome that significant shortcoming.

    • Veraxus

      Ditto. People seem to develop “VR legs” pretty quickly once they get headsets. There will be more and more people who find that they don’t get sick any more when faced with real locomotion. It’s already happening. If you develop VR games, you really do need to support all the locomotion options.

      • Gonzalo Novoa

        Exactly, I understand the need for teleporting right now for people who get sick but excluding a type of control for those who don’t get motion sickness (which is a lot of people and more and more every day with all of those who just got used to VR after hours of playing) is in my opinion a terrible idea. I, for one, have no intention of buying a game that doesn’t support full locomotion, with certain exceptions that don’t need it. I think every game should state the type of control it supports: full locomotion, snap turning, teleporting without people having to go on line to find out about it.
        There are three things I hate in VR right now:
        1- no full locomotion in games (takes away all the immersion)
        2- disembodied arms (not as terrible as point 1 but also immersion-breaking)
        3- the absence of a headset that fits my glasses perfectly without touching the lenses.

        A wider pov is my dream right now but I’d be happy if points 1-3 were no more.

      • Yep, took me a short time to get used to Dirt Rally. First I could only go 5 minutes, then 30, and by the second day I was only taking the HMD off for a short break after I rolled it.

        Farpoint also threw me a little. Same strategy here as well, short stints until I got used to it. Too many people get sick once and then carry on about it as if it’s the permanent condition.

        Full locomotion with head turning, and the ability to point a gun anywhere in the virtual space beats keyboard and mouse in my humble opinion.

        All VR games should have options. The Solus Project in PSVR is a good example. I tend to use both depending on what I’m doing. Teleport works great for rock hopping across bodies of water, not so good with locomotion and jumping. Why does it always snow after I’ve gone for a swim? Kills me every time.

    • Ghosty

      It usually gets added in after once enough people call for it so be patient because I’ve seen it time and again, it added in later! They probably just started with teleport because when these games started development it was the go to way but games like Onward has proven that full locomotion can be done and not make people sick! I would bet this game will be no exception!

  • Miganarchine Migandi

    This looks cool!

  • Andrew Jakobs

    Look interesting, except for the teleporting stuff, they should really also add walking mode.

  • I love the time manipulation mechanic! It’s also seen in the game/interactive story Quanero on Steam, and I have been eagerly awaiting another one like it! Can’t wait to try this one.