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  • Writer's pictureImmersive Rumours

First Look: Bridge Command (Immersive Starship Experience)

Prior to its opening later this month, Immersive Rumours get a hands-on demonstration of Bridge Command - the ambitious new immersive experience from Parabolic Theatre that will allow guests to command a spaceship and venture into the expanses of space.


Tom Black from the cast of Parabolic Theatre on the set of Bridge Command

Photo: Alex Brenner


Bridge Command, an immersive starship simulator experience, is set to take off later this month in Vauxhall. Earlier this week, Immersive Rumours were invited to attend a sneak preview of the experience led by Owen Kingston, Artistic Director of Parabolic Theatre, at the show's venue on Albert Embankment.


Bridge Command's history dates back to 2019 when Parabolic launched a previous version of the show at COLAB Factory in Borough. Despite the small scale and limited budget, that initial iteration caught the attention of investors who saw potential in its concept and wanted to enable the creation of this reworked, supersized version of the experience.


And what an upgrade it is - with two different starships on-site nestled beneath railway arches a stone's throw from Vauxhall station, the size of these sets far exceeds expectations. There's futuristic bunk beds, a sick bay, captain's quarters, fully functional toilets that have a view looking out into the expanse of space, as well as smaller ancillary ships that can just about squeeze in all the crew members (which will range from four to fourteen per session) in case of emergency.


As part of our visit we had a hands-on demo with the command bridge of the USC Havock. There's multiple touchscreen consoles for each crew member, whether they're working on Navigation, Damage Control, Power Management or any other of the nine Officer roles available. Every mission requires a healthy dose of team co-ordination, with a constant relaying of information from one role to another needed in order to keep both the ship and the galaxy under control. Despite some initial chaos as everyone got their bearings, people settled into their individual roles quickly thanks to assistance from the cast who were on hand to explain the different interfaces and how they interact.


Bridge Command set Parabolic Theatre

Photo: Alex Brenner


Elsewhere on the ship, things weren't going quite so smoothly. Our fuel cells had nearly depleted, and a sudden loss of power ship-wide meant that new ones needed to be dispatched from a neighbouring allied ship via the Comms Officer, who had to quickly broker a deal that would keep us operational. With freshly charged fuel cells now in hand, we found ourselves running down the hallways of the USC Havock as fast as we could to restore the ships functions. We were told about several other scenarios in which crew members would need to leave their posts in order to keep the ship working as required - adding more pressure to what is already an intense experience.


In the event that a group find themselves in an unbeatable situation, or the ship falls into complete disrepair, there is of course one last resort - the self-destruct. Never ones to turn down an opportunity, our group were more than happy to see all our previous hard work go up in flames at the mere mention of being able to detonate a bomb on-board the ship. Once armed, we had just 60 seconds to evacuate the ship and ensure our safety in the escape pod.


Christopher Styles from Parabolic Theatre Bridge Command

Photo: Alex Brenner


One of the unique selling points of Bridge Command is the agency that audience members have over what unfolds. Their decisions - both good and bad - have lasting impacts on the narrative, with the show designed to respond and bend around players' decisions however left-field they may be (as long as they’re in keeping with the world Parabolic have created). 

It's all about shifting that thinking from, "We are going to tell you a story, which is going to be fixed and will always happen the same way every time." It's changing from that to being, "We are going to tell a story together, and we're going to take what your decisions are. We're going to make them meaningful by bending the world of the show around it."

Owen Kingston on designing Bridge Command to give audiences agency


This is an idea that they've explored and pioneered in the past as a company, most notably with Crisis? What Crisis? and For King and Country. If this isn't impressive enough on its own, Bridge Command also allows these decisions to carry over to repeat visits, meaning your past choices will impact your experience if you visit again.


The behind-the-scenes infrastructure that facilitates this has also been upgraded this time. What used to just be a huge spreadsheet is now a cloud-based system built in Notion that according to Tom Black, Artistic Associate at Parabolic Theatre, will "save all the things that you did on that mission, not just to the crew, but also to you".


It works to such a degree that if two guests have visited before as part of separate missions, their individual decisions will merge and impact their crews storyline when they play together. The hope is that this level of individual personalisation will ensure people come back again and again, picking up right where they left off.


The 2019 version of the show deployed a rudimentary version of this, which worked to great effect according to Owen Kingston. Around 50% of first time visitors would return again, with "nearly all of them who did come back, came for every single episode that we made. That's when we realised, "Oh, there's a business model here which works in theory""


Bridge Command set from Parabolic Theatre

Photo: Alex Brenner

We've had thousands of hours of being able to test being able to pivot the story around audience decisions, so we've gotten good at it. But I think that makes it difficult to imitate this as well because there are so many pitfalls, and it's only really through doing it that you learn how to avoid those.

Owen Kingston on Parabolic Theatres experience at adapting to audience decisions on the fly


All this narrative flexibility is all well and good, but what exactly can we expect from the story of Bridge Command? According to Kingston, they're "trying to deliver on the promise of shows like Star Trek, where it's not just about flying around and 'pew-pew, we're going to blow up a load of bad guys'. You are a representative of an Earth government, and you're there to try and be responsible".


Acting on behalf of UCTCN - a new political union combining the governments of both Earth and Mars, tension and in-fighting between different groups plays a big part in the show.


"We've got five or six different factions in the Adamas Belt - people who live on an old ark ship with forests and fields built into the ship so they can grow food, there's a bunch of space criminals who run a gambling operation out of an old space station. There's pirates who literally just go out and steal people's shit. There's a variety of different factions who all know each other. The UCTCN becomes a kind of a police, trying to make everybody work together for the good of humanity."


Bridge Command set Parabolic Theatre

Photo: Alex Brenner


While there are plans for regular updates to the overarching story of Bridge Command in the future, it appears the teams current focus is on perfecting an experience that both satisfies guests desire to do something unique, and feel connected to those around them while doing so.

I've been to immersive shows where by the end I've hugged people, and I then realise after I've hugged them that I didn't know them until two hours before. I'd love for that to start happening because when you were playing, because of how much you have to work together if you're going to thrive, it really bonds you together.

Tom Black on the kind of connections they hope to see come out of Bridge Command


Zoe Flint (L) and Tom Black (R) from the cast of Parabolic Theatre on the set of Bridge Command

Photo: Alex Brenner


Upon launch, there are two main mission types on offer - Military and Exploration. Both involve starship combat, but the Military Missions focus more on ship-to-ship confrontation whereas the Exploration Missions allow players to delve into the mysteries of space. The custom built set is fully integrated with

bridge simulation software, meaning that whatever takes place in the simulation, from an enemy attack

to a ship malfunction, will directly impact the physical set causing systems to break and sparks to fly.

This is a truly unique project that has been years in the making. It is a remarkable blend of immersive performance, interactive storytelling and gaming technology, and there really is nothing else out there quite like it. We are extremely excited to finally share it with the world.

Owen Kingston on Bridge Command


 

Bridge Command begins previews on 27th March in Vauxhall.

Tickets can be booked via bridgecommand.space with prices starting at £40.00.

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