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Embark on a Space Odyssey Inside Bridge Command

Owen Kingston, the artistic director of Parabolic Theatre, also assumes the role of the captain of the USC Havock, as indicated by the emblem on his jumpsuit. Placing his hand on a scanner triggers the entrance to slide open with a classic science-fiction swoosh, revealing the geometric features of a starship’s access corridor.

Further along, through another door that slides open with a swoosh, lies a shuttle pod designated for away missions or emergency evacuations. Adjacent to it are the med bay and cargo dock, which includes a brig marked by red lights. As we proceed towards the bridge, our guide highlights the bunks integrated into the corridor walls. These accommodations are intended for overnight or weekend sessions, Kingston explains. Additionally, an uncommon sight in typical sci-fi productions is a bathroom off this corridor, featuring a video porthole displaying the starry expanse outside. Kingston jests about the consideration of incorporating showers onboard, emphasizing the inevitable budget constraints in such ambitious endeavors. “It’s astonishing how swiftly three million pounds can be spent,” he remarks with a chuckle.

Setting Sail

Bridge Command

(Image credit: Bridge Command)

The Havock is one of the two spacecraft under construction at London’s Vauxhall station, where Parabolic Theatre will unveil Bridge Command to the public in late March. Kingston notes that this venture is unprecedented, even for Parabolic, a company known for its immersive productions since 2016. The ship’s design blurs the lines between a theatrical set, an escape room, and a video game accessory.

The convergence of these elements becomes apparent as we finally step onto the bridge. Upon entry, we are greeted by a team of crew members manning their respective stations, with a large viewscreen reminiscent of the USS Enterprise dominating the space. The starfield displayed on the screen is generated by the same engine that powers the entire ship: EmptyEpsilon. Originally developed by two Dutch software engineers as a starship bridge simulator game, EmptyEpsilon, now utilized by Parabolic in a heavily modified form for Bridge Command, is set to make its debut on Steam. Despite its dated 3D graphics engine and simplistic visuals, the functionality serves its purpose effectively, with various displays resembling technical interfaces rather than conventional game graphics. Kingston reassures that players are generally engrossed in the experience and overlook these technical limitations during gameplay.

The latest cover of Edge, which features Star Wars: Outlaws

(Image credit: Future PLC)

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Rather than focusing on graphical prowess, Parabolic has emphasized the seamless integration of software and hardware. While touch screens are available at each station, the most engaging interactions in Bridge Command involve physical manipulation. For instance, encountering space debris prompts players to navigate the ship towards it for potential rewards, triggering a beeping hatch on one side of the bridge. Behind it is a mechanism, explained by Kingston, that delivers surprises to players – a process that adds to the immersive experience. The incorporation of tangible actions, such as replacing fuel cells, contributes to the authenticity of the sci-fi setting. The gameplay involves resource management and teamwork, with players assuming different roles and collaborating to navigate through challenges.

In addition to scripted activities, Bridge Command allows room for improvisation and divergent problem-solving approaches. Kingston emphasizes the concept of ‘adaptive narrative,’ where player choices influence the unfolding story in a non-linear fashion. This departure from traditional linear storytelling in interactive experiences has been a challenging yet rewarding endeavor for Parabolic. By incorporating live actors and a dynamic narrative structure, Bridge Command aims to offer a personalized and memorable sci-fi adventure to each participant.

Beyond the Stars

Bridge Command

(Image credit: Bridge Command)

The gamemaster overseeing each session plays a pivotal role in orchestrating the narrative and introducing unexpected elements to enhance player engagement. Through Lua scripting and real-time interventions, the gamemaster can introduce new challenges, trigger events, and adapt the storyline based on player decisions. This dynamic approach ensures that each session is unique and tailored to the players’ actions, fostering a sense of agency and immersion.

Looking ahead, Kingston envisions expanding Bridge Command into a multiplayer experience with cooperative and competitive gameplay elements. Plans include interconnecting multiple ships for collaborative missions or even instigating a civil war storyline. The potential for players to explore different sets within the venue, such as a space station or research lab, further enriches the immersive experience. Despite the freedom of movement between these areas, Parabolic aims to maintain a sense of separation between the fantastical world of the game and the physical surroundings, preserving the illusion of space exploration within the confines of the theatrical setting.