Polish Game Developer Creates an Eerily Realistic Virtual Tour of Chornobyl
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Creates an Eerily Realistic
Virtual Tour of Chornobyl, Chornobyl, still from: www.youtube.com/watch?v=reIzoNE9WcE, still_chernobyl.jpg
In April 2016, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, a special app enabling a VR tour of the exclusion zone was released. The programme, developed by the Polish video game studio The Farm 51, features an extremely detailed, photorealistic representation of the nuclear disaster zone, along with interactive and educational elements.
A sinister-looking yellow bumper car with an eye painted on its side stares blankly. It must have belonged to an amusement park, except that there’s no amusement park, only rampant forest growth. It’s a sight that would make anyone run back to safety in real life – but virtual reality is not reality, not matter how closely it resembles it. Virtual visitors can keep on exploring one of the most dangerous places on earth in an absolutely risk-free manner. The stunning 3D graphics of Chernobyl VR Project are conceived with photogrammetric scanning, a technique which requires taking hundreds of photos of a single object, and then using them to reconstruct it in VR.
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The virtual tour is the brainchild of a Polish video game studio from Gliwice called The Farm 51. Chernobyl VR Project premiered at the end of April 2016, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the disaster. Everything presented is true-to-life; there is indeed an abandoned yellow bumper car in the exclusion zone that has lain untouched for nearly 30 years – one of the many haunting sights gamers can witness from the comfort of their homes.
Capturing a disaster which has lasted decades
The Chornobyl nuclear disaster was one of the worst catastrophes of its kind in world history. In 1986, one of the reactors at the nuclear power plant in Chornobyl, a town in northern Ukraine, exploded due to a poorly conducted safety test. The explosion killed 31 people, while 1,000 were heavily irradiated and more than 300,000 had to be relocated. A vast area overlapping the Belarusian border was contaminated. Today, the exclusion zone has a radius of 30km around the former power plant. Ukrainian and Belarusian law prohibits living there, but radiation levels are now low enough to allow short visits.
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Thanks to this allowance, The Farm 51, known for its video game Painkiller Hell & Damnation, was able to send a crew to the zone to obtain materials for Chernobyl VR Project. Moreover, the crew managed to be accredited as a research group, which gave them access to places that are normally off-limits, such as the reactor.
Equipped with high-tech devices such as a 360-degree camera and drones, they took countless photos and films of the zone so as to recreate them as faithfully as possible. The Polish firm came well-prepared: they already had experience with photogrammetric scanning because of their video game Get Even. The Gliwice-based studio had also been developing its special Reality 51 technology for some time, which enables extremely accurate reconstructions of reality thanks to 3D scanning and other parallel technologies.
The glimpses of the Chernobyl VR Project available online are stunningly life-like, but the programme offers more than showy graphics. Wojciech Pazdur, the creative director of the studio, explains that he envisioned the project as an interactive documentary film allowing viewers to focus on details which catch their eyes. It covers a number of unusual locations in Chornobyl and the ghost town of Pripyat – such as the aforementioned amusement park, an abandoned gym and some of the off-limits zones. These are supplemented with educational features about the history of the disaster. The app is compatible with stationary and mobile VR devices.
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Chernobyl VR Project even caught the attention of Vitali Klitschko, former boxer and current mayor of Kyiv, who declared that he would give the application his patronage. His father was amongst those who fought the spread of the catastrophe in Chornobyl.
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Written by Marek Kępa, Mar 2016