Realm Pictures - Nocturne

👻 interactiveserver architecturenetworking

A live action interactive videogame experience. (Aka: Building a haunted house on a private island in London)

A Terrifyingly Fun Project

Realm Pictures are a creative studio, known for their innovative live action interactive experiences such as the Real Life First Person Shooter and Real Life Hitman. We were asked to get involved with the technical side of their latest project “NOCTURNE” set in the Alone In The Dark videogame universe.

The ritual room

The brief was to create a fully immersive survival videogame experience, set in an abandoned house. The night-time experience would then have games journalists and other creators (PewDiePie anyone?) being filmed in the dark via nightvision cameras secreted about the house, whilst props and other gear would be wirelessly controlled from a hidden control room.

We were tasked with designing and handling all the video capture, network comms, and wireless control of props and devices.

It was not only a technical challenge, but a logistical one too.

The house was on a private island on the river Thames with no road access, and we would have 10 days to set up and test the system, then 7 nights (9pm-6am) to film 28 sets of players experiencing the game. After that, we had 2 days to return the house to its original state.

Covering the site for broadcast quality video

We researched, designed and installed over 80 Ubiquiti cameras filming in 2.5k resolution, along with a 10Gig network infrastructure and network video recorders for on-site data storage. Since the house needed to be returned to its original state after the event, we had to be careful to not damage the building and couldn’t leave any permanent fixtures.

Floor plans with camera lens visualisation

We built portable network instructure boxes to house the video equipment - each contained a UPS, network switch, network video recorder and distribution panels. The cameras were then added to the network video recorders based on their proximity to each of these boxes, and the video streams were relayed to the control room where they were mixed live in OBS, with <50ms end-to-end latency.

Wiring distribution boxes

Additionally, we setup a point-to-point 5ghz wireless link over the river to the player staging area, where more cameras were installed to record the player briefings and their boat ride to the island.

The project generated over 5,000 hours of video footage.

The control room

Command and control

We built a custom command and control system for the devices, designed to be as robust and dependable as possible. It has to be easy to implement on tiny ESP32 microcontrollers built into props, and it needed to be able to communicate reliably over the wireless network.

The sytem’s components were designed as a set of independent services, which could all be run on a single device or distributed across multiple devices. This let us stub out the services and to test the system in the office before we arrived on site, allowing us to test against props that hadn’t actually been built yet!

A combination of node.js, MongoDB, USB MIDI, Vue.js and websockets were used to build the system, which allowed us to direct the entire house not only from the control room, but on the move via our phones as well.

Remote control of crawling dolls, moving Ouija boards, banging trunks and speaking doll heads were just some of the props under our full control.

The system architecture

Having Kris on the team meant that we could focus on the creative side of the project, knowing that the technical side was in safe hands.

When we needed to make changes to the system, Kris was able to quickly adapt and implement them - his experience with live events was a huge advantage for us.

- David Reynolds, Director Realm Pictures