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A Polish game studio is reconstructing Chernobyl in virtual reality

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The Farm 51 is a Polish game studio that's mostly focused on over-the-top shooters like Necrovision and Painkiller: Hell & Damnation. But next year, it's releasing what promises to be a fairly unique project: a genuinely interactive virtual reality look at the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Unlike most VR video, which is effectively a single panoramic image, Chernobyl VR Project maps real images onto 3D shapes. The result — if everything actually works — will be photorealistic scenes that viewers can move through, documenting the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster and the nearby abandoned town of Pripyat.

The video above offers some insight into the project. The central idea is familiar: the studio is reproducing objects with 3D image scanning, something that photographers can do with something as simple as an iPad attachment. The Lytro Immerge VR camera system uses light field technology that's supposed to capture some amount of depth information, letting users move slightly in virtual video. On the more game-like side of the spectrum, developers have designed 3D environments that are supposed to feel like real places. But by blending the two, the team is working on something more like a total reconstruction of the area, using laser scanners, drones, and a spherical camera rig. It's an ambitious attempt to recreate a strange and singular corner of the world — one that any number of films, photo essays, and video games have tried to capture.

The studio says it qualified as a Chernobyl research team, allowing it access to areas that normal visitors wouldn't be able to see. The video also offers a great deal of familiar sights, like Pripyat's abandoned amusement park and the eerie detritus left during the city's evacuation (much of which has likely been posed for effect by tourists.) A few bits look more like general tech demos — it's unlikely anyone scanned a reactor full of jellyfish, for example, or that a woman fighting a ghost belongs in the tour. But the concept feels far closer to the goal of VR video than most actual VR videos: an experience that lets you actually interact with a place you'll never be.

Chernobyl VR Project was first revealed earlier this year, and it's supposed to premiere on April 26th — the 30th anniversary of the disaster — and support the Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR.