Non-Player Character is an original musical theater piece performed live inside web-based virtual reality. The story follows a non-player character in a fictitious video game who witnesses the death of the hero character and turns to the audience for assistance processing the five stages of grief (represented as five virtual worlds).
The show was conceived and developed by Brendan Bradley through his own OnBoardXR seasonal showcase to support live performance in new technology, with individual song workshops in the Fall of 2021 at FIVARS Festival and in March 2022 at Mozilla Festival with Bradley’s performance supported by techincal direction from Michael Morran and music arrangment from Maurice Soque Jr.
In December 2021, Non-Player Character was invited to stage a
"Prototype Performance" at The Museum of Science’s Mugar Omni Theater in Boston. The show was performed as a 15-minute “loop” for eight consecutive audiences, with four audience participants per loop wearing virtual reality headsets while the experience was projected on the giant, domed IMAX screen. Bradley performed live in-headset and wearing a N95 mask to comply with COVID prototcols.
Workshop Cast Recording was released in September 2022 using a mix of recorded gameplay and studio recordings from Bradley and select participants. The first single, ‘Reprogram Me’ debuted on iTunes Top Soundtrack Charts and was critically celebrated by indepedent music and gaming blogs.
In November 2022, Non-Player Character was invited to perform at
The Rich Mix in London as part of The Open Online Theatre Festival. The show was performed an hour-long presentation in a black-box studio theatre setup, with four audience participants wearing virtual reality headsets while the experience was projected onto the back wall of the theatre for seated spectators, who intereacted verbally and via an
interactive webapp programme on their mobile devices.
In 2023, Non-Player Character began regular, weekly performances, classified as
Open Rehearsals, virtually appearing in XRLive’s Februry “Encore Exhibition” of VR Theatre and two in-person performances in St. Louis at
The United States Institute for Theatre Technology and
Non-Player Character utilizes web-based virtual reality, also known as “social VR” or “WebXR” built upon the open-source client, Mozilla Hubs. This allows (almost) any web-connected device to enter a 3D virtual environment as a multi-player experience with other attendees represented as 3D avatars.
During the Spring 2020 global shutdown, Brendan Bradley first explored the integration of live theater in social VR by releasing #FutureStages, a free 3D playhouse for any performing artists to use for free on the Mozilla Hubs platform. His original play, Jettison was rehearsed and performed inside The Future Stages, becoming a Finalist for The Producer Guild of America’s Innovation Award and inspiring the creation of a seasonal showcase for live performance prototypes in web-based virtual reality, now known as OnBoardXR.
To perform custom, theatrical moments in web-based virtual reality (like lighting changes or spawning props), the team is running their own custom cloud instance of a fork of the open-source Mozilla Hubs codebase, modified to support their own ‘cueing system’ that enables different features for different users. This allows the audience to experience a simplified, whitelabel user-interface while performers and stage management can access hidden features and triggers. This system was first developed for OnBoardXR before the discoveries and needs of a full-format show, like Non-Player Character, led to Michael Morran’s explorations of advanced features, like avatar manipulation and animation tables.
The team behind Non-Player Character prioritizes audience accessibility and interoperability in the pursuit of an immersive, emotionally resonate storytelling experience that is not limited to any specific platform or device. This does require the team to optimize the show for the weakest GPU standards, causing the design of Non-Player Character to rely on a low-poly, cartoonish design aesthetic to limit file size and materials. Non-Player Character sits at the bleeding edge of storytelling in a multi-user web-based system and gives optimism for a new entertainment medium where everyone has a story to tell and a role to play.