An Army officer who helped create the immersive, role-player-packed exercises that train special operations soldiers will unveil a different sort of simulation in May in Queens — one where paying customers will navigate the apocalypse.
"RED" takes 15 guests through a 75-minute adventure in a 4,000-square-foot office building, with 10 actors and a series of special effects, plus challenges designed to test problem-solving and team-building skills.
"It's a completely different type of entertainment," said Daniel Gomez, now a major in the Army Reserve after an active-duty career that included stops in Iraq and Sri Lanka. "Nowhere else do your decisions matter. You watch a movie, you sit down and you watch a movie — hate it or love it. Here, you get to be a part of your entertainment."
The show begins with participants dealing with the aftermath of the worldwide "Night of Fire," which did the amount of damage to society that its name implies. Supplies are limited, civilization is in a tailspin … and the group of guests has to figure out how to survive:
Gomez, a self-described video-game super-fan, began piecing together the concept while working on simulations that serve as the culmination exercise for civil affairs soldiers at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. His goal — take the realism and self-guided story line from the center's program and use it as a base layer for an entertainment production.
"There's role-players, there's backstory, there's sets, there's special effects, everything," Gomez said, describing the Fort Bragg simulation. "And it's not meant to be a movie, but that's what it is. A big, giant game. It's the only place in the world that trains this way."
His First Person Xperience venture, the company presenting "RED," is also unique, he said, though the product shares portions of its formula with escape rooms, interactive theater, live-action role-playing games and online gaming communities.
The latter group is one target of the officer's marketing plan — participants will be able to access online extras after they complete the experience, earning additional content and rewards for making the right decisions. Gomez said he hopes such add-ons will increase both word-of-mouth advertising and replayability.
He's also hoping to lure businesses who may use the 15-person experience as a team-building exercise. It's part of a financial strategy that he's learned on the go, along with how to communicate effectively in the private business sector.
"I've gone to a million seminars on entrepreneurship, marketing, development, management and everything like that, but it comes down to trial and error," he said. "I ran special operations across three continents. That was fun, and I thought that was easy. I'll tell you what's not easy — getting someone to return your phone call."
One advantage: His wife and partner in the venture, Johanna Gomez, who he said brings her doctorate in counseling to bear in helping develop the production.
He's spent much of his time training actors, who will play off of participant's moves instead of reading from scripts or even engaging in traditional improvisation. Gomez compared it to training the role-players brought in for the Fort Bragg-based exercises.
"They have a script, somewhat, but what they really have are characters," he said. "You're an Iraqi transplanted here, you're upset about this, these are your motivations, this is your family, go. … That's completely different than any scripted performance."
So far, his civilian actors are "loving it," he said. "They have to be quick on their feet. And they can't just give BS answers, because that just takes you out of the game."