Playing the virtual reality video game Creed: Rise to Glory, you can do something that probably no one will ever be able to do again. You can have a fight inside the Blue Horizon, the legendary Philadelphia boxing venue that has been boarded up for years and that may be gutted to become a boutique hotel.
Inside an architecturally precise digital recreation of the Blue in its prime, you can stand in the boxing ring and turn your head to gaze around at the ornate medallions on the pale-blue balcony façade, at the glistening chandeliers, at the spectacular ceiling with its glass skylight panels and vaulted wooden ribs. You can see the Philly crowd cheering from the floor below and the upper deck, and then you can put up your dukes, move around the ring, and start punching an opponent.
You do all this while wearing a futuristic set of VR goggles attached to a PlayStation 4 or PC, and holding two plastic batons to control your boxing gloves. Players can compete in the game as — or against — characters from the epic Creed and Rocky films, including Adonis Creed, Rocky, Ivan Drago, and Clubber Lang.
The game, introduced last fall, separately captures the interior of Philly’s venerable Front Street Gym. The gym, which despite its name is on Clearfield Street in Kensington, was featured in both Creed movies. You can walk around the gym, whose walls are plastered with boxing posters, punch the bags, and do training exercises with Rocky himself holding the pads.
"It looks amazing. It looks like the actual Front Street Gym," says Orlando "Dallas " Perez, a former boxer who manages the Front Street Gym. The digital rendering of the Blue Horizon is truly jaw-dropping for those who have been inside. "It brought back memories from the 1980s," Perez says.
The result is an immersive architectural experience as well as a boxing one. In the fast-evolving world of video game technology, Creed: Rise to Glory may be obsolete in a few years, yet as a historical record, it may belong in a Philadelphia history archive. The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia in 2014 petitioned to have the boxing auditorium of the Blue added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, but the request wasn’t approved, and it’s likely to disappear forever. Recent reports have Marriott converting the long-empty North Broad Street building, a former Moose lodge that began hosting boxing in 1961, into a swanky hotel.
The game’s developer, Survios of Los Angeles, was able to capture these Philadelphia venues in vivid detail without doing any research on location.
“I actually didn’t get a chance to get there,” says Andrew Marquis, the environment artist at Survios. “I’d look at the Creed film and pause it, and when I couldn’t find good images in the film, I’d go to Google, go on YouTube. For the Blue Horizon, I found a video of these guys who do urban spelunking, where they go into old urban venues and explore. I was pausing it and looking at the ceiling details.”
After gathering visual references, Marquis says, “from there, I block out the space — it’s a gray box, basically — and test it in VR to make sure it feels not too big, not too small. Then I start to texture it, make a brick wall, a damaged concrete wall. Add posters. Then I start adding details like chairs, punching bags, the ring. The lighting comes last, usually.”
In the game, the arena isn’t called the Blue Horizon. It's been renamed Marquis Hall. "Yeah, I suggested that," says Marquis, laughing. "It was the first level I worked on."
Creed: Rise to Glory is immersive enough to be a pulse-pounding workout. You can’t physically feel the punches from your opponent, but the image of a semi-realistic Mr. T. and other muscled-up dudes throwing fists at your face gets the adrenalin pumping. For minutes at a time, you’re anxiously punching and dodging. Warnings for players wearing the VR goggles include making sure there are no pets in the area. The programmers at Survios took boxing classes. “I think it helped a lot with the process of making the game,” says Marquis.
When they finished making it, Survios brought Creed: Rise to Glory to the Front Street Gym to let Perez and the fighters there test it out.