KFC Created a Wacky, Creepy Virtual-Reality Escape Game to Train New Cooks

The voice of Colonel Sanders talks players through making chicken

KFC and W+K Lodge created “The Hard Way.”

It’s a lot easier frying chicken in virtual reality—and a lot creepier too.

This week, KFC released “The Hard Way,” a VR video game that traps users in the secret lodge of Colonel Sanders until they can fry wings and thighs. The game is meant to be a training device for new cooks and to give them a better feel for the brand’s personality, according to Bob Das, U.S. head chef for KFC.

During the game, the voice of the Colonel directs players through the various steps of making KFC chicken. They are instructed to inspect each piece and other steps such as breading and frying. Powered by an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and controllers, users pick up, set down and move various objects. In the end, they put a piece of chicken in a robotic Colonel’s mouth, which opens the locked door.

The game was created by W+K Lodge, Wieden + Kennedy’s unit focused on emerging technologies including virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence. The room is also full of Easter eggs players only notice if they pay attention to the full 360 degrees of the experience. There is a chandelier with silver chicken wings. There’s a rubber chicken on a countertop that if thrown, activates a laser beam that fries it more than its edible counterparts. The Colonel’s shadow can be seen through the blinds of a window on the back wall as he keeps a watchful eye on the process. On the same wall is a chalkboard inscribed with quotes from the Colonel. (There are also a few monitors on the wall that let users watch themselves play the game.)

According to John Minori, experience design lead at W+K Lodge, the team wanted to create a game that was both hyper-real and illustrative. He said W+K Lodge developed an archetype for the Colonel that takes as much from Willy Wonka as it does from Westworld, landing on a character that’s a balance of “obsessive and borderline menacing.”

“We know he’s obsessive about the process,” Minori said. “That led us down the path of what if he locked you in a room and you couldn’t escape unless you did it his way, the hard way?”

The Colonel has been showing up in a lot of different places over the past couple of years, including his own comic book and romance novel, and taking on more of a wacky personality that’s less like a southern gentleman and more like a mad scientist. KFC even introduced an animatronic version of Harland Sanders that takes drive-thru orders.

“From the get-go, we knew we wanted to craft an archetype of the Colonel for this experience,” Minori said. “When he shows up as a character he’s this, and when he’s on the TV for this character, he’s that. And for this, we knew the room was going to be as much of a character as the Colonel, and so we had to identify how obsessive is this colonel.”

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