2 Spooky 4 Me
I was skeptical. I had heard incredible things about The Void, a custom ‘hyper reality’ experience that takes VR to the next level by incorporating real-life objects to interact with in-game. But would this temporary New York City version be just a cheesy-knockoff of the real facility in Utah? Just a lame marketing ploy to get people excited for the Ghostbusters reboot? The short-answer: Absolutely not.
I’ll start by saying how impressive this exhibit was. Located at the infamous Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, the Ghostbusters-themed hall was incredible. Characters in paintings moved slightly as you walked through decrepit halls of a long-abandoned mansion. Wires spark and green ooze drips from walls in a dark alley. An angry spirit attempts to break through the glass of a subway door. The attractions go on. That is until you reach the final portion of the exhibit. This is where the real magic happens. This is where you enter The Void.
Video games just won’t cut it after this
After a brief wait in line, I was guided into a room that I can only describe as a place where they suit up space marines for intergalactic combat. Our helmet and body-suit hung from special hangers that had to be used to mount our gear. The helmet was extremely light-weight and the body-suits included a custom-made computer mounted as a backpack that only weighed a surprising 3.3 lbs. The weapons we used had to be the most visually impressive aspect. Each rifle glowed blue with a futuristic pattern that wrapped around the body of the weapons.
After being properly calibrated I was asked to join my two other teammates standing within a blue square painted on the floor. At this point they turned our headsets on and I was immediately catapulted into a brand new room reminiscent of the hotel from The Shining. The feeling was honestly surreal as I turned to see my fellow teammates standing beside me, each dressed as a member of the Ghostbusters. High-fiving someone in VR and actually feeling their hand against yours is indescribable. I was then instructed by staff to exit the room using the door to my left. I waited a moment for the door to automatically open until I realized it was up to me to progress to the next area. I reached my hand out towards the virtual door and just as I felt as though I may ghost right through it, I felt an actual doorknob right where the virtual one was. As I opened the real door, the virtual version followed suit and it was game on.
We traversed several rooms during the experience, each highlighting the different possibilities of this awesome new technology. The first room had us crouching and leaning in closely to objects, only to have a ghost appear from one of the sinks. I walked in front of the virtual spectre and as it passed through me, my suit began to vibrate with the kind of force only a spiritual entity could produce. It was a genuinely unsettling feeling. After that we were guided into a small elevator. The space was fairly cramped, so some virtual reality etiquette had to be put in place immediately. It’s not too difficult however, as holding the elevator door for someone is much more fun in VR. As the doors shut the floor began to shake simulating our ascent to a higher level.
Once we were let out we immediately began traversing a scaffolding that dangled at least 50 stories above the ground. As we moved, the floor to the scaffolding began to shake violently, causing me to reach out and lean against the bannister in genuine fear. That didn’t really help though, as I was now looking straight down at the tiny figures on the street and developing a bad case of vertigo. I thought the worst was behind us until flying creatures began circling me and my crew. We each began firing our proton-packs, igniting the sky with beautiful streams of electricity and light. Though the experience has its graphical limitations, the visuals were still impressive all-the-same. Overall they probably equated to the graphics of an average Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 title. The weapons were surprisingly accurate as we fired at the monsters, exploding them into balls of ash as we disembarked off the rickety scaffolding.
After several more rooms of ghouls we began the end-game. I won’t spoil anything for anyone, but let’s just say you need to take down a VERY familiar foe utilizing a technique that is NOT recommended in the Ghostbusters training manual. If you’re a fan i’m willing to bet you can put two and two together.
This was genuinely the most exciting piece of interactive technology i’ve used in the last couple of years. The technology of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are incredible, but the ability to traverse a physical space, receive haptic feedback from NPC’s and interact with a physical environment is just too mind-blowing to compete with. There are still some slight bugs that need to be addressed such as the latency of the virtual gun, the placement of virtual objects compared to their real-world counterparts and a better system for communicating with your team, but again this was just a beta run. The fully released experience will be much tighter. Overall my expectations were exceeded. What’s truly exciting however is what this could mean for potential for crossovers with other entertainment properties.
I spoke briefly with VOID founder & CEO Ken Bretschneider: “So I can’t name who they are, but we’re talking to many studios and looking at lots of different points on content. Not just film, but hit television shows, graphic novels, videogames and even original content. We’re also going after unique industries like haunted experiences and puzzle worlds.”
The Void’s Ghostbusters Experience is currently open at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Times Square NYC. You can get tickets over at ghostbusters.madametussauds.com now. The experience will be available in NYC for next 6 months before continuing its tour. If you’re local I genuinely can’t recommend this enough. I honestly don’t think regular video games will cut it anymore. Now if you’ll excuse me, i’m going to go read Ready Player One and prep myself for our inevitable VR future.