Like most people keeping an eye on virtual reality, I watched the sizzler video released by The Void and thought a few things in succession. Number one: That would be badass. Number two: Who the hell are these guys? And finally: I wonder if they’ve actually built any of this.
Last week, all of my questions were answered. By pure luck. I happened to be in Utah for a wedding, so as soon as my Wife and I had our first break in the in-law action, we darted out to The Void R&D facility in Lindon, Utah. We were greeted by Ken Bretschneider, founder and CEO of The Void, who walked us back into a conference room full of prototypes and models. He went through each of them in detail, giving us a taste of what’s to come.
Mixed Reality Gaming Pods
The first thing he showed us was a model of their first gaming pod. The foam halls and walls you see in the video. They will be modular, able to correspond to any virtual world designed around them. Up to ten people at a time will step into a virtual reality experience together in a gaming pod. Ken and his team developed a proprietary way of doing that, which you can see in the design. He asked me not to spill the secret sauce, but one thing I can share is their solve for occlusion, which comes in the form of high frequency radio tracking. He said it will allow them to track movement in any plane, no matter where you are in relation to the environment or other people.
180 Degree HMD
Ken picked up a helmet prototype that looked a lot like RoboCop. The Void is developing its own proprietary headset, the Rapture HMD, which will house 360 audio and a multiplex lens system to take the full rotation of your eyes in their area of highest resolution, and taper off into your periphery where you don’t pick up as much detail. Ken said they’ll provide a full 180 degree field of view, expanding the vertical plane over what you see in most headsets as well.
Full Body Tracking and Haptics
We moved on to a mannequin sitting in the corner in a black ensemble. This was a prototype for the Rapture Vest system, which covers the torso and shoulders, and loops around the upper thighs like a climbing harness. Fingerless gloves allow for tactile interaction with the environment. Ankle bands provide full body motion tracking. In addition to motion sensors, Ken explained that the real vests will have haptics wired into the lining, and will be “cooler looking.”
By this point, both of Ken’s partners had joined us. Curtis Hickman is the Chief Creative Officer at The Void and James Jensen is the Chief Technology Officer. They were both visibly excited to show off their toys and James chimed in. “We get the haptics this week, so we can simulate walking through grass, or spiders jumping on your legs. We can simulate rain on your shoulders. Being shot. We’re doing this portal effect to get into all of our dimensions. In the future, you’ll start in this ether area where we’ll train you. You’ll walk through the portal and feel the energy come in through the front and leave through the back of the vest.” He looked back and forth at both of us excitedly, before finishing with “You guys ready to do this?”
My wife went first, so I got the chance to sit down with Curtis in the lobby. I nodded to a massive sign. It was the company logo cut out of metal with motion graphics playing through the negative space in The Void logo. He said, “I was just going to use an HD screen, but Ken insisted on 4K. He wanted people to be able to put their noses up to it.” I made a comment about sparing no expense and Curtis laughed “It’s like Jurassic Park in here.” I learned that Hickman’s background is in illusion design. He helped guys like Criss Angel bring their magic to life, and is still a magician himself. He said that was what drew him to working with Ken on The Void, and their original virtual theme park, Evermore. They even made a movie together called Unicorn City. But running the creative department at The Void is his dream job. At one point he told me very sincerely, “All I want to do is make magic.”
We heard a lot of screams and laughter coming from the warehouse until the door finally opened and my flabbergasted wife walked out, followed by a small troop of Voiders. She’s very reactive, and they were all very amused.
I was pretty pumped for my turn, and just nodded excitedly as James walked me through the setup process like a dog waiting for a treat. The first experience was an untextured environment called Dimension One. I walked through each room, touching everything I could. Since their suits hadn’t come in yet, my body parts were all missing, so there was still a bit of uncanny valley syndrome. But when I stepped “outside” onto a ledge, I almost crapped my pants when I looked down and the ground 400 feet below. I took a couple steps back and the ground shook below me. It was an open-platform elevator that started lifting me up. It felt so real, as the vibrations below and air moving convince me I was being lifted to the upper floor of a building. I’ve been asked to keep the rest of this experience off the record, but it was pretty fantastic.
When I got back to the staging area, they manually changed programs and handed me a gun. I had to calibrate the experience by lining up a set of crosshairs, and then I was off. They had made a point to tell me the first experience was strictly exploratory, which I knew meant this one wasn’t. As I crept down a hallway through an open door, I saw a huge spider hiding above the door on the other side. I shot it. The gun was super accurate. I continued fighting spiders until I made my was out onto another outdoor deck. No rumbling this time. Then it was on. My world turned into a flying saucer shooting range. I was firing lasers out into the atmosphere, seeing them disappear into the distance when I missed, grunting triumphantly as I watched them explode and fall.
After I shot down the last spaceship, I jumped up and down a few times, made my way back inside, and instantly hated the jerks at The Void. I was face to face with a giant alien in an observation tank. “Why don’t you go touch the tank?” Ken asked, like a smart ass. I swore at him and took a few hesitant steps forward until it busted out of the tank and killed me. The end. My heart was pumping as they helped me out of the gear and my adrenaline levels were off the charts for the next hour.
The Void VR Alien
If you’re a talented programer or designer with Unity3D and/or Maya chops, The Void is hiring.
If you’re just excited to try The Void for yourself, follow them on Twitter and Instagram. They are going to be opening up their beta facility to the public later this year. The full launch will be in Pleasant Grove, Utah in 2016. Experiences will last about half an hour and tickets will cost $29 to $39. They plan on having a minimum of three titles at launch. After Utah, they plan on building all over the world. We’ll keep you posted.