Virtual Reality experiences are an amazing way to experience something new, but there are some obvious limitations that just about everyone stumbles into. If you try to lean on the table in Pool Nation VR, or try to smell the flowers as you pass by them in The Climb, you'll be quickly reminded that in reality you're standing in a mostly empty room with a plastic visor on your head. Blurring the lines between Virtual Reality and Actual Reality is a complex problem many companies are playing with, but the folks at The Void are well and truly ahead of every other attempt.
In a joint venture with Sony, The Void has launched their first public demonstration of what they are calling "Hyper Reality" in the form of a short experience called Ghostbusters: Dimension. It's launching alongside the larger Ghostbusters Experience exhibit at Madame Tussauds in NYC on July 1st, and we were invited to come take a look at what makes this setup unique.
The Ghostbusters Experience starts out with a tour through the new Madame Tussauds exhibit, which we captured in 360-degree glory for you to enjoy!
At the end of the exhibit, you find yourself in line for the grand finale. Like any other VR experience, Ghostbusters: Dimension starts you off with a head-mounted display. You slip on a backpack computer, clip the harness to your chest, and slide the helmet over your head. A pair of large over the ear headphones quickly replaces real world audio with the haunting tones of the Ghostbusters world, and when you pull the display down over your eyes, you're shown a virtual version of a typical hallway. You reach over and grab the business end of your proton pack, which feels oddly like a plastic rifle but in VR very much looks the part, and wait for instructions.
It didn't take long for my brain to catch up and remember I was inside a headset, but the initial shock was amazing.
As head-mounted displays go, what The Void is offering feels a lot clunkier than a desktop-based VR setup you'd use at home. The Void calls this setup "Rapture" and it features little grey nubs that stick out all over the headset for tracking. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are far lighter, and offer a slightly better field of view, but it's something most users aren't likely to notice or care about. After all, you're about to go bust some ghosts with what looks like an actual proton pack and two of your friends. The at-home VR experiences may be a little more comfortable, but nothing about what happens next will be happening in your living room.
As freshly trained Ghostbusters, you and your two friends are instructed to open the door in front of you and walk into the apartment. As you look around, you can see your two friends in their jumpsuits and proton packs. When they speak, you can hear them through the headphones. When they lift up their arms to take aim at a ghost, you see their virtual selves do the same. The Void has clearly worked hard to ensure that the multiplayer component to their experiences is as smooth as possible, and it works. Never once did my fellow Ghostbusters or I trip over or bump into someone that wasn't there in the virtual world.
That attention to detail continued as we walked into the haunted apartment: a dimly-lit room with nothing but static on the television and hoarder-levels of junk everywhere. To my surprise, when I reached out to touch the television I could feel it. When I walked over to kick the couch and see if there was a wall there, what I encountered was an actual couch in the same physical space. The room smelled musty, something I dismissed as not being a part of the experience until it was time to fire a beam of energy at a ghost. We failed to capture the ghost initially, and it responded by hurling chairs at us. The vibration motors in the vest kicked on as though we'd just been punched, and after recovering from the brief shock we fired again. Instead of snaring the bulbous, snarling critter, a hole opened up in the wall behind it, and the cool night air from the outside hit my arms and sent an actual chill down my spine. It didn't take long for my brain to catch up and remember I was inside a headset, but the initial shock was amazing.
What The Void offers here is a shining example of what commercial VR experiences should be about.
The hole we opened in the wall lead outside to a scaffolding, and as we began to cross it more ghosts appeared for us to eliminate. Here we are, out on a rickety scaffolding with cool air blowing on us and ghosts flying in from every direction. I took a step to the right to get a better look at one ghost, and the wobbly wood under my feet triggered a desire to reach out and grab the railing of the virtual scaffolding. My brain scolded my body for once again falling for the illusion and thinking a virtual object was real, but a quarter-second later my hand touched an actual railing! It was cool to the touch, and was actually there for me to maintain balance as I crossed what looked like a scaffolding that was 60 stories up.
As we reached solid ground, it was time for the climax of the story being told. A brief elevator ride complete with a few nice ghost scares took us even higher, and it was time to meet the Stay Puft marshmallow man. A couple of brief energy blasts revealed we weren't going to do enough damage alone to take this giant delicious mess down, but then a voice comes in over the radio and tells us to cross the streams. Everyone knows you never cross the streams, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The streams cross, a bright flash fills the headset, and suddenly there's bits of Stay Puft all over. We saved the day! Just before the high fives and victory dances commence, a deep breath reveals the room we're standing in actually smells like toasted marshmallow. A few more full inhales confirm the sensation, and we all walk through the door behind us into the hallway where everything started.
What The Void offers here is a shining example of what commercial VR experiences should be about. This is the kind of experience that sends someone off wondering what they can do to get something similar at home, complete in the knowledge that the other apps and games they have access to will never feel quite as real as what is being offered commercially. It's clear we're going to see many more experiences like this as VR continues to take form, and at least when it comes to The Void, the term Hyper Reality is absolutely justified.
You can — and should — go check out Ghostbusters: Dimension and the larger Ghostbusters Experience for yourself at Madame Tussauds in NYC!