Virtual Reality 2.0 has come a long long way in the last two years. Each time we discover a VR experience to amaze and engage, the industry finds a new way to raise the bar. This week I was at The Void in Utah, where the bar has been raised to the stratosphere.
VR can be measured in incremental experience. What that really means is we start with Google cardboard, progress to quality phone units like the Zeiss VR One, add substance with the Samsung/Oculus GearVR then hit the big time with Sony’s Morpheus, HTC’s Vive and the biggest player – Oculus Rift.
The last three have yet to hit high streets but when they do, these headsets will offer something the others don’t – real-world movement. The original Rift allowed us to look around 360º from a fixed point. The second generation added the ability to lean in and this brought a new awareness of presence.
Although Sony’s Morpheus sticks with the lean-in approach, both the Vive and Rift allow the wearer to stand up and walk around, and the difference is breathtaking. Once you realise you can move naturally within a virtual environment, your brain stops playing by the rules and you believe you’re actually where the visuals say you are.
So that’s the ultimate VR experience then? For now, it’s the best you can expect in a home or office. But there’s more, oh so much more. It’s time to enter The Void.
I’ve just spent a day in a small town called Linden, less than an hour from Salt Lake City. This is home to The Void – the world’s first Virtual Reality theme park.
Brainchild of CEO Ken Bretschneider, James Jensen and Curtis Hickman, The Void demonstrates the advantage of mixing virtual and physical environments. Not in the way Augmented Reality headsets or the hybrid Sulon Cortex do, this is full VR with enhanced tactile environments.
These environments are given substance by walled corridors, alien pods, blasts of air and heat and motorised monoliths.
This 4D experience has an incredible effect but when combined with The Void’s wireless headsets, physical weapons and props, the results are nothing short of transformational, especially when you're sharing the same space with multiple players. I felt as if I’d been beamed onto the Holodeck of the Enterprise or the far reaches of Mordor.
Bretschneider and his talented team of designers, developers and engineers have big plans (including continuous development of their own hardware) but the first public opening of The Void is scheduled for late 2016 in Utah, with additional ‘Virtual Entertainment Centres’ rolling out to other locations over the following 12 months.
Content for these environments will invariably lean towards gaming but the scenarios are limitless. From fast and frantic shoot-em-ups to creepy spine-tingling horror, the opportunity exists to commandeer the senses like never before. Storytelling has never had it so good!
I can’t eulogise enough about how incredible The Void is. The simple act of touching a wall or sitting down on a rock in a virtual world is mind-blowing. I fought off hoards of giant spiders with a gun I could not only see in hi-res detail but feel and fire as if I were at the heart of a fire-fight. The next generation guns also feature recoil and pump action reload. I had high expectations before visiting Utah, but The Void delivered so much more.
Virtual Reality offers a creative platform like no other and we’re now seeing clear distinctions between the levels of experience on offer. The Void is the VR Premier League, but its halo effect helps to support development for the ‘lesser divisions’. The takeaway from a 4D adventure is a hunger for the next best thing in-home. Audiences will still love the VR on their phones, PCs and games consoles, but they’ll flock to the Virtual Entertainment Centres when they open. And they won’t be disappointed.