Virtual reality has in the spotlight for much of 2016 with shipments of the highly anticipated Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets as well as the continued adoption of mobile VR with Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear, one company has been working on fully immersive experience that takes these technologies to the next level by creating something they call “hyper reality.”
I first heard about The VOID in Kevin Kelly’s article about Magic Leap, but it wasn’t until he elaborated on his experience with their technology further in a podcast with Tim Ferris that my curiosity really peaked. He talked about an exclusive demonstration at The VOID’s Lindon, Utah headquarters and it sounded amazing. When I found out that they had launched their first public experience in New York with Ghostbusters: Dimensions, I rushed over there as quickly as I could.
The attraction is an upgrade to regular admission to Madame Tussauds (approx $20 tacked onto the Tussauds’ ticket). Wax museums aren’t really my thing, but $49.75 seemed like a worthwhile risk to experience the World Premier of this technology. I joined the short line behind a group of three nerdish types who had come in from New Hampshire and Massachusetts for a day in the city that included only one “must-do” activity: Ghostbusters: Dimensions. One had even given up his weekly D&D game for the chance to do battle with virtual ghosts.
When I arrived, the system had been down for over an hour. This crash was described as “major” as opposed to a more frequent “minor” ones when a blaster stops working, which gave me the impression that crashes were a fairly frequent occurrence. Not to be unexpected with tech as new as this.
I was solo, so I was grateful that my new line friends let me join their Ghostbuster crew. Crews max out at four people. Once we all had our headsets and vests on, we were handed our neutron wands and directed to open a door to one side of the “staging” area. We entered an apartment similar to the one depicted in the picture above. I sat on the edge of the chair, felt the walls, and touched the television and instantly felt as though I had left the confines of Madame Tussauds. Then came the ghosts, which we blasted while totally trashing the apartment. At first, I kind of felt bad as my proton beam scorched the side of a wall, but then remembered that the whole thing was virtual. So I really let it rip.
Hyper reality is that it is based in a specifically constructed physical space. You can touch walls or grab a metal banister (which I was glad was there). Add wind, smells, as well as vibrations in our vests and you have been transportation into a fully immersive and interactive world. It’s like the holodeck from Star Wars, but better, because its available today, right now, in Times Square.
I won’t go into too much detail about the experience, because the surprises contributed to its overall awesomeness. I’ll just say that the first apartment is really just an appetizer for an approximately eight minute experience that spanned several different environment shifts, including an elevator and a vertigo-inducing scaffolding.
My fellow Ghostbusters had travelled farther and waited longer than I did and were just as blown away as I was. Immediately, we all wanted to do it again. There were some moments where you had to suspend disbelief. The system has an annoying 2-3 second audio lag, so when my fellow Ghostbusters spoke, it took a while for it to register. Also, you can’t see your hands, which is kind of weird. And in our staging area, a member of the staff held the gun for one of us and it appeared to float in the air. Still, these are minor points compared to the overall awesomeness of the experience.
On my way out, I tried the Marvel 4D theater experience (included in my ticket price) and couldn’t help feeling a bit underwhelmed by what would have been the most cutting edge piece of immersive entertainment just several months ago. 3D, water sprays, wind bursts, pokey things in the seats, would have been delightful and surprising had I not just been a Ghostbuster ten minutes earlier. How quickly the Joe Public gets jaded.
Should you take your kids? The ghosts that you encounter, like the ghosts in the movie, can be charming and funny as well as creepy or downright terrifying. But, unlike the movie, the ghosts in Ghostbusters: Dimensions seem almost real. You feel like you can touch them. Or worse, like they can touch you. So you blast them with your photon pack. According to The VOID’s FAQ, the experience technically works if you are over 48″ tall, but I’d go with the guideline of 13 and up. Younger kids can conceivably enjoy the experience as long as they are not very sensitive to scary situations, supernatural experiences, and proton-based violence. But if your kid sensitive to these things, I’d recommend giving it a pass for them. Just take the money you are saving on their ticket and do it twice, or more.