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The VOID VR: So Real You Can Smell It

– [Narrator] Virtual reality is the hardest thing to describe to someone who hasn’t tried it. After all, as an outside observer watching someone use VR, this is the view you get. How cool could this goofy (censored) possibly be? It’s only when you put the visor on yourself that you get the sense of being transported somewhere else. But even then, your other senses keep you anchored in our common, mundane reality. Your living room is not a holodeck. But what if there was a kind of hybrid world that went beyond the visor? What if you could touch virtual objects like they were real? Or feel the breeze on your face when a simulated storm rolled in? What if, when you got hit by a bad guy in the virtual world, you felt it in the real one? That’s what the folks are doing out at The Void, a hyper reality amusement complex being built in Utah by the company of the same name. And they’ve brought a little slice of it to Madame Tussaud’s in New York City. This is Ghostbusters Dimension, a so-called hyper reality experience. I went to the press opening with Russel Holly and some other members of the VR Heads team last summer.

The experience starts out with the usual amusement park fare. Wax reproductions of your favorite characters, holographic ghosts, replica props from the new movie. It’s only when you head downstairs into a darkened airlock-like prep chamber that things start getting interesting. In addition to donning the expected headgear, you’re helped into a special harness mounted vest by some assistants. I remember it as a more massive apparatus than the video shows to be the case, and the reason for that will become clear in a second. Lastly, you’re given a BFG 9000, or whatever the name of this big phaser rifle is, and sent through the door. And the first thing that tips you off that this isn’t just a regular VR experience is that the dilapidated Manhattan apartment you seem to be walking into has virtual furniture that you can reach out and touch because it’s been mapped onto real furniture in the room you’re standing in.

As you can tell, it’s hard to explain. This is the kind of subtle, mind-bending stuff you just can’t do with a home VR setup. It’s stuff you can only experience by stepping into a physical arena like this. And it doesn’t take long at all for the unsubtle stuff to start happening. Ghosts break through the walls and start attacking you, and when they hit your body, that heavy vest guarantees you feel it. The haptic modules on the vest vibrate violently, and it takes some getting used to. First time it feels like someone’s grabbing your sides and jiggling your guts. But it definitely motivates you to start shooting the bad guys before they shoot you. Other senses come into play too. When the Stay Puft dude rips the side of the building off, you feel the blast of breeze hit you in the face. It’s a really simple trick. It’s literally a floor fan synced up with the simulation. But in the moment, all you’re thinking is, that wall just came off, and the outside air came in.

And when you, of course, cross the streams to blow up the Stay Puft guy, your reward is a blast of air that’s, no joke, scented with marshmallow. The Ghostbusters experience is a remarkable demonstration of what’s possible with virtual reality, which left a big impression on me. But the 10 minute session seemed to go by in about five minutes, which doesn’t feel quite long enough, given the ticket price. Now, that said, I understand this is a very popular venue and they needed to get lots of folks in and out relatively quickly. So, if you’re visiting New York and planning a trip to Madame Tussaud’s anyway, then this only represents a $20 rep charge.

And in that case, it’s worth it, especially if you’re a newcomer to VR. For me, the bigger takeaway is that I’m now even more excited to try The Void proper when the Utah center opens, date still TBD, because I’m just dying for more hyper reality that I can feel, touch, and smell. For a different perspective on the same experience, check out Russel’s interview and article over at VR Heads and subscribe to Mr. Mobile so you don’t miss that Utah trip when it happens. Till next time. Thanks for watching, and stay mobile, my friends.

As found on Youtube

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