Yesterday myself and a couple of other members of our GameTyrant crew pulled up to a seemingly uninteresting office building in middle-of-nowhere Lindon, Utah. Little did I know this marked the beginning of my journey from the hum-drum of every day life into a crazy science fiction world full of crazy, experimental tech. In big silver letters on the front of the building read The Void. For those not in the know about the burgeoning virtual reality market, The Void is an immersive VR experience unlike anything else on the market. Rather than strapping on a headset and sitting in a chair with a controller, The Void has built a fully interactive experience simulator akin to the Holodeck of Star Trek fame.
Once inside the building, the whole perspective changes. Decked out as a sleek, modern gaming lounge it drastically contrasts the somewhat dreary surroundings of warehouses and factories. But deep inside these seemingly uninteresting walls lies a team of designers, animators, artists, and R&D wizards that are helping to forward VR technology years beyond what the latest Oculus Rift DK is doing. There is some really amazing, very hush-hush tech being conceptualized at The Void.
After a brief rundown of what to expect when entering the virtual space (which to the naked eye is just a big open sound-stage with some black wooden walls constructed in a small maze) I was equipped with a proprietary "backtop" computer. The backtop is a hacked and modified gaming laptop made to fit comfortably on your back, weighing in at about 3 pounds. Attached to this was a prototype version of The Void's Rapture HMD helmet. I've played quite a bit with various VR headsets, from the Oculus Rift to the PlayStation VR, and the Rapture HMD might be the most comfortable VR experience I've seen. A fully encompassing helmet rather than straps or bands fits even my oversized melon, with a built in high end headset and The Void's state of the art curved OLED screens.
After a couple seconds of calibration, a virtual portal opened up next to me leading into the demo experience I was about to embark on. I stepped out of a dark, wooden stage in a warehouse in Lindon into the ruins of an ancient Mayan temple. The surroundings were beautifully rendered and felt like something akin to an environment you'd find in Uncharted. The team of artists at The Void did a spectacular job of building a demo level that utilizes the current beta stage's small size in order to build a vast temple to explore. As I set off on my adventure, a helpful voice asked me to take a seat on a nearby bench while she gave me a heads up on what to expect. While I later found out my GameTyrant companions had tested the bench before sitting down, I was fully committed to either getting lost in the virtual space, or falling flat on my ass and looking stupid. Luckily for me, when I went to sit on this cold slab of stone, it met by bottom no problem. I sat and enjoyed the view for a moment until the little voice told me to move on. (Apparently lollygagging isn't encouraged when exploring cursed Mayan ruins.)
As I rounded my first corner and entered the building, a torch was sitting on the wall. It was dark inside, but surely I couldn't grab a torch off the wall and use it in virtual reality to light my way. Quite the contrary! As I reached out and grabbed the torch I felt my hand wrap around something solid! I could actually remove a solid object from the real world outside my helmet and use it to interact with this digital space. Mind was officially blown! The rest of my journey was amazing! It was not unlike being at Disneyland for the first time. I came across a burning fire, and as I got closer automated heaters on the stage blasted my face with warmth. As I crossed an old stone bride passed a waterfall I was hit with cold, wet air from misters and fans. Not only could I feel the chill on my skin, but I could actually smell moisture which is unbelievably awesome! Finally when I reached the end and the Rapture HMD was removed I couldn't believe all I had done was walk around the same small, wooden maze 3 or 4 times. It was the most convincing piece of virtual reality tech I have ever seen or experienced.
This is just the beginning for The Void. After our demonstration, we sat down for some lunch and to pick the brain of The Void's founder, Ken Bretschneider. The system we experienced was simply their early beta testing setup. Realizing that current VR tech couldn't keep up with their needs, Bretschneider and his team of tech wizards are working with bleeding edge developers to bring together the latest in curved horizontal and vertical OLED, projected light, RF motion tracking, and haptic response technology. The concepts he showed us for their upcoming gear was nothing short of science fiction. Listening to his grand schemes for The Void and it's many limitless possibilities, I couldn't help but be reminded of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, where the collapse of humanity is onset by the expansion of amazing VR tech. Not a terrible way to meet the apocalypse in my opinion.
Ken hopes to spread The Void across the globe, with spectacular plans for centers opening in Manhattan, China, and the West Coast. Spaces, suits, and experiences will be able to be rented out in pre-programmed pieces. If playing your own way is more your style, you will be able to rent out stages for chunks of time and fully immerse yourself in a virtual world. With plans of custom avatars, and cross-connected stages from around the globe, The Void has some huge plans to really reshape the way we interact. I'm very interested to see how many of these amazing concepts come to pass, and how many are just fun ideas exchanged over free lunch.
The Void is currently in open beta testing, and tickets are available for booking on their website. The finalized Version 1 of The Void is projected to be complete by Q3 of 2016.