I couldn’t stop laughing every time Dave shot me.
With each proton blast to the chest, a wave of vibrations would ripple across my torso. And because I’ve been such a sensitive weenie my entire life, I giggled uncontrollably.
The same thing happened every time a ghost passed through me. Slimer was the worst of them.
This is what it’s like being a Ghostbuster in a new virtual reality experience at Madam Tussaud’s in New York. It was built by The Void, a company working on the future of entertainment with its “VR theme park.” (My colleague Dave Smith visited The Void at its Utah headquarters last year and was blown away by what he saw.)
This isn’t the same kind of VR experience you get with headsets from Oculus or HTC. Instead of remaining tethered to a PC, you’re free to move throughout the environment. It’s like walking onto the Holodeck from “Star Trek.” You don’t just see the world around you, you’re transported into it. The distinction between the real and virtual worlds fade away and your brain tricks you into believing you’re actually moving through a fantasy land.
I’ve been playing video games for over 25 years and I’ve never seen such a massive leap forward in innovation and raw enjoyment.
But unlike simply booting up your PlayStation, the “Ghostbusters” VR experience requires a lot of heavy lifting. Literally.
You strap on a three-pound proton pack (a customised high-end gaming PC), a vest loaded with vibrating packs, a visor (a modified VR headset, sort of like the Oculus Rift), and grab a blaster. As soon as your visor goes down, a new virtual world is painted on top of the real world. Lift your gun, and your proton blaster moves with you in the virtual world. Look at your friends, and their bodies have been replaced with the avatars of Ghostbusters.
And then the door to the real experience opens, and you’re thrust into a haunted apartment building littered with ghosts out to get you.
To an outsider, it looks like you’re running through a nondescript set. Physical effects like rumbling floors mimic going up an elevator. Fans blast gusts of air at you, so it feels like the wind outside. There are even artificial smells.There are sensors everywhere to track your movements and make sure everything you do in the real world translates to VR. And it all syncs up perfectly to what you’re experiencing in the VR world to create a hyper-realistic game.
And it works. Days later, I still have distinct memories of walking through a haunted apartment building, as if I were really there. I still remember being creeped out when the ghost of a young girl led us through winding corridors and elevators shafts. I still remember working together with my two companions to trap a ghost hurtling plasma blasts at us and using our proton packs to guide her into an open ghost trap. I still remember crossing the proton streams with my crew to take down the Stay Puft marshmallow man. I could even smell the toasted marshmallows after he exploded.
It may have looked goofy to a third party watching, but it was real to me.
Dave and I went through the “Ghostbusters” experience together. It was his second time in one of The Void’s creations, and he noticed all the progress the company has made in the past year. In just six months, The Void’s team was able to work with the producers of the new “Ghostbusters” movie to create a game that immediately feels authentic to any Ghostbusters fan. Ivan Reitman, the legendary director behind the “Ghostbusters” franchise, even gave The Void advice on how to bring that authenticity to VR.
After the 10 minute demonstration, there’s no doubt that this is what the future of entertainment will be. The Void’s platform is so malleable that the only limitation to what it can do is the imagination. The “Ghostbusters” experience is just the tip of the iceberg, but you can imagine the concept being applied to other franchises and genres. Disney must be drooling over this technology.
The Void won’t replace traditional roller coasters and rides, but it can offer a way for theme parks, movie studios, and the like to transport people inside the worlds they created. We love watching movies and playing video games. Now we can go inside them.
The Void calls it “hyper reality.” I think they’re right.