How To Use VR To Travel Back In Time
For hundreds, and perhaps even thousands of years, man has dreamed of going back in time. One cannot stand on Charles Bridge in Prague without thinking of the people who built it in the 15th Century, and the many hundreds of generations who have crossed the Vltava River since then. Thanks to a new free roam location-based virtual reality (LBVR) attraction, The Golem, which opened in May 2018 in the basement of Hamleys Toy Store in the City Center, we can walk among them. For $450 CZK ($20.25 USD) we can “teleport” to 16th Century Prague, where Rabbi Löw is in the process of creating a monster, The Golem.
In the apocryphal Golem story, Prague’s Jews create a supernatural being to protect them from pogroms. The plan goes predictably wrong when the Golem is less discerning about its victims than desired. We see just a snippet of this story in The Golem VR, which is surprising for very different reasons. The experience begins in a dressing room in the basement of Hamleys Toy Store, where we put on backpack PCs, Rift headsets with a leap motion hand tracker attached, and backpack PCs. Now in VR, we’re wearing futuristic suits which masks our true appearance so we many walk among our ancestors without detection.
We walk through a “time tunnel” portal with our floating robot time travel guide. We find ourselves in a barnyard next to Charles Bridge in 1608. It feels real. Really real. There is a palpable sense of presence, which can only be created in free-roam VR. The computer and the headset disappear. It’s sunset. Flocks of birds soar overhead. In the near distance, soldiers and peasants cross the famous bridge, which just recently opened. In the far distance, we see Prague Castle at the top of a hill. Flies buzz around me. Rats scurry by. Chickens mingle around our feet. I fully believed I was standing on the edge of the mighty river. The only thing missing was the smell.
We don’t have to shoot anything and there’s no keeping score. The twenty-five-minute experience is designed as an escape room, requiring our group of four to cooperate and move from one level, or scene, to another. We meet Rabbi Löw, who senses we are “not of his time” or somesuch. He enlists us to throw energy balls to tame Golem. As I think about this later, I recall the deep and total immersion in ancient Prague much more than the Golem. In one instance I was able to lean into an open window to see how people lived. I wanted more of that. But then I didn’t create the experience, Ondřej Bach, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of DIVR Labs made The Golem.
Bach told me the year-old DIVR Labs was inspired by a free roam VR shooter and an investor excited by the possibilities of these kinds of never-at-home VR experiences. Bach was previously founder & CEO mobile gaming studio, Silicon Jelly, an internal startup of Bistro Agency, whose clients include Nestlé, Vodafone, Axa, Krušovice, and L’Oréal. DIVR first made a VR wave shooter, available on Steam, Blue Effect, and then turned its attention toThe Golem. “We wanted to create something grounded in Prague history, that would attract both locals and tourists alike,” said Bach.
DIVR Labs and Hamleys are excited by the results and are reportedly exploring expansion options. Hamleys is the world largest toy store chain, with hundreds of locations worldwide (except the US). DIVR recently received a seed investment from Nextech Ventures and Reflex Capital.
Bach says he knows The Golem may be too specific to its location. The company is working on other experiences. He walked through a partial build of a new cave exploration experience, featuring a prop torch (IRL it’s a stick), and spiders. We still don’t have to shoot anybody.
Free-Roam Location Based VR (LBVR) is experiencing rapid growth with startups continually entering the market. VRStudios, The VOID, Zero Latency, Sandbox VR, Tick-Tock Unlock, Backlight (Eclipse) all have multiple locations worldwide. Spaces (Terminator), Aliens, and Dreamscape Immersive have done or are doing successful pilots, but growth plans have not been announced. VRStudios appears to have the momentum right now. CEO Kevin Vitale does not operate the free roam attractions they create. He hands the keys to a retail operator. VR Studios’ clients include The Universal Studios Tour and Knott’s Berry Farm. The company just announced a massive deal with Cineplex of Canada, which also owns the large-scale multi-attraction entertainment destination Rec Room. Smaller footprint VR attractions HoloGate (faux free roam), Y-Dreams’ Akave, and WePlayVR are expanding rapidly into family entertainment centers worldwide.
Kevin Williams of consultancy KWP Ltd., and editing publisher of “The Stinger Report” (and also fellow Disney alumni), specializes in LBE and VR attractions in particular. “An attraction is not a business. The most successful installs are in entertainment destinations like Dave & Busters, where a VR motion simulator based on the movie Jurassic World, is a hit. The Golem is taking the right approach with Hamleys, which has made toy shopping an experience, and their flagship stores into family entertainment destinations that mix the futuristic and nostalgic.”
In an upcoming column, Williams will help me break down the ongoing LB VR explosion and why The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) event in Orlando, FL, (November 12th-16th) might be VR’s biggest event of the year.
Charlie Fink is an AR/VR consultant, columnist, speaker, and author. As a 27-year-old junior executive at Disney, Fink created “The Lion King”. For this sin, he was promoted to VP of Story Development for feature animation. In the 90s he oversaw the expansion of Virtual Worl…
Charlie Fink is a former Disney & AOL exec and Forbes columnist. In the 90s, he ran VR pioneer Virtual World. He’s the author of Charlie Fink’s Metaverse, An AR Enabled Guide to VR & AR.