The VOID, as experienced by 4 VR veterans

So after attending VRLA we (Greg Downing, Rikke Jansen, Kim Baumann Larsen & Jasper Brekelmans) decided to visit The VOID’s & ILMxLab’s Star Wars experience in Glendale.

https://www.thevoid.com/dimensions/starwars/secretsoftheempire

Essentially it’s a high-end VR location based experience with all the bells and whistles.

After a staff member greets you with “Welcome rebels” you and 3 others join on a mission on the Mustafar planet disguised as stormtroopers under the orders of the rebellion to recover Imperial intelligence vital to the rebellion’s survival.

You get to wear custom VR gear with a headset that hinges up (why don’t all HMDs do that!), with built in comms and Leap Motion sensor, a haptic vest that will give you quite the kick when you get hit and a backpack computer for a truly wireless experience. The system of how they’re hung on racks, how you get into them and how you are assisted was very well thought out and executed.

After a short briefing and entering the first room you’ll get to see your teammates as stormtroopers in VR as well as your own arms, hands and fingers. People are scaled correctly and children will make for adorable mini stormtroopers.

The true magic starts to happen when you realize you can touch the walls and once you’ll meet the first robots you will be asked to sit down on a bench. We were surprised how quickly you adapt to being able to touch objects and how well things were aligned, door posts, railings and other players were really where you expected them. Giving a sense of safety to move around (quickly) and enabling you to drop your regular VR cautiousness. This really pushed immersion up quite a few notches and is upped further by heat and smell once you go outside on Mustafar.

Without spoiling the experience and narrative, yes you do get a blaster as seen in the poster (not a lightsaber though). The narrative is really clever fusing storytelling in VR with interaction giving you the sense of agency. Having visited many non-VR theme parks this really is up there with other experiences like Disneyworld and such, great story telling, attention to detail and very experiences staff.

Some things we felt could be improved:

  • Since the other players are not individually color coded it was sometimes hard to distinguish who was who
  • We missed that there wasn’t a scoring, risk/reward system, you know something to brag about later or make you come back and become a good player. This could boost replay-ability beyond hardcore Star Wars friends or bringing your friends over to experience it once more.
  • At times it felt the blaster hits/misses didn’t account for much, more agency in where you hit enemies and some consequences if you got hit too much yourself would be nice. For example a failing blaster,
  • We can see how a hardcore mode where it’s possible to fail may have a huge impact on how long the experience runs, planning etc.
  • A bit more branching in the story would be nice, doesn’t have to branch to different rooms but something simple like shooting/touching an object to vote a story direction.
  • Tracking the feet would be nice, although we can understand this may be tricky from a technical standpoint and especially practically to add trackers to people’s shoes.
  • Being able to touch the walls but not a familiar SW robot showing up at one point was immersion breaking.
  • We missed having a playback to see how well/poor we did during debriefing, we understand to not be able to take this home as it would inevitably spoil the story for new players
  • An AR magic mirror during suit up, so you could see yourself as a stormtrooper without helmet, potentially surrounded by other Star Wars characters would be awesome!

In the end it was one of the best VR experiences we had though and we’ll most probably come back and bring more friends to experience it with us!

Anecdotes:

In the first room where you get a moment to see each other in full storm trooper gear for the first time we (as VR tech heads) started to experiment a little of course. Try what we could touch, try how well things were tracked, crouch down. Apparently during that crouching the height measurement was taken place for one of our members, so some of us got to see him as a child sized trooper throughout the experience 😊

One of us is still telling people “A stormtrooper shot me in the chest just as I was doing a puzzle”, really left a mark, nice souvenir :)

Written by:

Jasper Brekelmans — @brekelj — brekel.com

Rikke Jansen — @mulmbot

Kim Baumann Larsen — @kimusan — kimsarc.com