Wednesday, 26 July 2017

I busted ghosts at hyperrealistic VR arcade The Void

I'm standing on an unstable scaffolding platform in downtown New York, wind blowing on my face and a proton gun firmly clutched in my hand. Two colleagues in identical uniforms with identical guns pace nearby inspecting the building’s cornice and the pavement some twenty metres below. Suddenly, it happens: carved stone gargoyles start shuddering and thrashing. They spring up with a screech and a flutter of wings. A frenzied proton-gun-versus-flying-monster battle ensues.Over the next ten minutes, my teammates (which included an Uber driver called Rocky) and I bolt from the scaffolding to a cosy apartment before landing on Norton Customer Service top of  a skyscraper, squaring off with a swarm of purple poltergeists, a villainous Victorian ghost and a demonic marshmallow giant.Nothing of this really happened, of course. New York City, the ghosts, and the gargoyles all existed within the Ghostbusters Dimension experience at The Void, the “hyperrealistic” virtual reality centre in Lindon, Utah. Still, when I walk out of the VR arena, and, with visions of burning marshmallow still etched on my retinas, remove my headset, I can barely shake off the feeling of being through a real Ghostbusting training day.

Co-founded in 2015 by entrepreneur and developer Ken Bretschneider with former stage magician Curtis Hickman and creative developer James Jensen, The Void company has pioneered the introduction of a multitude of technological innovations, rapidly establishing itself as an unicum in today’s VR landscape. The firm advises "players" come in pairs, which for a non-local like myself proved tricky. While taking an Uber over to Lindon, some 35 minutes from Salt Lake City, I persuaded my friendly, 50-something driver Rocky to be my wingman.What's immediately noticeable about The Void's VR experiences is that they're full-body affairs: you don’t have to stay static in the way you do with the majority of VR headsets (HTC Vive partly excluded). Rather, you walk around the space wearing a head-mounted device while a haptic harness provides real-time tactile feedback. The Void’s “hyperreality” effect is boosted by the way every element in the virtual universe is matched by a concrete counterpart in the real-world game arena.“Everything you see is paired with something on the physical side,” Hickman explains. 
“Everything is carefully matched to the virtual environment, while fans and other devices contribute things like sounds, smell, and tactile sensations.” As I was walking around Ghostbusters’ world, every wall, armchair, or doorknob I saw were there to be physically touched and interacted with.Like a thin fabric, the virtual world had been programmed to overlap almost perfectly with the material environment, and the two planes were working together to Windows Support Number maintain the make-believe. Such overlapping processes includes the players' own bodies, which are constantly tracked and transformed to credible avatars in the VR world. (In Ghostbusters Dimension, both myself and Rocky were rendered as beefy, khaki-clothed white males.)

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