Category Archives: Feature Stories

Blast from the Past – Oculus Rift Prototype (2012)

Way back in 2012, John Carmack (one of the original creators of the video game “Doom”) took an interest in Palmer Luckey’s prototype for the first Oculus “Rift” headset. Carmack eventually went on to become the CTO of Oculus after Facebook acquired the technology from Palmer for $2 billion. See excerpt below from Carmack’s “A day with an Oculus Rift” (May 17, 2012):

I am going to be giving several demos in the next month, and Palmer graciously loaned me one of his test HMDs to go with the other things I have to show. Here are my impressions after a day of working with it:

When I first powered it up, it looked like the screen was badly offset, but this turned out to be a problem with the analog VGA input that Palmer had also seen before. Making a custom display mode with different horizontal timing parameters got it fixed up. The plan is for the kits to have a panel with a digital interface, which will properly resolve the issue.

The USB cable for power was also finicky – it wouldn’t work on a USB hub or over an extension cord, only plugged directly into my computer. When I put it on a bench power supply I found that I had to give it 5.2v to get it to come up, it apparently was voltage limited rather than current limited.

There still seems to be a tiny offset in either the optics or the nose cutout, because I can sometimes just glimpse the edge of the right eye view in the left eye. Interestingly, this happens when you are looking to the left with your eye, which moves it a few millimeters to the left, allowing it to look farther over to the right in peripheral vision. This is particularly distracting when the left and right sides of the view are at very different brightness levels. I experimented with different amounts of physical blanking on the lens and leaving a gap in the rendered image, but making the flash of view completely go away required giving up too much resolution. The right solution to this is to have a thin physical divider mounted directly on the display to prevent eye view crosstalk.

I measured the horizontal field of view as a bit under 90 degrees per eye (full binocular overlap), but when you first look through the lenses you clearly feel the edge of the screen on the sides. The vertical field of view is plenty, and you really have to push into the lenses to catch a glimpse of the screen edge. With only 640 pixels horizontally versus 800 vertically per eye and symmetric optics, the vertical FOV is 33% greater than the horizontal, and all of the loss is on the outside edge. I wound up covering the outside parts of the lenses with tape to block off the edges before the optics, which maintains immersion much better than seeing the edge of the screen out at the optical focal plane. This arrangement makes the best use of the limited panel resolution, but it might be better to ignore 160 scan lines and only use 1280 x 640 with a completely symmetric field of view, if that is achievable with available lenses at the same eye spacing.

Interesting commentary from Carmack in the early days of the Oculus Rift. It’s also fascinating to look at Palmer Luckey’s early progress report as he was about to launch a Kickstarter to fund development of the headset. See below for “Oculus ‘Rift’: An open-source HMD for Kickstarter” (April 15, 2012):

Hey guys,

I am making great progress on my HMD kit! All of the hardest stuff (Optics, display panels, and interface hardware) is done, right now I am working on how it actually fits together, and figuring out the best way to make a head mount. It is going to be be out of laser cut sheets of plastic that slide together and fasten with nuts and bolts. The display module is going to be detachable from the optics module, so you will be able to modify, replace, or upgrade your lenses in the future!

The goal is to start a Kickstarter project on June 1st that will end on July 1st, shipping afterwards as soon as possible. I won’t make a penny of profit off this project, the goal is to pay for the costs of parts, manufacturing, shipping, and credit card/Kickstarter fees with about $10 left over for a celebratory pizza and beer. 

I need help, though!

1) I need something that illustrates the difference between low field of view HMDs and high FOV HMDs, probably some kind of graphic illustrating the difference in apparent screen size. Would probably want to compare the rap 1200VR, the HMZ-T1, and the ST1080. Maybe throw in a few professional HMDs like the SX111 for good measure.

2) Logo/s. I am listing the organization as “Oculus”, I plan on using that name on my VR projects from here on out. The HMD itself is tentatively titled “Rift”, if you have better ideas, let me know. I based it on the idea that the HMD creates a rift between the real world and the virtual world, though I have to admit that it is pretty silly. 

3) Ideas for what I should show off in the Kickstarter video.

4) Ideas for Kickstarter rewards. The obvious one would be a full HMD kit, but I want to have some lesser monetary options for people who just want to show support. Laser cut badges? Some kind of software? On the other end, it seems like it would be a good idea to have some more expensive options that net you stuff like a wireless battery/video pack, or a motion tracker.

5) Anything else I am forgetting!

The help is appreciated! Really excited about this, I think it could be the kind of thing that jumpstarts a bigger VR community, and hopefully shows that there is a big demand for wide FOV, truly immersive displays.

Amazing how far VR has come in the past eight years! With Facebook’s launch of the new Oculus Quest 2, the era of “tethered” VR headsets will be coming to an end. Standalone (wireless) HMD’s are clearly the future of the VR ecosystem for 2021 and beyond.

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Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Facebook and the Future of Virtual Reality

For the past week or so, there has been a great deal of distress in the VR community, after Facebook announced on Aug. 18th that they would begin to require a Facebook account login for all Oculus devices starting in October.

Many VR enthusiasts (at least the vocal ones) have expressed that THIS IS A BAD THING. Facebook already has a nefarious plan to take over the world, steal our private information and identities, and spy on everything we do. Requiring a Facebook login for VR now means that all of this nefariousness will extend into VR. Now everything we do in virtual worlds, games, and media will be tracked and sold for advertising dollars. Our physical movements in VR will allow Facebook to build a biometric profile of each of us, which will risk our identities being impersonated by malicious agents. All of this will result in the downfall of society as we know it.

Exhibit A

Let’s talk about the source of all the hubbub. Up to this point, Oculus users could use a separate Oculus ID (not a Facebook account) to login to Oculus VR headsets (such as the Quest and Rift). This will begin to change in October, when users who purchase a new Oculus device will be required to use their Facebook account to enjoy all the features of the headset. Existing Oculus ID users will need to merge their accounts prior to 2023.

From the Facebook announcement:

Starting in October 2020:

  • Everyone using an Oculus device for the first time will need to log in with a Facebook account.

  • If you are an existing user and already have an Oculus account, you will have the option to log in with Facebook and merge your Oculus and Facebook accounts.

  • If you are an existing user and choose not to merge your accounts, you can continue using your Oculus account for two years.

Starting In January 2023:

  • We will end support for Oculus accounts.

  • If you choose not to merge your accounts at that time, you can continue using your device, but full functionality will require a Facebook account.

  • We will take steps to allow you to keep using content you have purchased, though some games and apps may no longer work. This could be because they require a Facebook account or because a developer has chosen to no longer support the app or game you purchased.

Facebook’s rationale for making this change

Facebook has been up front about their reasons for making this change. If you believe what they are saying, their goal is to improve the user experience and enable the use of upcoming social features such as Facebook Horizon, which will enable connecting to friends and family in VR. Since most Oculus users are also Facebook users, it makes a lot of sense and helps to streamline the management of applications under the Facebook umbrella. The company elaborates on this in their announcement:

Giving people a single way to log into Oculus—using their Facebook account and password— will make it easier to find, connect, and play with friends in VR. We know that social VR has so much more to offer, and this change will make it possible to integrate many of the features people know and love on Facebook. It will also allow us to introduce more Facebook powered multiplayer and social experiences coming soon in VR, like Horizon, where you can explore, play, and create worlds. The majority of our users are already logging into Oculus with a Facebook account to use features like chats, parties, and events, or to tune into live experiences in Oculus Venues. We’re also making it easier to share across our platforms if you’d like. For example, people already have the option to livestream or share their VR experience on Facebook, and soon you’ll be able to use your VR avatar on other Facebook apps and technologies.

When you log in with a Facebook account, you can still create or maintain a unique VR profile. And if you don’t want your Oculus friends to find you by your Facebook name, they won’t—just make it visible to ‘Only Me’ in your Oculus settings. You can also choose what information about your VR activity you post to your Facebook profile or timeline, either by giving permission to post or by updating your settings. And we plan to introduce the ability for multiple users to log into the same device using their own Facebook account, so people can easily share their headset with friends or family while keeping their information separate.

Using a VR profile that is backed by a Facebook account and authentic identity helps us protect our community and makes it possible to offer additional integrity tools. For example, instead of having a separate Oculus Code of Conduct, we will adopt Facebook’s Community Standards as well as a new additional VR-focused policy. This will allow us to continue to take the unique considerations of VR into account while offering a more consistent way to report bad behavior, hold people accountable, and help create a more welcoming environment across our platforms. And as Facebook adds new privacy and safety tools, Oculus can adopt and benefit from them too.

What does this really mean?

Well, it means different things to different people.

Many VR users are already Facebook users, so for most of them it doesn’t matter. They have already sold given their souls to Facebook and probably don’t care if this extends to their identity and behavior in VR. For the average user, it’s probably no big deal.

On the other hand, many VR enthusiasts are also privacy advocates and rightly concerned about Facebook’s history of misleading their user community. For these people, there is good reason to dislike this new development, as it only offers more evidence of Facebook’s dishonesty and tendency to manipulate users for its own gain. When Facebook originally acquired Oculus, they promised that users would never have to login with a Facebook account.

Those in opposition to the use of a Facebook account for VR are concerned about their ability to remain anonymous in VR, to protect their personal information and behavior in VR, and to maintain at least some sense of democracy by having a choice in what information they provide to Facebook.

As Facebook has evolved as a company over the years, the ability for users to manage what information is shared with others has continued to evolve along with it. Most of the time, users have been given the ability to control what information is public vs. private, by updating their profile and content settings. As long as this customization is also allowed in VR, users should be able to maintain their privacy at the level they want.

Facebook and the future of VR

Along with the news about merging user accounts, a few other interesting VR developments occurred at Facebook this week. First of all, the long-running user conference known as Oculus Connect has been renamed to Facebook Connect. In addition, Facebook’s entire VR and AR team has been renamed to Facebook Reality Labs.

Is the Oculus brand going away? Will future Oculus VR headsets be known as “Facebook VR” devices? This appears to be a likely scenario, if not for the immediate future then perhaps within the next few years.

Mark Zuckerberg strongly believes in the future of VR. Facebook has invested a lot of money into its own hardware and software, continues to acquire other developers, and continues to make improvements in its flagship device (the Oculus Quest). Will the next version be called the Facebook Quest? This remains to be seen, as it’s expected to launch before the end of 2020.

When Facebook Horizon finally launches, it will provide a new way for users (yes, only Facebook users) to socialize and play games in VR. Does this mean Facebook wants to own the Metaverse? Will it result in the demise of other social VR platforms like AltSpace, VRChat, and BigScreen?

Perhaps users who prefer not to use their Facebook ID to socialize in VR will flock to these other platforms, assuming the platforms can survive long enough to compete. Or perhaps they will just migrate to another Big Brother, Apple (when they finally launch a VR device and the inevitable need to login with Apple ID.)

Thankfully, there is some good news: VR users will still have the ability to choose which Big Brother they want to sign up with.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

 

Ars Technica’s Review of Half-Life: Alyx

Although we don’t usually cover games here at XR4Media, it’s impossible to ignore the biggest VR gaming news of the year. Monday March 23rd gave us the release of Half-Life: Alyx, a monumental event for the VR industry, which many VR enthusiasts believe will be the “savior” of virtual reality.

Personally, I have been a huge fan of the Half-Life series and am incredibly excited and impressed with the game so far (I am about a third of the way through it). I plan to provide a full review after I finish it.

Meanwhile, the many reviews published in the past week have been overwhelmingly positive. From what I have experienced of the game, I can say for sure that it has the most impressive level design of any VR game to date, providing the most amazing sense of realism I’ve ever seen in VR.

From all the reviews I’ve read or watched in the past week, the one that best captures the essence of Half-Life: Alyx is written by Sam Machkovech of Ars Technica. If you are at all interested in Half-Life, virtual reality, or the state of VR gaming, you owe it to yourself to read his review:

Ars Technica: Half-Life: Alyx review: The greatest VR adventure game yet—and then some

Look for for my personal review coming soon, which will elaborate on how games like the original Half-Life, Doom, and others planted the seeds for my interest in VR almost 30 years ago. Stay tuned!

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Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

VR Review: The Under Presents

The Under Presents is the most unusual VR experience I’ve had in a long time. It’s partly a game, and partly a social environment where you can interact with other people in VR. The primary setting is “The Under”, a cabaret-style nightclub where various musical and entertainment acts perform on a rotating basis. The host, or “MC,” is a strange creature with a large metallic face and misshapen eyes, who guides you through the world of The Under.

Besides the nightclub itself, there is also a story side of the game, comprised of three Acts and an Epilogue. The story mode is accessible from a corner of the nightclub, via a photobooth-like portal called the “Time Boat”. The story takes place on The Aickman, a passenger ship with multiple characters engaged in a mysterious encounter at sea. You are able to navigate almost anywhere on the ship, following various passengers as you watch the story unfold. You can also manipulate time by rewinding or fast-forwarding to any moment within each act.

TUP MC

Although it defies description, the best way to categorize The Under Presents would be to call it “immersive VR theater.” Similar to other games such as The Invisible Hours or Eleven Eleven, this game (if you can call it that) invites you in as an observer, with little if any ability to affect the story. (At least as far as I can tell.) The intriguing nature of the game is that it gives you no instructions or hand-holding, encouraging you to discover the mechanics of interacting and navigating on your own.

This makes it all the more compelling to come back and discover more. Each time you launch the game, you may discover something new by yourself, or be introduced to something surprising by another player.

Weil

Which brings me to the most interesting aspect of the game. For the first four months after launch, you may encounter live actors performing on the stage, or interacting with you directly in the nightclub setting. Developer Tender Claws has partnered with immersive theater company Piehole to bring live actors into the game. As far as I know, this is the first time this has been done in a VR game, and adds an intriguing and entertaining aspect to The Under which really makes it come alive.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Under Presents, and will keep coming back to uncover more of the mystery of this amazing VR experience.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

The VOID to add 25 new VR destinations in US and Europe

Location-based virtual reality startup The VOID and Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) announced a partnership to launch 25 new VR entertainment centers across the US and Europe. Full roll-out will be completed by 2022.

New pop-ups will open this summer at Westfield shopping centers in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Additional permanent venues will be established in Paris, London, and Stockholm.

More from today’s announcement:

The VOID, a Utah-based venture with experiential content deals spanning entertainment studios, including Disney and Sony, is recognised as the most immersive of virtual reality experiences and represents the future of entertainment. Titles include Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, the award-winning experience by ILMxLAB and Lucasfilm; Ralph Breaks VR, by ILMxLAB created in collaboration with Walt Disney Animation Studios; Ghostbusters: Dimension, and original content Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment, with several new experiences still to be released. The partnership will allow The VOID to scale its presence globally, taking advantage of URW’s unique network of flagship destinations. Together with The VOID, URW will offer its visitors a cutting-edge, first-to-market entertainment across its locations, in line with the Group’s strategy to differentiate through exceptional and memorable experiences.

The two companies will kick off their partnership this summer with four temporary pop-ups expected to open in August and September with Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire and Ralph Breaks VR. URW flagship destinations set to debut these pop-ups include Westfield World Trade Center in New York, Westfield San Francisco Centre, Westfield Santa Anita in the Los Angeles metro area and Westfield UTC in San Diego. All of these centres will open permanent The VOID locations in the subsequent months.

Additional permanent locations – to be announced in due time – are slated to include URW centres in cities such as Paris, London, Amsterdam, Chicago, Copenhagen, Oberhausen, San Jose, Stockholm and Vienna.

Last week, The VOID received a $20 million investment from James Murdoch. Location-based virtual reality (LBVR) is proving to be an interesting sector of the VR industry, with companies like DreamscapeZero LatencySPACES and Nomadic joining The VOID in delivering premium multi-player VR experiences for out-of-home customers.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge: A “Real” Virtual Reality Experience

The Force was with me! During my recent trip to California for the DelliVR conference, I had the opportunity to visit Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland Park in Anaheim. Although this website is devoted to immersive technology (including virtual reality), I thought it would be interesting to cover an immersive entertainment experience that’s more “real” than “virtual.”

Although Galaxy’s Edge offers minimal use of virtual reality in a traditional sense, it’s main attraction does incorporate some VR elements (more on this below). Much like the rest of Disneyland, and theme parks in general,  the entire environment is a “real” experience in which elaborate sets, props, and “cast members” are all working together to convey the illusion that you have traveled to another time and place: the planet Batuu, on the outskirts of the galaxy.

Disney and Universal are undoubtedly experts at creating immersive experiences in highly themed environments. Galaxy’s Edge is no exception, and at this point in time it serves as the  pinnacle of theme park experiences available anywhere.

No headset required

20190617_082035When Walt Disney created Disneyland in 1955, he invented a brand new category of entertainment. For the first time, visitors could enter worlds of fantasy and adventure, or travel into the past and future, simply by passing through the gates of his new theme park. This was “virtual reality” long before computer simulations were invented. The objective of Disneyland was to immerse visitors in environments that transported them to other times and places. Through the use of elaborate set design, special effects, and costumed cast members, Disneyland managed to create virtual worlds out of brick and mortar.

From 1955 until today, Disney and Universal have evolved the theme park experience to include much more detail, immersion, and interactivity in the various “lands” of their parks. Notable examples of such immersive environments include Cars Land (Disney California Adventure), The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Universal Orlando/Hollywood), and Pandora, the World of Avatar (Disney’s Animal Kingdom). As each of these attractions have launched over the years since 2010, they have truly raised the bar for theme park design by both companies.

20190617_092411Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge is comparable to Universal’s Wizarding World, as far as the high degree of immersion and interactivity provided. However, Galaxy’s Edge has gone the extra mile in creating back stories for its cast members, in order to truly bring life to the world of Batuu. Guests can interact with cast members and learn various greetings, such as “Bright Suns” (good day), or “Rising Moons” (good evening). Cast members are trained to remain in character when interacting with guests, to avoid spoiling the illusion.

Various shops and eateries are present, all themed in the world of Star Wars. There’s even a cantina that serves Blue Milk, one of the other-worldly beverages depicted in the films. Opportunities to build your own lightsaber or astromech droid are also present, for those who wish to spend the credits. Iconic characters like Chewbacca, Rey, Kylo Ren and stormtroopers make appearances throughout the day, interacting with guests in authentic encounters which outperform the typical “meet and greet” experiences found in the rest of Disneyland.

The main attraction

20190617_095857Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run is currently the only “ride” available in Galaxy’s Edge. A second attraction (Rise of the Resistance) will be launched at Disneyland in January 2020.

Smuggler’s Run is probably the most authentic recreation of a movie experience ever presented in a theme park attraction. A great example of immersive storytelling, this attraction fully engages guests via visual, tactile, and auditory features that combine to create the illusion that you are actually piloting the Millennium Falcon. The use of elaborate architecture, vehicle/set design, props, sound effects, and CGI video all contribute to the effectiveness of this experience.IMG_0188

To compare it to a typical VR experience, Smuggler’s Run surpasses anything currently available in VR today. The ride is experienced in a life-size cockpit (exactly as depicted in the Star Wars films) which serves as a motion simulator. This enables the physical sensations of traveling through space, by making quick dives and turns through various planetary and space environments. The experience is also enhanced with interactive elements, where each of the six crew members can participate by pressing various buttons or levers to perform specific tasks.

Lessons in VR design

20190617_080211Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge has raised the bar for location based entertainment. While the LBVR industry is also thriving with venues such as The VOID and Dreamscape, they simply cannot replicate the tactile, visual, and physical elements offered at Galaxy’s Edge. Although Disneyland’s new themed area has a limited number of attractions and activities, it has effectively created a sense of reality unmatched by VR.

Because of its ability to efficiently manage multiple guests at a time, Galaxy’s Edge succeeds as a social, multi-player immersive environment. A microcosm of real-world role playing, it includes many elements that would be right at home in a multi-user VR game. Comparing it to current social VR platforms like VRChat, Disneyland’s new Star Wars land provides many features that could potentially enhance those platforms by introducing more organized activities and structured gameplay.

Final thoughts

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge is a truly amazing achievement. As a life-long fan of the films (ever since I was a ten-year-old in 1977), I felt like I was exploring the biggest Star Wars playset ever created. Disney has created an immersive environment that captures the feeling of being present in those films, using physical and tactile elements that simply cannot be reproduced in VR.

The unfortunate “reality” is that such environments are few and far between, and can only be produced with exorbitant amounts of money. The good news is that VR has the potential to enable the creation of comparable experiences without spending billions of dollars. Let’s hope for the continued passion and hard work of talented artists, designers, and technologists collaborating to create the virtual worlds of our dreams.

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Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

VR Review: Dreamscape at Westfield Century City, Los Angeles

During my recent trip to Los Angeles for the DelliVR conference, I had the opportunity to visit Dreamscape at the Westfield Century City shopping mall. Much like the VOID, Dreamscape is a location-based virtual reality attraction that offers three different immersive experiences, for the price of $20 each. I was able to attend two of the three adventures currently available.

Please note, the review below contains minor SPOILERS.

Alien Zoo

20190621_120603The lobby of Dreamscape is welcoming and pleasant, with lots of props and photos available to set the mood for what you are about to experience. I had purchased my ticket previously, so registration at the front desk took just a few minutes, and I was able to choose my avatar model for each adventure. After registration, I waited in the main lobby until my departure time, where I had some time to peruse the artwork and props on display.

When my “boarding time” arrived, I was escorted with five other “travellers” to a boarding area where we were each assigned a seat and instructed to put on our gear. The equipment consisted of an Oculus Rift headset, a backpack PC, and wireless trackers for our hands and feet. This is notably different from the VOID, which only requires a headset and backpack.

The attendant made sure we were suited up properly, then brought us into the next room for our VR adventure. We were asked to line up on one side of the room, each of us on a set of footprints marked on the floor. With our headsets on, we were soon able to see our virtual selves in VR. The tracking worked perfectly, even when we were asked to shake hands with the person next to us.

20190621_120631Finally, the adventure began. In virtual reality, we appeared to be standing on a platform surrounded by a railing (which we could hold onto if needed). Guided by a narrator who described what we would see and provided instructions via our earphones, we were shortly transported to another planet.

Our platform floated forward across the landscape, past various flora and fauna of an alien world. There were huge dinosaur-like creatures which provided a true sense of wonder similar to a scene from Jurassic Park. Colorful plant life and smaller animals were also there, and there were a few opportunities to interact with the creatures and objects in specific scenes.

The final scene is a bit more action oriented, as a larger creature appears to attack the vehicle. Being a family-friendly attraction, it’s more exciting than scary. The relatively short (around 12 minutes) adventure was a truly magical experience. I highly recommend it for anyone who has never experienced VR before, as well as for VR enthusiasts.

Curse of the Lost Pearl: A Magic Projector Adventure

20190621_120246The second attraction I experienced was more of an Indiana Jones-style adventure, set in the past. The concept is that an inventor has created a “magic projector” that enables viewers to go inside a motion picture. The effect to create this illusion is truly remarkable in VR, and I won’t spoil it here.

The initial setup was the same as with Alien Zoo. However, once the experience begins the group has more freedom to navigate the virtual environment and participate in the story. At one point, the group was split in half, and it appeared as if we were separated by a great distance across a chasm.

More interactivity is provided in this experience (compared to Alien Zoo), and a fast paced vehicle ride at the end provides an exciting climax.

Again, highly recommended!

Comparison to The VOID

I have previously reported about my visits to The VOID (Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire and Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment). Both of these are extremely high quality VR attractions, similar to those at Dreamscape. However, there are notable differences in the venue, setup, and overall experience provided by each.

Dreamscape has devoted much more attention to the lobby and outdoor area of their venue. The lobby itself includes many props and artifacts from each of the adventures available, getting you into the mood before beginning your adventure. The VOID has a much smaller lobby, with little to look at other than a few souvenirs available for purchase.

Dreamscape also provides more instruction and attention for users, while suiting up in the VR equipment. This makes sense, since there are more external trackers required to be worn. The VOID does not require trackers for your hands or feet.

Finally, Dreamscape’s attractions seem to offer more freedom of movement, in the sense that participants are able to walk freely on the virtual platforms, while the adventure unfolds around you in VR. At the VOID, your actions are more “directed” with less freedom of choice. Both of these approaches work very well, and neither is necessarily “better” than the other.

Ultimately, both Dreamscape and The VOID are able to offer cutting-edge location based VR experiences of the highest quality. This level of room-scale VR simply cannot be experienced at home. I hope to see many more VR attractions in the months and years ahead from both of these establishments.

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Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Back to the VOID: A scary good time in VR with Nicodemus, Demon of Evanishment

In June 2019, I had the opportunity to visit The VOID in Glendale, California for their VR attraction Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment. A very strange name, but a very worthwhile VR experience!

This was not my first time to the VOID. I had experienced their Ghostbusters attraction in NYC as well as Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire in both Orlando and Anaheim. But I had heard good things about Nicodemus, which is a very different experience (more horror than action/adventure). It’s not recommended for young children, because it has some disturbing images and quite a few jump scares.

I was not disappointed. Here is a rundown of the experience, which may contain a few SPOILERS.

Back in time

20190624_053613After checking in at the front desk, you get to choose a character by picking a physical card representing your role in the experience. (As a nice bonus, you get to keep the card as a souvenir of your visit.) After selecting your character and watching an introductory video, you are escorted into a setup area where you and up to three friends are instructed to put on your VR gear (a customized flip-up style Oculus Rift headset with headphones, tethered to a backpack PC). After everyone is suited up, you are led to the start position for your adventure, and asked to lower your headset and have fun!

The overall concept is a trip back in time to the Chicago Word’s Fair in 1893. There was an exhibit known as “Electro-Spiritualism” which allowed visitors to experience various effects related to spirituality and technology. Kind of a paranormal idea, which many people believed in at the time. The attraction at the fair was a moving platform that would take visitors past different scenes, with animatronic figures representing different ideas. (I know this is a very vague description, but I want to avoid spoilers). Here is more “official” info from the VOID’s website:

In the summer of 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition – aka the Chicago World’s Fair – was held on the south side of Chicago. Three days before the fair closed, a tragic demonstration in the Electro-Spiritualism exhibit brought something terrible into our world.

Word spread that an unknown creature was luring guests down to an ‘Evanishment Room’ from which they never returned. The attractions were quickly and quietly closed. Workmen refused to dismantle the exhibits as the fair died around it. Two months later on January 4, 1894, strange lights were seen coming from the abandoned exhibit hall.

You and up to three friends or family will travel back over one hundred twenty years to that night at the decaying Chicago World’s Fair. You will choose one of six personas through which you will discover frights, trials, and adventure around every corner. Your goal is simple: explore the abandoned exhibits and don’t get caught by the demon… Nicodemus.

The best way to describe it is a Victorian era horror experience, with an aesthetic very similar to the video game BioShock (more specifically BioShock 2, which has a similar scene where you move on a ride vehicle through an abandoned museum exhibit).

The exhibit has deteriorated over time, with most of the figures and features looking old and decrepit. Lighting and sound are used to great effect, to facilitate multiple jump scares throughout the experience. There is also a CREATURE. (That’s all I will say on that topic!).

Puzzles and jump scares

There are some puzzle aspects to the experience, in which you have to manipulate objects in order to proceed to the next scene. Nothing too complex, but interactive enough to make it interesting. The experience includes multiple room-scale VR scenes, which may involve standing, sitting, and/or walking short distances. The VR effects make the overall environment seem much larger than the actual physical location. For example, in the first scene your ride vehicle appears to move forward in VR, but you are really standing in one place in the real world. At one point, you appear to descend on an elevator for many hundreds of feet, but in reality you haven’t moved at all.

The climax involves some very cool effects with the CREATURE (no spoilers). Overall, for people who are affected by darkness and/or jump scares, this experience will be scary as hell. I heard many screams from a family in front of me who were going through the attraction before me. Personally, I enjoy horror films that are creepy/spooky but not gory.  This attraction fits perfectly with that description.

Bonus content

Interestingly, there is much more info (including a complete short story!) providing more info on the VOID’s website.

Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment is a unique and beautifully designed experience that I highly recommend. It’s a much slower-paced attraction compared to other VR experiences at the VOID, and a very enjoyable “funhouse” experience not to be missed!

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Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.