Tag Archives: The Void

XR for Media Newsfeed – October 19, 2019

Stories this week include more on Avengers: Damage Control at The VOID, the shutdown of Google’s Daydream VR platform, the Mona Lisa in VR, BBC ending its two-year VR experiment, and much more below:

Collider: First Impressions: We’ve Played the ‘Avengers: Damage Control’ VR

Wired: Avengers: Damage Control Pushes VR to New Heights 

Variety: Google Ships Pixel 4 Without Daydream VR Support, Stops Selling Daydream Viewer

Engadget: Google’s Daydream VR experiment is over

Engadget: The (Day)dream is over: Phone-based VR is well and truly dead

UploadVR: The Death Of Daydream Isn’t The Death Of The Dream, VR’s Just Growing Up

New York Times: Meeting the ‘Mona Lisa’ for an Intimate (Virtual) Rendezvous

UploadVR: BBC’s VR Work Will Continue As VR Hub Stops Commissioning + Production

Engadget: BBC winds down its in-house VR production team

Forbes: Can Virtual Reality Capture The Experience Of Being In A Museum?

Variety: AmazeVR Strikes Immersive Content Distribution Deal With Atlas V, Felix & Paul Studios (EXCLUSIVE)

Fortune: Meet the Executive Leading Facebook’s Big Augmented and Virtual Reality Push

a.list: Virtual Reality Marketing In The Time Of Oculus Quest

Motley Fool: AR and VR Are Cool Tech Ideas, but They Are Not Hot Investments

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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.

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.

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.

 

 

My Trip to the VOID: Star Wars Virtual Reality

In October 2018, I had an opportunity to try The VOID’s virtual reality attraction “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire” at Disney Springs in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

The VOID is one of the top creators of “location based” virtual reality (VR) experiences. They have built facilities at a number of locations around the world, and are adding more as we speak. In addition to the Star Wars attraction, they also offer a VR adventure in the world of Ghostbusters, as well as a horror-themed attraction, “Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment” (whatever that means).

This was not my first time at a VOID attraction. I had previously visited the Ghostbusters experience at Madame Tussaud’s in New York City, and had a fantastic time. This time, I was looking forward to going inside the world of Star Wars, through the magic of virtual reality.

The venue

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Disney Springs is a busy place, and I was a bit concerned about the crowds. I did not make a reservation in advance, but decided to drop in around noon on a busy Friday in October. At the reservation desk, I asked if I should reserve a time later in the day, or just go in now. Surprisingly, the attendant said there was a group starting in a few minutes which I could join immediately. I was by myself, so I would be grouped with three random participants. I was given a wristband with my identification as “REBEL Roy.” The price (with tax) came to $37.94.

wristband - Copy

After registration, I had to sign a liability waiver using one of the iPads on one side of the lobby. Personally, I wasn’t too concerned about dying in VR. After all, this wasn’t an episode of Black Mirror. I was just here to have a good time!

Gearing up

There was a short delay while the group in front of us took a bit longer inside the attraction, but ultimately we were underway in about twenty minutes. We entered in two groups of four, and proceeded to the introduction area. Large viewscreens were displayed on both sides of the room, with each group of four facing their own screen. First we had to activate our wristbands (using iPads mounted on pedestals in front of the screen) and select a color scheme for our stormtrooper armor, which would be visible in the virtual environment. This would enable us to identify each other inside the experience.

An introduction film played simultaneously on both screens, with the audio piped in via speakers throughout the room. We would all be disguised as stormtroopers (in virtual reality, of course), and tasked to infiltrate an Imperial base. Our mission briefing was provided by Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). After the short introductory film, we were escorted into the next room.

This is where we were instructed to put on our gear, which consisted of a vest/backpack and a VR headset with built-in headphones and a flip-up visor. The attendant ensured that each of us were properly fitted and fully ready to go. Once ready, we were escorted into the attraction proper and told to lower our visors to begin the experience.

Amusement and amazement

Without giving away any major spoilers, the basic story involves meeting a few characters from the Star Wars universe (good guys and bad guys), and blasting at various enemies while walking around different environments on a lava planet. The most fun part of the experience is actually seeing yourself and your companions dressed as stormtroopers, and bumping into each other as you try to get through doors, across bridges and around various droids and other Star Wars props. Although I had just met my companions for the first time, we all laughed a lot just navigating through the experience. I’m sure it would be even more fun with close friends and family members (Grandma? – maybe not).

What sets the VOID apart, besides the ability to roam freely in a VR world, is the multi-sensory experience. Early in your adventure, you pick up a blaster rifle (an actual object in the real world, which looks like a stormtrooper rifle in VR). You feel the wind and heat when you travel on a troop transport over the lava planet. You can touch other real objects (walls, railings, even droids), while your VR stormtrooper hand touches them in the virtual world. The haptic vests provide feedback from blaster fire, and other environmental effects. All of these things add up to an amazing experience that you simply can’t have with at-home VR technology.

There were moments when I truly experienced a sense of “presence” in VR, where I felt like I was actually in another place. As I traversed a narrow platform high over a lava lake, I took baby steps for fear of falling over the edge. As I was blasting enemies with with my stormtrooper rifle, it felt as real as if I were actually in a Star Wars movie.

A few (minor) issues

Overall, the VOID’s Star Wars attraction is the best experience I’ve had till now in VR. Admittedly, there were a few times when the virtual imagery was out of sync, or there seemed to be a lag when my companions would appear to jump forward  or “slide” instead of walking more naturally. These cases were few and far between, and did not take away from my overall enjoyment of the experience.

Unfortunately, there was a point towards the end of the adventure (which lasted around 10-12 minutes), where we got stuck. In one of the final rooms, the end scene did not trigger properly, and we couldn’t figure out what to do next. Open a door? Hit a droid on the head? Eventually, an attendant had to escort us out of the experience, and allowed us to start over. In my case, I didn’t have time to go through again, but thankfully I was given a voucher for a free experience on a future date.

Given the advanced technology required for free-roam virtual reality, it’s understandable that there may be some hiccups or bugs as VR continues to develop and improve. However, the potential is enormous, and I expect that this type of attraction will proliferate worldwide in the months and years ahead.

 

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.

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Oculus to Invest in Location Based Virtual Reality

According to Variety, Facebook’s VR subsidiary Oculus is looking to invest in location-based VR. They expect that partnerships with out-of-home virtual reality providers will help to sell VR headsets for home users.

Since acquiring Oculus in the spring of 2014, Facebook has focused mainly on development of VR hardware such as the Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, and Oculus Quest. With this new approach, the company is officially embracing the out-of-home VR market. This is consistent with an overall trend in the VR marketplace, as home usage has still not reached mainstream adoption levels.

Oculus has for some time worked with a few marquee partners in location-based entertainment. Most notably, Disney-backed VR startup the Void has been using modified Oculus headsets for its VR experience centers. Oculus further validated that partnership by inviting the Void to last week’s Oculus Connect conference, where the startup showed off its latest “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire” experience to attendees.

That experience could also be a blueprint for how Oculus is going to approach location-based entertainment: Instead of just offering scaled-down versions of those experiences for users at home, the company may rely on companion pieces to tie in-home and out-of-home VR together.

This is an exciting development for VR overall, as a combination of in-home and out-of-home experiences can only provide more options for customers.

Variety‘s article can be found here.

 

The Promise of Location-Based Virtual Reality (VR)

Over the past four years, virtual reality (VR) has established itself in the consciousness of tech enthusiasts worldwide. Unfortunately, mainstream consumers have yet to fully embrace the wonders of VR, mainly due to pricing, content, and usability issues. The technology itself is still developing, with various form factors and features that have not been fully standardized. The variety of VR device types (mobile, tethered, PC- or PS4- connected) leaves the average consumer overwhelmed and confused. Mainstream adoption for home users will only be achieved when the available options are narrowed down, and pricing vs. content are more reasonably balanced.

Meanwhile, VR has been moving quickly in another direction. As the home market struggles to take hold with consumers, the location based entertainment (LBE) market is beginning to establish a foothold with consumers looking for more “out of home” entertainment options.

Home vs. Away

One of the main issues preventing VR’s popularity with home users is a lack of space to fully enjoy it. Although “room scale” VR is possible at home, the average consumer is constrained by their environment. Most users of high-end “tethered” devices are using their headsets in an office, family room, or other shared space in the home. It’s unlikely that they’ve cleared the room of furniture and other items to facilitate an optimal room-scale experience.

As a result, most home users are experiencing VR from a seated position, or while standing in place. This is fine for most VR content, but the true potential of VR lies in its ability to transport us to other places, and let us move freely within them. Most VR games and apps incorporate “teleportation” as a means to allow users to hop from place to place in a virtual environment. Others enable “smooth locomotion,” which is more like movement in the real world, allowing you to “slide” in different directions at walking or running speed. The latter method may result in motion sickness for some users, hence the option for teleportation as a more comfortable transport system.

Most of the above issues are not a problem with location based, or “free roam” VR. Currently available at venues such as The VOID or Dreamscape Immersive, these experiences are often presented in “warehouse-scale” environments. Participants must wear a backpack computer along with a VR headset, as well as a haptic vest or other peripheral device. Depending on the technology available, users have virtually unlimited freedom of movement, albeit in a “guided” experience that usually follows a specific narrative.

VRcades – a good idea?

Premium out-of-home VR experiences like The VOID are the exception rather than the rule. Besides these high-end venues, there are also locations where users can experience basic VR content in an arcade-like environment. These are known as “VRcades,” and usually offer content similar to what users can find at home (360 videos and other VR apps on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or Oculus Go.)

Because these venues are offering content that is also available at home, it’s questionable whether they can be successful without offering some premium experiences (with “free roam” content, omni-directional treadmills, or other location specific features). Dave and Buster’s has been extremely successful with this approach, and plans to increase their deployment of VR attractions in the near future.

At best, the VRcades will help to introduce more people to VR and get them to try a headset, with the hope that they will eventually purchase their own device when it becomes affordable.

If we build it, will they come?

Even though location based VR can offer amazing experiences above and beyond what’s possible at home, will enough people be interested to try it (and pay for it)? In my opinion, yes. But there are several key factors that must be in place to ensure success:

  1. Effective marketing
  2. Reasonable pricing
  3. Comfortable experience
  4. Easy on/off process
  5. Efficient throughput
  6. Amazing content
  7. Testing, testing, testing!

Charlie Fink has written an excellent article covering all the current free roam VR companies, and offering further ideas for success in this emerging market.

Ultimately, VR will successfully establish a foothold with home users, as well as in the out-of-home market. However, it seems likely that “free roam” VR experiences will only be possible at outside venues for the time being. It’s possible that advanced multiplayer technology may one day allow home users to participate remotely, using teleportation or smooth locomotion to play together with users at other locations. Imagine a future VR version of World of Warcraft, where players could participate remotely from home or directly in groups at a free-roam VR location.

Five years from now, immersive technology will bring us closer to experiencing the Oasis of Ready Player One. With the continuing success of location based VR, that future may finally become a (virtual) reality.

 

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 Adds More Disney VR Experiences

Later this year and in 2019, location-based entertainment company The VOID will launch new experiences based on Disney and Marvel properties. According to the company, they plan to release five new “hyper-reality” experiences in the months ahead. As previously reported by Fast Company:

The company also revealed that the first experience, which will debut this fall, will be based on the upcoming Disney animated movie Ralph Breaks The Internet. It will be followed by one based on an undisclosed Marvel movie that will premiere sometime in 2019. Marvel’s pre-announced 2019 films are Captain Marvel, Spiderman: Far from Home, and an Avengers. Walt Disney Animation’s only new film next year is Frozen 2, which comes out in November.

The VOID has multiple locations including Disney Springs (Orlando, FL), Downtown Disney District (Anaheim, CA), as well as locations in Canada and Dubai. Additional locations are planned for Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, New York, and Philadelphia (among others).

The following VR experiences are currently available at various locations:

  • Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire
  • Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment
  • Ghostbusters: Dimension

More information is available at The VOID’s website.