A Ghostbusters-themed attraction points the way toward new forms of immersive entertainment.
Madame Tussauds, the wax museum and noted tourist magnet, may not be the most obvious place to look for the next big thing in gaming. But although the museum’s new Ghostbusters attraction begins inauspiciously with kitschy static figures, it also offers up “Ghostbusters: Dimension”, a new VR experience that, while flawed, exceeds expectations.
The new attraction is the first public installation by The Void, a new company that’s creating the first-ever VR theme park, to be built in Utah (we wrote about it here when plans were announced last summer).
The full-scale park still doesn’t have an opening date, so for the time being The Void’s work at Madame Tussauds is the public’s best chance to experience “Hyper-Reality”—a term that The Void uses to refer to its blend of “a physical set, real-time interactive effects, and virtual reality.”
What this means, practically speaking, is that players can roam freely within a virtual space viewed through VR headsets, while also exploring a physical space that overlaps with it. “It’s taking two realities, virtual reality and physical reality and melding them together—that’s why we call it Hyper-Reality,” explained Ken Bretschneider, The Void’s CEO.
In “Ghostbusters: Dimension”, guests explore a haunted New York City mansion, shoot guns at spooky creatures, and ride elevators on vibrating mats that mimic the feeling of vertical motion. The haptic elements add to the sense of immersion in the story. “Virtual reality and being able to move through it wirelessly is a really powerful thing,” says Bretschneider. “All of your senses being triggered inside the world creates this illusion that it’s real.”
Bretschneider says he sees his technology as a delivery vehicle for new forms of narrative, educational entertainment, puzzle-solving environments, haunting attractions and more. Because The Void’s experiences make use of vertical movement and other narrative devices, small physical spaces can accommodate a huge range of visual turf that feels realistic. He also sees Hyper-Reality as a natural fit for branded content. Branding and virtual worlds, in his view, “can coexist together without making it too commercial.”
But the technology does have its flaws. For now, players have to wear cumbersome backpacks that feel like early-stage technology akin to the bulky mobile phones of 30 years ago. The experience also suffers from one of VR’s biggest problems: how to effectively scale the experience when every user needs their own elaborate device (even at the press preview, wait times were substantial). Still, we walked away from “Ghostbusters: Dimension” with the impression that truly believable virtual environments are closer than ever.
For more on the creative possibilities of virtual reality, see our review of the Versions conference.