The Void proves the concept of location-based VR with Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire

I am a strong believer that virtual reality’s success will come from location-based multiplayer experiences. VR arcades are popping up in cities around the world, though many of these offer ‘standard’ virtual reality games intended for single-player play, or connected online multiplayer that doesn’t require players to be in the same room. The Void, however, offers bespoke VR experiences for up to four players at a time, to explore a shared world using impressive technology developed by OptiTrack.

Recently, The Void has established temporary pop-up ‘rides’ in Westfield shopping centres in London, giving many their first taste of the future of location-based entertainment. The company offers games based on huge popular franchises, with its more permanent fixtures in Dubai, New York and Toronto offering Ghostbusters Dimension, while Londoners can enjoy Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, set during the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I stepped into the shiny white boots of a Stormtrooper to see whether VR games of this ilk really have legs.

In short, if this is just the inception of the technology, we have an exciting, immersive future to look forward to. The only downside was the length of the game. It lasts around 15 to 20 minutes which, for a £35 investment, might give some people pause. Having said that, The Void’s setup means this is a completely unique experience that is better compared to a theme park ride than a 20-hour boxed title. My hopes are that as development and technology costs come down, these games can gain in length. I could easily have spent an hour in that world, exploring the planet Mustafar with friends.

It’s this social multiplayer aspect that really elevates The Void above home VR, with an intense sense of presence and freedom. This is thanks to an ‘untethered’ feeling that comes from the player wearing a powerful computer as a backpack. The OptiTrack cameras even allow for full hand tracking, right down to individual fingers. Yes, you can flip your Stormtrooper pals the bird. That was the first thing we tried. Clearly this game was developed with American audiences in mind, however, as we spent a lot of the time apologising for getting in each others’ way. When’s the last time you saw Stormtroopers stuck in an “oh sorry, after you”, “no no, after you” loop?

It was a very strange feeling to see the other players around me, especially since the software scales the character models to the player’s actual height. This helps with identifying exactly who’s doing what. As mentioned earlier, The Void’s London attractions are temporary pop-ups and it’s incredible how a series of small rooms, nestled in a shopping centre forecourt, can be transformed into epic vistas. The experience takes advantage of as many senses as possible; touch the walls, they’re really there. That railing preventing you from falling into the lava pit is there too. Pick up the gun. Oh yes, pick up the gun. It really exists, and you’d better be prepared to use it.

I don’t want to ruin any of Secrets of the Empire’s surprises, as it’s well worth a visit if you’re able. Hopefully, if these temporary pop-ups are a success (Westfield Shepard’s Bush was a sell out), The Void will invest in a more permanent venue. And developers will be needed to craft more of these amazing experiences. Ideally with some running a little longer than these first tastes allow. 

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