Mark Zuckerberg wants the Oculus Rift to close the gap between virtual reality and mainstream entertainment, but he may have some surprise competition. Yesterday, a concept ad for THE VOID ("Vision Of Infinite Dimensions") -- a VR gaming center in Salt Lake City, Utah, which plans to open in 2016 -- went massively viral:
Looks awesome, even if those of us old enough to remember Virtual Boy, Nintendo's clunky '90s headset console, may be skeptical. Ken Bretschneider, CEO of THE VOID, who "grew up as a 'Star Trek'/'Star Wars' kid" and is financing the project himself from money he made by founding a web security company, told MTV News about his vision of building centers worldwide, and how he hopes to change gaming, education and even law enforcement.
The problem with most VR technology, according to Bretschneider, is that our brains can tell it isn't, y'know, real.
Most developers are seeking to create "a consumer-level product under $500," Bretschneider says, but he believes cheaper hardware makes for a less convincing experience, like watching a film at home versus going to an IMAX theater.
"We didn't have that limitation," Bretschneider adds. "Instead of a single flat screen in front of your eyes, we’re using curved screen technology. ... Most [head-mounted displays] on the market only let you see 100, 110 degrees of your vision, whereas in the real world you see 200 degrees with peripheral vision, which makes it feel natural."
His team's biggest challenge was eliminating the motion sickness that many people experience with VR.
"If you're sitting in your chair or office or living room, using a controller to run around a virtual world, it doesn't feel natural, because your body isn't moving around," Bretschneider says. "It's much like the experience of being in the back of a car, and your friend's driving up a windy road -- they're swerving back and forth, and you're getting sick in the backseat, but the driver's not [getting sick] because he's in control."
Bretschneider claims THE VOID gets around this by utilizing both digital and physical environments -- you can touch real objects, smell various scents, and feel temperature changes on your skin and vibrations under your feet, so the visuals align with your other senses.
"We couldn't create an experience that makes you feel sick, or people won't come back again and again -- they'll go one time and say, 'I'm going to barf,'" Bretschneider says. "We have to create an environment that's so real, you can walk around it ... in perfect 1:1 human matching motion. ... We've put hundreds of people through it already -- children, women, men, all the way up through 80-year-olds. We have not had a person who didn't feel comfortable inside the environment."
Oh, speaking of driving up a windy road, Bretschneider teases that his team is developing in-game vehicle simulators "for any vehicle experience, in a fighter jet or spaceship or submarine. ... Your buddies could be ... air support in your post-apocalyptic war." (Not to get our hopes too high before we've actually tried this, but that last sentence may be the coolest thing we've ever heard?)
THE VOID will open with three games -- a sci-fi one, a fantasy one and a kids' puzzle one -- but Bretschneider hopes to license properties like "The Hunger Games" and major superheroes.
"It’s going to be an open platform [for] other game developers and studios to bring really amazing content that people are looking for," he says. "Think of how many 3D assets they have already."
And he imagines these games would shift throughout the year, centrally distributed "all over North America and Asia and Europe and other places," like how movie studios release summer and winter blockbusters. In October, for example, THE VOID would have a Halloween experience, "The most haunting experience you've ever had in the whole world -- I don't have to deal with actors putting on makeup and creating a physical creature out of robotics; I can create a creature beyond belief ... and I'll hit you with all of the real-world effects."
But each gamer could experience a different level of visual intensity, Bretschneider explains: "We can change the rating system of the experience on the fly. Dad wants to see really hardcore zombies, but ... junior's going to be traumatized [and] can see like a 'Plants Vs. Zombies' version of a zombie, with a bubblegum gun, and see these fun characters [while] dad sees scary stuff."
No, he doesn't think this will make the cinema obsolete.
"We're not replacing movies," Bretschneider tells us. "Movies are great. I love watching them. They'll never go away, in my opinion. But this is more of an adventure. We can put you into a 'Lord of the Rings' style environment -- maybe someday we'll be lucky enough to have [an official] 'Lord of the Rings' adventure."
But he does want his technology to change other elements of society.
"We’ll have pods open for educational experiences -- imagine classrooms [of students going] into a fairly large dinosaur world, or seeing extreme weather," Bretschneider says. "Not just looking at it but experiencing it. We can create education in a way it’s never been done before. We’ve had visits by military and police, EMTs, who have interest for training experiences."
Bretschneider won't reveal the pricing structure yet, but promises it'll be affordable.
"We’re getting close [to figuring it out], looking at data and feasibility studies with a company that designs it for Disney, Universal," Bretschneider says. "We'll charge the same price as a haunted house, higher-end paintball, higher-end museum -- that might cost $30, $35. Those are the kind of price points we're trying to target. We'll have membership benefits, things like that."
Most games would last for half an hour, he estimates, but "a half-hour experience in our world is more than a two-hour experience at a movie, far more entertainment value. ... You get to live it. It’s a reality."
He resists the comparison to laser tag, which was popular nationwide and then went bust in many locations.
"We have a retail environment that’s very urban, modern, not cheesy -- it’s not ever going to feel outdated," Bretschneider insists. "You can go any place, any time, any dimension you can think of; it's only limited by the content we can provide and our imaginations. ... Our R&D [and] content development will never end. We have built a business model that is self-sustainable. People will come back again and again."
Is this all marketing hype? Can it possibly live up to the expectations Bretschneider's setting? He doesn't sound too concerned about any possibility of failure: "I'm not a stupid businessperson. ... People only worry about skeptics if they have something that isn't cool."