Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Void: Welcome to the Future

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 13, 2015

VoidTemple“We played the VR game Dactyl Nightmare back in the 90’s,” I tell the girl who is helping us suit up. “It made us sick.”

“That won’t happen now,” she says, and then corrects herself. “I won’t say it never happens, but it almost never happens. This is very different, and it isn’t even the final hardware. The real hardware’s going to be even better.”

They keep reminding my wife and I of the fact that none of this is final. Everything will eventually be better. Are they lowering our expectations?

Yes, we’re really just playing through a tech demo of The Void, a new virtual reality experience currently in development in Lindon, Utah. A beta. The demo that we’re running through fits in an area only one quarter of the size of the real “pods” when they open to the public months from now. The experience is only going to be a few minutes long, not the half-hour session they are have in development. Things are supposed to be much, much better in the future.

“The future?” We’re outfitted with backpacks fitted with top-end portable computers, and helmets with 3D high-resolution goggles (although not as high-resolution as the final set, we’ve been reminded), and headphones. We’re about to visit a reality-augmented computer-controlled virtual fantasy world. It sure sounds like we’re living in “the future” right now.

What can be seen from the platform doesn’t look impressive, with black-painted plywood walls and some other equipment shrouded in darkness. I suppose they really don’t need much in the way of light here–with our equipment, we’re going to effectively be blind to the real world, anyway.

As the goggles go over our eyes, we stand in total darkness for several seconds. An attendant puts rifles in our hands. At least, I think it is a rifle. I can only feel it. It’s very lightweight – clearly a prop – but it’s shaped like a rifle and bears a few buttons around it. I have no idea how many. “Only use the trigger for now,” he explains, ” the other buttons don’t do anything right now.”

Then a light appears in front of my eyes. There’s nothing there – just a light. I try to focus my eyes on this, adjusting to the pixelized “screen door” effect of the goggles (an effect that will be reduced in the final hardware, we’ve been promised). Then a picture forms. I find myself standing in… nowhere. I guess that would be a void. There are strange cubes floating around in random directions. And… my rifle. Floating out in space, oriented wherever I move it, held by my now-invisible hands.

I look over to my left. There’s a soldier in battle armor next to me, face concealed in a high-tech helmet. The soldier is a little shorter than me.

“Julie, is that you?” I ask her.

She answers. I hear her answer in the real world, followed a half-second later by her answer in my headphones. “Yes! This is wild!”

The soldier moves around, following Julie’s small shifts in position. It moves like a video game character, feet skating a little in the emptiness as it tries to pose in the virtual space occupied by her real body, but it’s her.

A target appears in the middle of this weird cube-space, and we’re encouraged to shoot at it, to get a feel for our weapons. I fiddle around with different ways of aiming for a few seconds, but it’s ridiculously easy to hit wherever I’m aiming. It all feels… exactly right. Point and shoot. The guns respond with energy blasts exactly as I’d expect, with full sound and 3D visuals in front of me.

The target disappears. “I’m opening up a portal for you now,” the woman says in our ears. “Go through when I say.”

Before us, a black rectangle forms in mid-air. “Go ahead,” the woman tells us.

I can’t help myself. Holding my rifle in my right hand, I reach out with my left. Wasn’t there a wall there before we put on the helmets? I can’t remember. But my hand goes through the black square meeting no resistance. I continue through, Julie right behind me.

We’re now in the metal hallway of some alien base. The voice in our ears is giving us instructions. There’s an alien here that we’re supposed to tag and stun to be retrieved by another team. I only half register what she’s saying, because we’re under attack.

The spiders are about the size of frisbees, and they are everywhere. Crawling down the walls, skittering across the floors, charging us. We’re shoot.  The spiders explode in an appropriately gooey mess when we blast them. The noise of spiders and gunshots and the weird alien ambiance fill my ears. I briefly worry about friendly fire, but I suppose that we can’t really shoot each other. I hope.

The walls around us are covered with webs. I go around a corner. More spiders. And…

I’m walking through cobwebs.

I feel them on my face and arms… little threads dangling from the ceiling. I can’t see them, but I feel them. In a break in the waves of spiders, I reach out and touch the wall next to me. It’s not exactly where I expect it, but it’s close. The wall appears to be covered in cobwebs, but I of course feel just the plain wooden wall. It doesn’t really matter. With each step, I’m willingly getting sucked more and more into the fantasy. My brain is taking its cues from the sights and sounds, and I’m in a frickin’ alien corridor on another planet. My senses are being fooled. The conscious part of my brain is fully aware of the tricks that are being played on it, but the rest of me doesn’t care. It’s real! Enjoy!

We finally exit the spider-filled twisty corridor, and find ourselves in a slightly curved hallway. At the far end there are metal doors to the left and right. I’m focused on the door to the left, in the direction of the hallway curve. The goggles don’t provide any peripheral vision.

“Jay, look out the window,” my wife says behind me. Again, I hear her in the real world first, followed by her voice in my ears. What window?

I turn my head to the right to face a large window on the right wall. Before me is a tremendous alien vista. Craggy peaks, weird sky. I step towards it the window, duck down, and look up to get a better view of the alien sky. Deep down I know that the software is adjusting my viewpoint to match where I’m moving and craning my neck, but the illusion is impressive. There’s an entire alien world out there.

“Wow. Just, wow,” I say. Julie agrees. I’m so glad the spiders have given us a break for now, because I just want to move around this window and look at the wild alien landscape. Almost regretfully, I decide to move forward, back down the hall.

As we get to the end of the window, a panel next to it slides up and open with an appropriate hiss. A doorway? Can we actually go outside?

There’s a catwalk running from the door along the outside wall, parallel to the window. I take a step outside onto the catwalk, and I’m immediately blasted by the wind. Literally. It’s a strong breeze. If there’s some kind of blower or fan in the real world, I can’t hear it, because in my ears I only hear the wind blowing through the craggy valley of a different world.

Julie steps out beside me. I try to feel the edge of the catwalk with my toe. I don’t really feel the edge, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Maybe it’s not a hundred-foot drop like I’m currently looking at, but I could be dealing with either a drop or a wall.

But as I inch along the catwalk, it’s not the concern about a small drop or touching a wall that makes me move away from the edge. No, it’s fear of heights. I’m standing on a frickin’ catwalk blown by a soft alien wind way up in the air on a barren, bizarre landscape.

Strange floating white pods swoop down to attack us!

They bob and weave in the air, shooting slow-moving energy balls at us. There’s only so much room on the catwalk to dodge, but we do what we can as we return fire. The drones take several hits to get knocked out of the air as Julie and I evade their shots. The last drone shoots an energy ball right at my head. I try to move, but it’s coming at me at an angle where I don’t have room to dodge without going over the edge of the catwalk. I duck low, almost into a squat at the last second. The energy ball flies harmlessly over head as I unload my rifle into the drone. It sparks and drops from the air.

We return to the hallway, and step up to the big metal door opposite the one that took us to the catwalk. It doesn’t move until I take a step closer to it, and then it whooshes upwards.

VoidResearchFacilityBeyond it, we see a lab, with a giant liquid-filled cylinder and control panels next to it. Within the cylinder is an unconscious creature, humanoid yet dangerous and alien. The woman’s voice in our headphones informs us that she’s setting our guns to stun mode, and we need to break the creature free and stun it so our retrieval team could safely take it away.

Julie shoots the cylinder. Little yellow splashes of light explode where her projectiles hit the glass. I don’t really see if that’s having an effect, so I take shots at the control panels next to the cylinder. Still nothing, at least not that I notice. So I walk towards the controls. Do I have to activate them manually?

The glass shatters. Something we did woke it up and broke it free. It leaps onto the floor, hissing at Julie just a few feet away. We both shoot it at different angles. It leaps away from the crossfire, onto the far wall above a closed door. We keep firing, and it succumbs to the stunning blasts. It falls off the wall and rolls onto the middle of the floor with a thud at my feet.

“Good work,” the voice tells us, explaining that we’re done and the creature has been stunned and tagged. The far door opens.

I have to step over the creature. I deliberately reach out with my foot. Of course, there’s nothing there. I didn’t expect there to be. But I’m staring at the creature with my own eyes, and I find myself stepping over it anyway on my way to the door. What am I going to believe, my brain or my own eyes?

The Matrix has you.

We step through the door, go down a short hall, and find ourselves back in the entry area. The voice in our headsets says, “You went through that really fast. You still have time left. Do you want to go again?”

“Oh, yeah!” I answer. “Actually, can we try the temple out?” That’s their other experience.

“Sure!” she says, brightly.

In about one minute, we’re in a completely new adventure. As different as night and day from the last one. Our guns are replaced (eventually) with a torch, which we can actually move about and stick in dark nooks and crannies to illuminate them. We’re no longer soldiers , but ghostlike translucent mesh figures exploring an ancient temple, full of sights, sounds, heat from fires, mist from a waterfall, and… Well. It’s another story. A whole new adventure.

I never could believe my eyes.

There were glitches. The walls didn’t line up perfectly at times. This made it hard to pick up the torch from a sconce on the wall, or to activate an elevator with my palm. These are definitely issues that need to be addressed before launch. The texturing on the temple looked a little painted-on at times. Probably to keep the frame rates running at top speed. Maybe with more powerful computers for the final release, that can be corrected with better materials.

But that’s all the game-developer in me analyzing things. While I commented occasionally on this, what usually came out of my mouth were things like, “Wow!” and “This is amazing!” and “Holy crap!” I was going through the corridors of an alien research lab, or the twisty architecture of an ancient temple! Even making note of these quirks felt like being handed a wad of money and complaining that the bills weren’t new or crisp enough. Minor criticisms aside, they’ve nailed it.

And no, we didn’t experience any motion sickness at all.

The Void marries virtual reality technology with physical effects. They use mist machines, fans, heaters, props, walls, cobwebby threads, and a vibrating platform and probably a lot more to supplement the sights and sound provided by the VR gear. On top of all this, it’s fully interactive, so it’s not like you are just moving through a movie or riding a thrill ride at Disneyland. It responds to your actions in real-time. You are dropped into a virtual world. You get to own it, for a few minutes. It doesn’t feel like technology when you are in it – it’s a place. The fact that two completely different places could be experienced inside the confines of the same 30-foot by 30-foot maze inside some office building says a lot about the possibilities.

Those of us who grew up reading the “Dream Park” series or watching the holodeck sequences in the later Star Trek episodes wondered if the technology would ever get here to allow us to live out fantasies like that. The Void is proof-of-concept that the technology is here, now. It may not be fully polished yet for the mass market, but if this is as rough and as primitive as it will ever be from here on out, we’re finally seeing what virtual reality entertainment has been promising for decades.

The Void

Filed Under: Geek Life, General, Impressions, Tech - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Darius said,

    That sounds amazing. Just reading your description had me grinning from ear to ear. I am very much looking forward to trying this out.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    What’s funny is that I immediately think, “How would I make this into an RPG?” And the really amusing part? I think it would have to be turn based. For safety reasons. But it’d be a hell of an RPG…

  • Darius said,

    That would be awesome. Give a whole new meaning to LARPing. Go once a month or something with your RP group and work your way through a campaign, incredible. But That could get expensive I imagine. And yeah, having a group of people waving swords around in close quarters, even if they were padded, would just be asking for injuries.

  • Maklak said,

    Frivolous lawsuits made the US oversensitised about safety. I’ve even heard Disneyland has padded walkways to avoid children getting injuries from tripping. That’s absurd. In a normal country, if you get an injury at work or in a public place, you get laughed at, then taken to a medic and patched up and maybe get a week or so free from work. No one even thinks about lawsuit when clumsiness is clearly your fault. I’ve gotten bruises, stab wounds from a pitchfork, bite wounds from a dog (well, I got around 300$ from the owner for that and they killed the dog), sunburn/sunstroke, beaten in various ways by my father and severe bleeding from the head and even went to a LARP after someone stabbed his own sister with a knife during a ritual a few years before. Such is life, small injuries and torn clothes are no big deal.

    As to the void itself, I don’t think I’m into it and it has to be expensive, but I think they’ll be successful.

  • David W said,


    On the RPG safety side of things, it seems that there’s a fairly natural solution: armor! Keep the swords padded, but wearing armor as a swordsman seems like it would enhance the experience, not detract.

  • Maklak said,

    Eyes are already protected by VR-googles and I wouldn’t worry too much about getting hit in the torso or arms with a piece of soft plastic. A bigger risk comes from the environment itself, such as someone dodging into a wall and breaking through the plywood.

  • Noumenon72 said,

    Man, the arcade games of the future are going to be like seventeen dollars a credit.

  • Anon said,

    I went to the beta a few weeks ago, and they said that it was going to be $30-$40 for one session, which will be 30 minutes long! And the whole experience he described about the alien one, happens in like 5 minutes. (The girl who suits you up timed us with her cell phone)

    Really, that price isn’t that bad for all the tech that’s going into it. Also I think the walls are made out of some kind of foam, and not plywood. Of course, I don’t know how much more durable that is.