The landscape around the building was incredibly unassuming as we pulled up to the industrial park’s parking lot.
“Are we in the right place?” I asked, turning to Taylor Freeman, one of my co-founders at UploadVR.
The building in front of us was about as unpretentious as it could possibly be, a far cry from what we had seen in the video. A single story concrete slab of small offices tucked behind another concrete slab of small offices, the modest setting punctuated by the dry mountainous terrain of Utah.
The navigation system interjected, “you have arrived.”
“I guess so,” said Taylor, smiling.
I scanned the plain concrete facades and the glass doors of the offices along the strip, looking for one that stood out. I didn’t find it, not at first. It took a good two minutes to locate the low-key white logo on the plain glass door, but as soon as I did I felt a familiar jolt of excitement, that jolt that comes when you instinctively know you are about experience something awesome.
I was about to enter The Void.
For those unfamiliar, The Void is an out of home virtual entertainment center that is making its mission to create the most immersive VR experiences possible, using advanced proprietary virtual reality technology and real world effects. Earlier in May, they released a YouTube video teasing the centers’ promising capabilities; which if you haven’t seen is well worth the watch.
The company’s founder and Chief Visionary Officer, James Jensen greeted us at the door. We both shook his hand as we gazed around the office, which was far less unassuming on the inside. Stone tiles engraved with The Void’s logo adorned the wall directly in front of the entrance. To our right was a lounge area positioned in front of the room to the experience itself (which requires an entire staging area). Above the couch in the lounge was another logo display, this one with animation playing in the negative space of the letters. The impressive interior juxtaposed against the modest exterior in a way that screamed stealthily-well-funded startup.
As Jensen led us into the conference room to chat he informed us that unfortunately we were unable to try the company’s proprietary setup, The Rapture, because it was not quite yet ready. However, we were able to get a peek at some of the pieces being built into the prototype. The headset itself will feature a unique dual curved screen design with a very intriguing dual aspheric, fresnel lens design which is aimed at providing a crisp view in the center of the gaze with the addition of peripheral vision. Jensen tells us that they are “shooting for 160° to 180° [FOV].”
The headset’s proposed design is also punctuated by something Jensen has dubbed, “the backtop.” The backtop refers to the back of the headset, wherein all of the key components and sensors are housed. This allows for a very lightweight and thin front shield design as well as a more balanced ergonomic feel. This innovation, Jensen believes, will be the future of HMDs. The Rapture also uses an incredibly novel tracking solution that is unlike any of the other solutions being utilized by the other headset manufacturers, but we will dive into that in a lot more depth in a separate piece.
After chatting with us for a while, Jensen led us towards the door to The Void, sparking up further conversation as we went.
“So when we were getting started on this project someone told me to pick up a copy of Ready Player One,” he said. “I thought it was pretty hilarious that the guy is also named James,” smiling as he opened the door to his own Oasis. The signs all over the wall made it clear that what was behind the doors in this room was secret, and I left my camera outside in the lounge area.
The room was fairly dark, aside from a few lights above the set, which we were told earlier was only about a fourth of the size of the full playfield. The area appeared to stretch back about forty feet and reminded me of a laser tag arena as I walked up the stairs.
At the top of the stairs was a starting zone. To the right was a touchpad embedded on the wall that displayed experiences and arena controls. This was the command center where every experience was launched and controlled. To the left were the temporary hardware setups, a DK2 with a Leap Motion mounted on the front, attached to a helmet with Optitrack marker balls plastered around it. Above us were tens of Optitrack motion capture cameras, The Void’s temporary tracking solution.
I slipped on the back pack computer, stood on one of the numbers on the floor before pulling the helmet over my head and slipping the DK2 over my eyes. I plunged into blackness.
“Ready player one,” I exhaled in anticipation, as Jensen laughed approvingly.