by Transmute Jun
Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is a new VR (Virtual Reality) enhanced experience that opened on December 16, 2017. The attraction is put on by The Void, a company creatively backed by Tracy Hickman, best known for the many fantasy novels and Dungeons & Dragons books he has authored. Hickman and his son Curtis were fascinated by VR technology and wanted to bring it to the next level. As such, The Void is a ‘4D’ VR experience that combines not only audio and visual effects, but also allows participants to experience the story through touch and smell. The Void started with basic VR but took a step beyond; when participants touch something in the story, they feel it in a physical fashion, whether it is a door, a wall, a button on a panel, or a gun. There is room to move around, and participants are not constrained as they are with a home VR set (such as an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive). When participants encounter heat or cold or dampness, they can feel it on their skin. The experience is 360 degrees, and players can look behind them, up and down, and see everything as if they were actually there. The Void calls this ‘hyper reality’ and their goal, (which is very nearly achieved) is full immersion, so that participants feel like they are actually there and involved directly in the storyline.
The Void’s first project was a Ghostbusters story where participants could take on the role of ghost hunters, using VR technology to immerse themselves in the fictional world. The Ghostbusters experience is available in Toronto, New York City and Lindon, UT. Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is their latest project. It is available at Disneyworld in Orlando, FL (at Disney Springs) and Disneyland in Anaheim, CA (at Downtown Disney). The experience is also currently available for a limited 12-week engagement in London, England.
Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire takes full advantage of the Star Wars mythology, allowing participants to take on the role of rebels infiltrating an Empire base, dressed in Stormtrooper gear. Without giving any spoilers, participants encounter some familiar faces from the Star Wars mythos and the experience contains some Easter eggs and references for superfans. However, even those unfamiliar with Star Wars will be able to follow the plotline and enjoy the experience.
Upon arriving at The Void, participants scan their tickets and register for their session. A wristband with a QR code is printed out, to identify each unique player. Participants go through in groups of 4; if a party is fewer than 4 people, they will be matched with strangers to make a group of 4. Once the group is formed, players will be welcomed as members of the Rebel Alliance and briefed on their mission by a familiar face. They will then get to choose identifying colors, which will be used to allow the players to recognize each other in the game (because after all, every Stormtrooper looks alike). Then they will be fitted with their gear.
Every participant must wear a headset and a ‘backpack’ into the experience. The headset includes VR goggles and audio speakers, as well as a microphone. This allows the players to hear the action in the game and also to talk to each other during the experience. The headset completely covers the player’s eyes with a special screen, so that everything they see is part of the world they are experiencing. The ‘backpack’ adds special effects and also gives the feel of wearing armor. While it is not heavy, it definitely makes the experience feel more real to have that additional weight and bulk.
Once everyone is dressed in their gear, the group is sent on their mission. Their actions in the game dictate many of the results, but it’s safe to say that the storyline is ‘secure’ enough that all players will make it through to the end.
I experienced Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire in Anaheim, CA, the day after The Void opened at Disneyland. I found the game to be enjoyable, although those who are familiar with VR technology (such as those who have a VR headset at home) may not find it as ‘cutting edge’ as those who have not previously experienced such programs. The other members of my party found the story to be extremely immersive, however I was a little more detached due to my gear being ill-fitting. Perhaps this is because the location was new, but the only choices for gear were large and medium (men’s/unisex sizing). I definitely needed a small set of gear and suffered from a headset that left gaps in my vision and a ‘backpack’ that was not entirely snug against my body. Neither of two different techs was able to make the medium gear fit me properly, and they eventually gave up, just telling me to go with it and to avoid looking out of the headset. I did my best to embrace the storyline and was successful for the most part, but I would hope that The Void offers better gear fit/sizing in the future. This was my issue alone, and I did not encounter others who had experienced the same thing.
Reviews for Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire from players have been generally positive and it is highly recommended for those who want to experience enhanced VR, and for those who are fans of the Star Wars franchise. Tickets cost $30 for a 30-minute experience, plus service fees, and can be purchased at https://www.thevoid.com/. For those who don’t mind minimal spoilers, you can watch a trailer of the experience.
Have you experienced The Void? Join the conversation on FoCC!