In a 60-by-60-foot room in Salt Lake City, Ken Bretschneider is taking virtual reality experiences to another level.
As soon as next summer, customers visiting The Void could don his custom-built virtual reality gear and not only be immersed in a different world, but able to walk and run around in it. What looks like a bland room lined with dense foam walls will be transformed into something entirely different. Imagine it as laser tag on steroids, or a video game you get to dive into.
Bretschneider was unhappy with the current experience of virtual reality, in which a person is generally confined to a room or chair in their home.
“I wanted to jump out of my chair and go run around,” Bretschneider said. “I wanted to be in there, but I felt like I was separated from that world just sitting down playing a game. So I often would stand up and then I couldn’t do anything.”
His passion for virtual reality arose after selling his cybersecurity business a few years ago. He said he sold it to have more money to pour into Evermore, an attempt to build a theatrical location-based entertainment experience. It would be like a theme park with a heavy dose of technology intertwined.
He poured $13 million of his own money into the project. Along the way he realized he should focus on one element of the project.
“There isn’t any way to be able to go out and create the full potential of virtual reality in the home market,” Bretschneider said. “It became really apparent to me that we needed to build a facility where people could come to and not have to worry about hooking up virtual reality, making it work and trying to run around inside their house.”
To have an experience like what Bretschneider envisions would require having a huge open room in one’s home, and the technical know-how to hang sensors that track players’ locations.
Bretschneider wants to build virtual-reality gaming centers in every city in North America, Asia and Europe. In the fall, construction will start on the first location, in Salt Lake City. It will include seven of the 60-by-60 foot gaming pods, where groups of up to 10 can compete.
The Void is developing its own technology after finding that existing options on the market weren’t fast enough. The frame rate that could be displayed on the headsets was one major sticking point.
Bretschneider said his body-tracking system is a work in progress, and the hardest challenge. The computers that run the experience need to constantly know the exact position of a player’s head and hands. If a player suddenly jumps, or sprints down a hallway, the video feed will need to keep up to preserve the reality of the experience, and prevent the player from getting nausea.
The Void’s body-tracking system relies on sensors with microprocessors built in to crunch data. That will speed up the whole operation.
His internal team of about 30 is also working to develop gloves that players will wear so they can use their hands in the games. Sensors in the gloves will allow the game to be aware of the location of the player’s hands, and transmit an action — shooting a gun, opening a door or carrying a lantern — in the physical world to one in the virtual space.
The Void’s virtual-reality headset includes a curved screen, which Bretschneider said will expand a player’s field of view. They’re targeting at least 160 degrees of view and perhaps up to 180.
He hopes to open the business in the summer of 2016, but acknowledges that could get pushed back.
Bretschneider, who sees this experience as a mash-up of a movie and a game, wants to have new experiences for customers every three months. The Void is forming partnerships with outside game studios and developers so that they can also create games for the platform. He plans on some sort of profit sharing. He also imagines large studios creating virtual-reality versions of their console games for cross-promotion purposes.
So far he’s financing The Void completely with his own money.
Games will always be designed for the 60-by-60 foot spaces, but the walls inside can be rearranged to create different layouts.
He also plans to apply different textures and materials to the foam walls, so that a player’s sense of touch contributes to the experience feeling real.
“If we want an area to feel like a metal surface, it can feel like metal. If we want it to be organic, and we want it to feel like a cave wall, we can make it feel like a cave wall,” Bretschneider said.
The experiences will last at least a half hour. He wouldn’t divulge an expected price, other than to say it will be affordable.