As Ghostbusters fans eagerly anticipate director Paul Feig's female-fronted reboot of the film franchise that stars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, it seems it's time to get those proton packs ready in reality before the movie opens in cinemas on July 15th.
Sony Pictures commissioned the Void to create Ghostbusters: Dimension, a multiplayer virtual reality experience that transports users into the world of the film franchise, armed with proton packs and ghost traps to hunt down a "paranormal villain" that's hiding in a New York apartment complex.
The experience opens July 1st in Times Square at Madame Tussauds New York, and it's part of an 85,000 square foot Ghostbusters Experience attraction, which takes up a floor-and-a-half and includes four themed rooms and six wax figures based on characters from the new movie.
"Fans will get to know what it really feels like to be a Ghostbuster," Ken Bretschneider tells Rolling Stone. The founder and CEO of the Void calls it "hyper-reality," explaining that it's "a combination of a physical set, 5D effects and virtual reality."
According to Jake Zim, senior vice president of digital marketing at Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group, producer Ivan Reitman and Feig worked with the Void to create a narrative that gives people a storyline that fits with the franchise but could also live independently. "All of the new equipment – the proton packs, the proton blasters, the outfits the Ghostbusters wear in the new movie – are incorporated into the Void's creative to ensure the highest quality images and environments would appear in this virtual reality experience," Zim says.
Three players can enter the 15-minute experience at a time, and the progressive storyline will vary for users because actions each team makes impacts what they'll see from start to finish. This means there's "replay value," to borrow a popular video game term.
"This is an authentic Ghostbusters world that will appeal to old and new fans alike," explains Curtis Hickman, chief creative officer at the Void. "The experience ties nicely into the upcoming film, and there might just be a few familiar faces as well."
Sony Pictures is keeping mum on any specifics regarding celebrity cameos and even the ghosts that will haunt this interactive experience. That's in part to make the actual attraction a clean slate for anyone who dons the hardware and enters into this new type of "hyper-reality" experience, which includes smells, heat and cold and other real-world effects.
James Jensen, chief visionary officer at the Void, says the gear designed for this experience is a one-to-one match-up with the proton packs from the Ghostbusters films.
"Patrons will literally strap on a backpack that looks like a proton pack,"Jensen explains. "The pack contains a custom Rapture Void computer we like to call a Backtop, which is built from the ground up for untethered hyper-reality."
The first wave of home-based virtual reality systems, including Facebook's Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, are tethered experiences that connect the headset to a PC. Even the upcoming October release of Sony's PlayStation VR will be connected to the PlayStation 4.
The secret of the Backtop is a high-powered portable PC that controls all processing and rendering at key moments in the experience. The Backtop computer also drives the haptic vest with 22 points of feedback and tracking that is synchronized with the experience. "When a ghost hits you in the Void, you feel it," Jensen says.
Also, part of the Ghostbusters gear is the Rapture head mounted display (HMD), which comes packed with a wider field of vision and higher definition screens than what's available on early home platforms. The Rapture also incorporates 3D audio and a near focus microphone, allowing users to communicate during the experience.
Rounding out the equipment is the Nova MK IV gun, which is programmed with three types of haptic feedback. Jensen said this simulates all the things you would expect from wielding a proton gun in a Ghostbusters world, including snagging and capturing ghosts.
While this marks the Void's first movie-licensed experience and first consumer application of its technology, the Utah-based startup has been busy of late. Curse of the Serpent's Eye, an Indiana Jones-style multiplayer experience from the Void, was demonstrated at the TED 2016 conference in Vancouver, British Columbia in February. The company is also opening up its first Void Entertainment Center (VEC) in Pleasant Grove, Utah this summer. The 65,000 square foot entertainment destination is the first of what Bretschneider hopes will become a global "IMAX for virtual reality." If all goes according to plan, Hollywood studios will be able to create virtual reality experience tie-ins to blockbuster film franchises that can be played in VECs, as well as in other locations around the world.
For Sony Pictures, this is the latest experiment with the new medium of virtual reality, following smaller single-player experiences based on The Walk and Goosebumps designed for home-based virtual reality playtforms.
"We have always felt that in order for something to be 'VR worthy' it has to transport you somewhere you otherwise couldn't go," Zim explains. "We've put people into virtual reality experiences that have taken them to unattainable places; on a wild adventure in a car with Jack Black for Goosebumps and up on the top of the Twin Towers to step out onto a wire in The Walk. Those experiences solidified our belief that VR could be exceptional entertainment when it offered people a chance to step into a fantastic world, and what better version of that than to become a Ghostbuster and blast ghosts?"