Experiencing Ralph Breaks VR At The VOID

Experiencing Ralph Breaks VR At The VOID
November 27, 2018

It was great! Like "Secrets of the Empire," it felt short and I wish I could have stayed in there for hours.



I'm not going to cover the basics of what The Void is or how it works, because it's easy to find info about that, but I will talk about this specific experience:



Like SotE, the people running The Void have been trained to kind of use fun/corny terminology related to the experience, and when you're ready to go you type in all your info in a holding area, and you choose a color-coordinated "Internet user" character card that you slip into a lanyard around your neck. My guy was a green dude with glasses who likes math, and it has a fun "pro tip" and related quote on the back of the card.


Then you get briefed by a video intro hosted by Ralph and Vanellope, who seem to be rendered at the same polygon-count as you'll see them in The Void. I had to concentrate to notice that they may as well have been rendered in real-time, because they look pretty damn spiffy. A more realistic art style like Star Wars SotE pretty much demands that everyone is wearing helmets or is a robot. That stark difference almost made this feel more personable, because the AI could talk and express themselves and move around in ways that just wouldn't work with Uncanny Valley creepoids.


The Void employee then scans your wristband (which has any of your personal and contact info that you typed in) followed by the character you chose on your lanyard (you get to keep the card at the end as a souvenir). I thought this was a really neat way to give users a physical souvenir and provide a very user-friendly system for setting things up.


My group was me, my girlfriend, our friend visiting from out of town, and an 8 year old kid who was going solo.


Enter the Void

Like SotE, you start off in a room and enter a pod ship that flies forward into the world, but this one is cartoony with glass on all sides so you could see all around you (and there is no seating, unlike in the Star Wars ship that had a "bench"). I don't remember a lot of the details as to who was flying the ship and whatnot (I think it was Vanellope), but you were flying through "Internet Land" (banners and buildings and vehicles/characters everywhere), with Vanellope and Ralph kind of talking about what you're doing. I was honestly barely paying attention to the story/dialogue, as I was distracted by how neat it was to walk around on a flying cartoon ship with my friends.


The first thing you do is press "buttons" that appear on the side of your ship because you're getting "hacked." The buttons show a symbol of a hand or a symbol of a lightning bolt, and you have to put your hand on the wall where the button is and hold your hand there until it clears. If the button symbol you're pressing changes to a lightning bolt while your hand is on it, you get electrocuted (probably deducts your score, and it vibrates your vest on the side that your hand is on). These were not physical buttons, as they were meant to be on top of the glass windows of the ship, which was actually a really cool mechanic even though the texture of the wall was clearly wood.


After your ship lands, you walk into an area with 2 adjacent rooms where you can see into the 2nd room. There are 2 glowing circles in each room that you each stand on. When everyone is standing inside a glowing circle, the rooms' walls disappear and you are standing on platforms inside of a tron-like rendition of space invaders. The platforms then float away from each other to opposite sides of a 3D Space Invaders game, and you use physical buttons (ala SotE) to aim and move a canon to shoot Space Invader enemies that are lined up in a grid. This would be pretty easy if it was one person doing it, but I was trying to aim and shoot with the 8-year-old kid manning half of the buttons, and I wanted to make sure he was having fun, so it was difficult to coordinate. My friends did a little better than us in that area...


The feeling of the 2 platforms floating away really made me feel like my friends had floated far away from me, and I was stuck with this kid (nice kid, but I wanted to be with my friends! ...even though they were physically right next to me in the adjacent room). I poked my head into the adjacent room to see what would happen if I tried to break the illusion, and my headset was just immersed into blackness. This worked perfectly as a deterrent for people trying to "break it," which would have your character floating over nothingness and pretty much guarantee that you'd run into your co-players since they no longer see your avatar in the 1:1 orientation.


Eventually the platforms rejoin, the walls re-appear, and the next door appears and you walk outside after going down a hallway. Now you are on top of a building with a railing next to you, which is obviously an actual railing in real life. You don't do anything here, but there's some story dialogue and the scale of being on top of the building is pretty palpable. My friends left me behind because I was still standing there, awestruck that we just all perceivably traversed so much distance in a virtual reality and ended up on top of a building in a world I had just seen in a movie the night before. It was pretty bonkers. Oh, and a "banner ad" for SotE was a nice and amusing, not-so-subtle touch in the context of the fictional "Internet Land."


Next thing you do is grab a gun. These guns were customized and were definitely physically different guns than the blasters in SotE. You could use the pump action at the end of the gun to change the ammo you're shooting from ice-cream-sundae bullets to pancake discs. The sundae bullets had an arc trajectory and more "oomph," while the pancakes were more like standard bullets that beamed with more speed and no arc. I chose pancakes.


It was fun shooting each other and messing around with the guns before going to the next room (haptics worked, ans the sundaes would cover your vision in pink ice cream). The next room was a cartoony bar/restuarant with a bunch of cartoon cats and bunnies that you had to shoot. Everyone is standing on one side of the restaurant, and you are shooting these creatures gallery style. Here you are trying to rescue Ralph, who has become tangled in the restaurant's electric wiring after falling through the ceiling (again, was not really paying much attention to the story). At the end, the restaurant catches on fire and you feel the heat. I noticed at the very end that the restaurant now smelled like desserts, as we had been spamming sundae and pancakes everywhere.


Finally, you go out on top of the skyscraper that you feel like you are making your way through (the room where you get your guns was an elevator, I think). When you stand on the edge you can feel the height of it (though I wasn't afraid because I'm an experienced VR user, my friends and the kid very much stayed away from the edge).


This is the final "battle" where you shoot a bunch of drone things and more cats and other fun cartoony enemies while Ralph and Vanellope are saying a bunch of shit that I didn't listen to.


At the end, a bridge comes out from the ship that you started in, you cross the bridge, and you're back in the ship from the beginning of the experience. Ralph is clinging to the edge of the ship's window, so you get a full large-scale view of him right in front of you, and they are both having some kind of fun dialogue about you guys getting through the ordeal. Again, not paying close attention, just laughing and having fun with my friends talking unintelligibly about how crazy what we're experiencing was.


Final Thoughts

My friend who had never tried it was totally blown away. So were my girlfriend and I, and we had both done the Star Wars one. It wasn't any better than the Star Wars one, and mostly had the same "tricks" to make it feel like you are walking through these rooms, hallways, elevators, rooftops, and balconies. The feeling of the platforms separating 4 people into 2/2 was the only new viscerally different thing. Regardless, as someone who is really stoked about location-based VR experiences, I'm still riding the high and can't wait to try other current and upcoming experiences from The Void and its inevitable competitors.


I wish it was 10 times as long as it was. I could exist in that cartoon Internet world with my friends, going through new rooms and whatnot to shoot things and interact with that universe's characters, for literally hours. It was a blast. It would have been nice to slowly ease into it, and then bring out the story and dialogue stuff so I could have been paying attention. We were too much in a trippy state of being mesmerized to really appreciate any of the wonderful voice acting and animation. I understand why they can't make it long at this juncture (supply/demand), but it really REALLY excites me for the future of entertainment.


I can't understate how cool it is to actually walk through virtual reality, without being tethered, with 1:1 mapping of rooms, hallways, doorways, railings, props, buttons, smells, haptics, etc WITH YOUR FRIENDS who are actually physically and virtually present with you. It is so damn fun, and made me feel like I was the same age as the 8-year-old-kid WHO FLIPPED US OFF in VR.

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