Want to throw virtual pancakes or milkshakes at kitties and bunnies in a strawberry-scented diner? If the answer is yes (and who out there would say no?), you’ll love Ralph Breaks VR—a hyper-reality experience created by The VOID and ILMxLAB that uses VR technology, physical stages, and sensory effects to make you feel like you’re in the weird world of the internet with some animated friends.
Ralph Breaks VR, which was released in November 2018 in tandem with the Ralph Breaks the Internet movie, is the second time The VOID has partnered with ILMxLAB, an offshoot of Lucasfilm that focuses on immersive entertainment. The first collaboration—Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire—is an unbeatable experience, one that puts you in the role of a Resistance spy dressed up as a stormtrooper, blaster guns and all. Ralph Breaks VR creates an entire world in its own right; during the 20 to 30-minute adventure, Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz lead guests (who choose one of six “Netizen” avatars) into their internet-world, which includes, among other things, the aforementioned pancakes and milkshakes.
Like Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, guests strap on VR goggles and vibrating vests for Ralph Breaks VR. And while the physical stage areas for the two experiences are similar, the Wreck-It Ralph world that guests see through their goggles is a more gamified and kid-friendly experience. The final product, refined and iterated on after innumerable hours of testing, has resulted in a fun, pancake and milkshake-throwing time. Here are some things that stand out about the experience and how the designers came up with certain attributes of the Wreck-It Ralph world.
To Smell or Not To Smell
Adding sensory effects was top of mind when the design team started brainstorming about what Ralph Breaks VR should look and feel like. “We knew right off the bat that we wanted to have 4D effects,” Jose Perez, ILMxLAB’s Lead Experience Designer for Ralph Breaks VR, explains. “Those talks came up early because it’s part of the magic of The VOID and something you really can’t do anywhere else.”
The team ultimately came up with a lovely strawberry smell for a scene where guests can shoot milkshakes and pancakes at cute furry bunnies and cats. Earlier in the design process, however, the team toyed with the idea of using a less fragrant scent. “One of the talks we had early on was specifically about Ralph and what he smelled like,” Perez recalls. “The consensus by the end of the meeting was that he smelled like ham. And the more we started thinking about walking around in that experience smelling ham, it just got really gross. So we decided to opt for smells that people actually like, and so that’s why we decided to lean into the smells in the diner as opposed to the stinky smell of Ralph.”
Having the experience not smell like hot ham water was a smart call, and while the strawberry scent is pungent, it tied in well with the bright colors and the yummy looking milkshakes you could shoot at furry creatures and/or other players.
The Game Is On
One major way Ralph Breaks VR differs from Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is that the experience is gamified, with everyone’s scores on watches the avatars are wearing, and with point values blinking above different targets you hit. This focus on gamification was made thoughtfully, just as the choice to not go that way in the Star Wars experience was. “We would never have gone [the gamification] route in Star Wars because it doesn’t make sense fictionally,” Perez explains. “Star Wars isn’t a video game. If I’m shooting stormtroopers I don’t see a little 1,000 points above their head, but the world of Wreck-It Ralph is all about video games. It was easy to make that fictional leap…it gives it a bit more weight. And it’s fun to be a little bit competitive.”
And it was fun to be competitive, to see your points rack up after destroying a whack-a-mole-type game or successfully shooting a bunny. And even if some of the games were a bit confusing (I never really figured out what I was supposed to do during an 80s-themed arcade bit), it was still a fun time, something the designers made sure was the case. As Perez explains, “One of the key things is even though we did gamify some of it, you don’t have to really play the game. You can walk through, and if you don’t want to shoot any pancakes and milkshakes or hit any buttons or zap any bugs, you’re fine, there’s still a story there, it’s still fun to watch. But adding that extra element just gives it more weight. It just gets fun, you see that competitive nature come out, and people are a lot more engaged.”
There’s An Avatar Among Us
One of the best details about Ralph Breaks VR is the six “Netizen” avatars you get to choose from. They range from a ninja star-throwing, kid-friendly version of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, to a broccoli-shaped mustachioed man wearing a bow tie. In the Wreck-It Ralph world, the avatars’ eyes and mouths move (albeit not in sync to what their wearers were saying), and give an extra dimension to the experience.
“The avatars were something that for awhile we were backing away from,” Perez admits. “We were talking about putting people in hazmat suits, and then [Jason Breneman, Senior Creature Technical Director at ILMxLAB] went a step further on his own and implemented some of the things you see with the mouth and the eyes. And from there it was just too awesome, so we really leaned into it. And it made so much sense—it’s not just about watching a Disney movie and watching Disney characters, it’s about being in a Disney movie and being a Disney character.”
And these characters are great! It’s fun to look at your teammates with their goofy features, and (if you’re like me, at least) extra fun to shoot a milkshake at them and watch the pink gooey substance fall over their “Netizen” faces.
So Should You Do This?
Sure! Especially if you have kids you want to boss around in a fun, virtual environment. The VOID and ILMxLAB are furthering their relationship as well—the companies have announced that ILMxLAB will be the exclusive producer of five original Disney experiences with The VOID, with the next one being a currently untitled Marvel adventure coming out later this year. As an MCU fan, I’ll certainly be in line to try that one, as well as the others that follow.