The rise of warehouse scale virtual reality

A couple of years ago I watched a proof-of-concept video on YouTube of “warehouse scale” virtual reality. It showed people walking through darkened, real world spaces wearing VR goggles over their eyes. Their goggles worked as high tech blindfolds, keeping them from seeing what was really around them but also showing them a virtual world that was synced to the physical space, thus preventing them from colliding with anything physical. That’s the premise of warehouse scale VR. Once actual implementation occurred, the gear the users tote includes hand tools and haptics and the physical space has props and atmospheric effects to round out the simulation. While many teams worked/still work on the manufacture of warehouse scale VR, The Void was the first to deliver in the US. They brought their setup to TED 2016 and delivered next level virtual reality to a wide audience. A year and a half later warehouse scale installations are beginning to appear across the country.

Image courtesy of Madame Tussauds

While TED 2016 was a public demonstration of warehouse scale virtual reality it was really limited to the TED audience. The first open-to-the-masses experience opened a few months later in Times Square, where The Void had opened Ghostbusters Dimension. People flipped out over the experience and it didn’t take long for them to install similar set-ups in Dubai and Toronto. In 2017 they opened their base of operations in Utah, offering new warehouse scale experiences. At this point in time, though, that’s it for domestic warehouse scale. If you want to experience it you need to travel to Linden, Utah or to Madame Tussaud’s on the island of Manhattan. I want to experience warehouse scale but I haven’t had the means to reach either of those destinations. The good news is that there’s more on the way.

Image courtesy of The Void

A few weeks ago there was a joint announcement by The Void, Lucasfilm, Disney, and Industrial Light and Magic’s ILMxLAB that they have all partnered up. Coming this holiday season they’ll be opening Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire warehouse scale experiences at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California and at Disney Springs in Orlando, Florida. Both experiences will be located outside of their nearby theme parks and will likely require separate admission. In the experience you’ll be attached to a rebel squad on the planet Mustafar, guided by the droid K-2SO. It’s unknown what to expect beyond that but I’m hoping for an encounter with Darth Vader and that he applies the Force to the haptic suit I hope to be wearing.

Screen capture from MGM Grand promo video

Last week there was an announcement that Las Vegas is getting warehouse scale VR. The MGM Grand Hotel has a gaming lounge called Level Up. In early September Level Up will be taking the wraps off its newest addition with the catchy name of “Virtual Reality Powered by Zero Latency”. Here, teams of players will book 30-minute time slots to share an experience where they fight zombies or out of control military robots or to solve puzzles in a fantasy world atop floating platforms. Zero Latency is an Australian VR firm and, to the best of my knowledge, they were the first in the world to open a warehouse scale VR facility in 2015.

As it stands, the year 2017 opened with warehouse scale VR in New York, but it will close with additions in California, Florida, Las Vegas, and Utah. Without a doubt I can get myself to Disneyland to try that set-up and with luck I can get myself to Las Vegas to try that too. Even if I can’t, there are firms like Seattle’s VRstudios that are hustling to get installations into movie theaters, casinos, and amusement parks near me. If 2017 isn’t the year I try warehouse scale, then it’ll certainly happen in 2018 as attractions start opening experiences. It feels like there’s a proliferation looming.

I haven’t tried warehouse scale yet. It’s possible that it’s not to my liking. I know at home that I prefer to sit rather than stand when I’m in VR, but I’ve tried things like the John Wick experience and really enjoyed it. That one had me ducking and kneeling to hide behind cover from enemy fire. Not long ago YouTube noted that people viewing 360° videos tend to look from shoulder to shoulder and not really turn to look behind themselves. Maybe that’s a generational thing or just because we’re in early days, but maybe it’s because people don’t want high levels of agency in their entertainment. It’s possible that warehouse scale is the wrong direction for audiences. Right now, being ignorant of the experience, I really want to see warehouse scale succeed. Much like arcade game innovation drove home console innovation in the 1980s and 90s, I think warehouse scale will push advancement of home VR technologies. I want those advancements. I want to own the VR treadmill and then opt to sit while I play under the goggles.