Well, it’s a fair question to ask, and just for the record I am above the national height average, although perhaps not for a stormtrooper. But enough of my height challenges, I want to share the experience I had of the Star Wars experience The Void have created in the not so very intergalactic surrounds of the Westfield shopping centre. First up it was obvious that there were quite a few “agency” types having a go, with small awestruck children heavily outnumbered by Shoreditch beards and suede loafers.
The experience has only been open for a day or so, hence the onboarding was a little chaotic but everyone was very cheerful and helpful. The area in which you suit up is well organised, with your backpacks handily supported on a hook before you take the full weight. The headset is bespoke, with B&O headphones and what I assume is a Leap Motion on the front. The Void have done well to make it look as good as it does, a cross between Robocop and The Terminator, with the ability to flip it up like a visor ensuring people feel more in control if they get disorientated and need an out.
So, after a brief wait you’re into the experience with a briefing from a C3PO like droid, albeit one who has clearly been pumping iron (or whatever the robotic equivalent would be). The mission is very simple, get the secret capsule and get out, and along the way shoot as many stormtroopers and lava beasts as you can. Each time you are shot (you have unlimited lives, so you don’t have to be too careful) the haptic vest gives you a laser bullet jolt. I did this with Jiri, a colleague of mine, and it didn’t take us long to work out that shooting each other was far more fun than shooting the actual enemy. When we did manage to turn our lasers in the right direction, the accuracy was amazing with no latency.
Where The Void really excels is with the use of the physical space, you touch a wall of the space station and you actually feel a wall, you pick up the virtual laser and feel the real laser in your hands. The virtual environment is perfectly mapped to the physical one, without which the immersion would soon fall away. Other senses are also brought into play, such as when we flew over a sea of lava we could feel the heat and smell the sulphur. You also have to solve a visual puzzle by pushing buttons in the right order to open a secret door, admittedly this was one time that the physical and virtual environments weren’t perfectly mapped. At least that’s the excuse I’m using for being utterly rubbish at remembering the sequence of colours, it’s the first time I’ve been ridiculed by a droid! The experience lasted around seven minutes which felt like the right length, we left wanting more but not convinced that we actually needed more.
The Void have done an excellent job of packaging this up and turning it into a slick commercial operation, showing the way ahead for immersive experiences in the entertainment sector. The social interaction within the experience will no doubt also play an important role in sectors outside of the entertainment industry, with training and education being the most obvious opportunities.