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Friday Finds: “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire” VR experience

Friday Finds shares media content I’ve recently discovered and find interesting enough to share

Today’s find: Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire
Genre: Virtual reality experience
Origin: The Void / Lucasfilm / ILMxLAB
Find it: The Void locations in Anaheim, Orlando, and London

 

poster for Star Wars VR experience

Today we’re expanding Friday Finds from not just observed media, but to immersive media. Having just experienced the Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire virtual reality (VR) experience in Orlando, I can heartily recommend this new mashup of story-telling, tech, and thrill ride.

Before we get to the experience, let’s set up the stakeholders. The Void is a chain of facilities offering VR experiences. It is located in seven locations worldwide, of which three offer Star Wars. The experience is designed in cooperation with Lucasfilm and ILMxLAB (a division of Industrial Light & Magic), both of which are under the larger Disney umbrella. The Star Wars VR experience opened at Disney Springs in Orlando in December, and in Anaheim at Downtown Disney in January.

The experience itself is a bit like an escape room. After donning the necessary equipment (more on that later), each group of four enters a small cubical room, lowers their visors, and engages the VR. Immediately, the room takes on the appearance of an imperial shuttle, taking your rebel team to an imperial base. And in your vision, all your group looks like stormtroopers (your disguise to infiltrate the base).

Without delving too much into the details and giving away spoilers, the mission to the imperial base on Mustafar includes firefights and mild puzzles, among several rooms, hallways, and moving platforms. Even the heat from molten Mustafar (remember Episode 3?) comes into play.

The experience is much fun – especially if one is a Star Wars fan – and lets you spend about 12 minutes within that universe.

Drawbacks

The main drawbacks are the equipment required and the prices. The equipment consists of an upper body vest (to simulate hits from enemy stormtroopers) with a connected helmet/visor. This equipment is heavy enough that one dons it while is is suspended from a rack. I could see the size and weight of the helmet being burdensome for smaller people. For those with kids, be warned they need to be at least 48″ tall to play.

As far as cost, it’s $30 each for the experience. That includes assistance with outfitting and the mission itself. For us, on a not-busy January Monday, the full time taken took about 40 minutes, of which about 12-15 minutes was in the VR experience. At busy times, I would expect very long waits.

The future of VR?

I’m still not convinced VR is a mainstream play in the home – aside from the obvious application of gaming – but I could see dedicated VR facilities like these as becoming more common, especially if the price point can be brought down somewhat. Aside from Star Wars, The Void’s different locations also feature content based on Ghostbusters as well as its own “Void” experience.

One could even see, distant in the future, where VR could be alternatives to theme parks – along the lines of Star Trek‘s holodecks or Ready Player One‘s OASIS.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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