Become instant Ghostbusters with this virtual reality system

Users during a virtual reality experience at VR start-up The Void in Lindon, Utah.
Users during a virtual reality experience at VR start-up The Void in Lindon, Utah.PHOTO: NYTIMES

LINDON, UTAH • In an ordinary office complex here sits a prototype for an attraction which Hollywood thinks will become the next entertainment craze - and which could throw a lifeline to struggling shopping malls and jump-start sales of virtual reality (VR) gear.

"I have seen a lot of great VR experiences and nothing comes close to what The Void is doing," said Mr Cliff Plumer, a former Lucasfilm technologist and manager who joined the VR start-up The Void as its chief executive on Feb 9. "If anything is going to inspire mass consumer adoption of virtual reality, this is it."

The Void's invention looks like nothing special. Four black wooden walls form a 9.1m square. The interior is divided into rudimentary, interconnected rooms. There is no ceiling, unless you count a latticework of cables and sensors.

But everything changes when you put on a special VR headset, pick up a rudimentary plastic gun, slip into a snug vest and strap-on small backpack, which has a lightweight computer inside: You and your friends instantly become Ghostbusters.

The first room is now a furniture-filled New York apartment crowded with pink poltergeists. That plastic weapon is now a functioning proton gun, just like in the films, and you can use it to zap apparitions (and anything else in view).

As the 10-minute adventure continues, your group tracks ghosts through the apartment tower as some ghouls float through you, arriving with a whoosh of air in your face and a vibration of that vest.

A demonic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man arrives at the climax. Do your job correctly and the scent of toasted white fluff fills the air.

And people are paying US$20 (S$28) a head to experience this kind of "hyper-reality". A first location, which features the same Ghostbusters storyline and opened last July at Madame Tussauds New York, has sold more than 43,000 tickets, translating to nearly US$900,000 in revenue.

The Void intends to open 20 more attractions this year. So far, one of its three founders, Mr Ken Bretschneider, has invested millions in it and it is working to raise expansion funding.

Various Hollywood film-makers have tried it themselves, including Steven Spielberg. "It's very repeatable, just like a film, and it's an extraordinarily visceral and effective way to tell a story," said Ivan Reitman, who directed the original Ghostbusters (1984) and its sequel, Ghostbusters II (1989).

But competition is mounting. Last week, Imax said it planned to open six VR centres this year. One opened last month in Los Angeles. Tickets start at US$7.

Also announced last week was Dreamscape Immersive, which hopes to open its first centre dedicated to VR experiences this year. It has US$11 million in funding from companies such as 21st Century Fox and Warner Bros. Spielberg is also involved.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'Become instant Ghostbusters with this virtual reality system'. Print Edition | Subscribe