LINDON — Ever wonder what it might be like to get a hold of a proton gun, join Drs. Venkman, Stantz and Spengler, and really let the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man know who's boss?
Well, thanks to the technical wizardry of Utah company The Void, you and a group of friends can experience exactly that scenario in an immersive new virtual reality game space at its corporate headquarters in this Utah County community.
Through Ghostbusters: Experience, players can expect to feel the rumble of a moving elevator, impact "vibrations" as virtual characters hurl stuff at them, a cool breeze as they're perched on a building ledge in downtown New York and, yes, even the waft of toasted marshmallow if they're successful in putting that puffy guy in his place.
This full-body experience is on top of stunning 360-degree visuals that include sets and characters that borrow from the Ghostbusters franchise, happily shared with The Void's tech team by Sony, which owns the majority rights to the original two movies and are partners in the effort.
Even Ivan Reitman, who directed those iconic films, had a hand in transforming the Ghostbusters experience from its 2-D origins to the 3-D world of virtual reality.
Curtis Hickman, The Void's co-founder and chief creative officer said the film was an obvious choice for the first public virtual reality experience created by his company.
"'Ghostbusters' is such a natural fit," Hickman said. "You go into The Void and you put a backpack on, you put goggles on and you have that kinda gun. It fit very naturally with what we were doing, and Sony pictures and Ivan Reitman saw that potential."
Jake Zim, Sony Pictures' senior vice president for virtual reality projects, echoed Hickman's enthusiasm for the partnership.
"The Ghostbusters franchise has an incredible, passionate fan following around the world, and The Void’s hyper-reality technology creates a thrilling experience that allows those fans to become a Ghostbuster themselves," Zim said. "After a terrific response to Ghostbusters: Dimension in New York and Dubai, we are sure fans in Salt Lake City will love the experience."
Hickman is a Utah native and BYU film studies graduate, but perhaps his most interesting resume highlight is the 10 years he spent in Las Vegas working both as a professional magician and special-effects consultant. He said the two endeavors were really quite separate at the time but converged perfectly when the idea for The Void sprang up in 2014.
"I love magic," Hickman said, "and I think it’s a very important part of what The Void does. Thoughtful design based on magic theory. I did that over a decade, and it turns out it was one of the more valuable things I was able to bring to the company."
From a technical perspective, that magic goes even deeper. BYU's Seth Holladay is an assistant professor in the university's award-winning Center for Animation and pointed out how The Void takes virtual reality to the next level.
"In the old virtual reality worlds, they'd put you in the middle of a big, empty room and the goggles or helmet would have a long wire trailing out of it," Holladay said. "The Void people are the only ones that have matched the staging, the built environment, with what they've created in the virtual world.
"And, of course, all that extra stuff they do to enhance the reality of it, the wind, smells, vibrations they're out in front of everyone."
What that means for participants is if you reach for a handhold because peering over the edge of a building 50-stories up makes you nervous, there will be something "real" there that matches up with the virtual depiction inside your goggles. Holladay said the technique helps bridge a critical gap in the believability quotient.
"With art, films, games or anything that requires establishing a suspension of disbelief to be successful, it's about exploring what people are willing or unwilling to accept," Holladay said. "In the case of The Void, they've nailed it."
The technicians at The Void have also successfully "untethered" participants, with the computing power behind the experience contained inside a backpack/vest that is wired to the goggles/helmet in which all the magic takes place.
The snug vest also has some built-in sensory "surprises" for the wearer. The only other accessory is a rather generic plastic gun that appears in the viewer window as a very accurate replication of the famous, ghost-capturing proton gun. Fellow participants take the guise of their avatar, i.e. Ghostbusters character, of choice.
While the Ghostbusters virtual reality experience will be new to Utahns, it made its debut in New York City almost a year ago and has been earning rave reviews, and eager participants, since opening last May.
The virtual game space is part of the Times Square location of the famous Madame Tussaud's wax museum attraction. Hickman said more than 50,000 visitors have donned the goggles and done battle with the ethereal spooks since launching there. The company also recently opened a location in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
As for Lindon, officials are thrilled to be the third in line behind New York and Dubai to play host to the virtual reality game space and also have the bragging rights as home to The Void's world headquarters.
"It's an exciting thing to have a company of this caliber based here in Lindon," said Hugh Van Wagenen, the city's planning and development director. "They are having a positive impact on the entire area."
Van Wagenen noted his community continues to attract interest from new and expanding tech companies and that the energy generated by The Void's success has only helped.
"To have all of that attention and pull in so much talent and buzz from other industry leaders is really great," Van Wagenen said.
The Void's Ghostbusters: Experience in Lindon opens at 5 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $25 and are available to participants ages 10 and over and a minimum of 48 inches tall.
For more information or to reserve tickets, visit thevoid.com.