As virtual reality has rapidly evolved and gradually made its way into homes, workplaces and entertainment venues, the medium's most innovative creators have been connecting the audio and visual components of high-quality, interactive VR with additional sensory elements, such as wind, mist, heat, smells, physical props, haptics and untethered locomotion.
This all-encompassing approach to immersive entertainment is called hyperreality, and at the forefront of it is The VOID, which blends real-time VR with physical sets, effects and amazing technology.
The VOID goes beyond traditional VR by offering people the opportunity to enter location-based entertainment venues that are custom made for roaming with others, all within a shared, multi-sensory entertainment experience. Previously, The VOID earned widespread praise for Ghostbusters: Dimension, which put participants in the shoes of real-life Ghostbusters in an interactive encounter based on the movie franchise.
Recently, The VOID has raised the bar even higher. In collaboration with ILMxLAB, Lucasfilm's immersive entertainment division, The VOID has launched Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, the most imaginative hyper-reality adventure to date, using Unreal Engine 4.
Pushing the boundaries further than ever before, Secrets of the Empire brings the Star Wars universe to life through a multi-sensory, untethered journey to give fans a new way to enjoy the galaxy they love through a unique and authentic story.
To make real-life people a part of the action, Secrets of the Empire drops up to four teammates undercover as stormtroopers on the lava planet Mustafar, attempting to recover Imperial intelligence for the budding rebellion alongside Rogue One: A Star Wars Story's K-2SO in the virtual world.
The result is a thrilling immersive story that allows each participant to experience the story on their own terms.
"The VOID is all about connecting the virtual and the physical, and making that virtual world seem as real as possible," said Curtis Hickman, chief creative officer at The VOID. "We looked at a lot of engines when we started making Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, and the Unreal Engine provided all of the necessary tools we were looking for to push the experience further than what we had done previously."
ILMxLAB's visual effects supervisor, Ben Snow, said: "Unreal was essential to creating Secrets of the Empire because we really wanted to lift the visual bar on this project and make it as immersive as possible. There are a lot of components going into this, all of which have to be viewable at 90 frames per second in stereo by every single person in the experience."
"We were expecting to have to cut back on certain features and post-processing effects in order to be able to run at the required frame rate, and to be able to run on our hardware - yet, Unreal made it all possible," said Hickman. "We were able to not only get the visuals we were looking for but also a little bit extra as well, to make that Star Wars universe really come alive."
"The Unreal team got to work with Lucasfilm and ILM on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and we were able to take advantage of some of the work that was done for that movie," said Cliff Plumer, chief executive officer at The VOID.
"Epic was a terrific collaborator on this project for both ILMxLAB and The VOID," Snow continued. "They offered us engineering support. They sent some of their best lighting artists out for a few weeks to help our lighting artists. They knew that we wanted to push the visuals on Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, and they want to push the visuals of what Unreal Engine can do, so they provided us a tremendous amount of support."
"Any good technology is only as good as the people behind it, and the Epic team was entirely supportive," Plumer confirmed. "They're very much a part of the team, and we couldn't have achieved this without them."
"Seeing our guests go through it is the most thrilling part," Plumer continued. "That's when we know we've done our job."
Snow added, "There's so much more that we can do with this. It's an incredibly exciting time for the medium."
"We've had an amazing collaboration between The VOID, ILMxLAB and Epic. The three teams really worked together to make an experience that goes well beyond anything out there," Hickman concluded. "Come see it for yourself. It's fantastic."
Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is currently available in Anaheim's Downtown Disney, London's Westfield shopping center in Shepherd's Bush and Disney Springs in Orlando, Florida, with two more locations in Glendale, CA, and Las Vegas recently announced.
Follow @voidvr and @ILMxLAB on Twitter for updates, and join the conversation using #SecretsOfTheEmpire.