Virtual Reality “Theme Park” to Be Unveiled in Utah Next Year

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Utah is slated to get a thoroughly unconventional theme park next year. Consisting of just seven 60-foot-square rooms scheduled to be built starting in the fall, the entertainment factor at The Void will come from virtual reality.

“Why play a game,” a promotional trailer for the park asks, “when you can live it?”

At The Void, VR helmets and vests will layer virtual environments over physical ones, creating numerous possibilities, worlds and scenarios for visitors to explore. The rooms will be reconfigurable, and even the surfaces will be customized to individual scenarios. If in your virtual world you are hiding behind a tree, for example, then the room’s surfaces will be made to feel like rough bark under your fingertips; if you’re attempting to open a hatch, the surface will mimic that of cold metal.

Ken Bretschneider, the man behind this vision, says he was inspired by the disappointment he felt at having virtual reality be confined to a stationary experience.

“I wanted to jump out of my chair and go run around,” Bretschneider told the Washington Post May 8. “I wanted to be in there, but I felt like I was separated from that world just sitting down playing a game. So I often would stand up and then I couldn’t do anything.”

VR technology has taken several leaps forward in just the past few years, and the much-anticipated Oculus Rift headsets should be made available to the public next year. But Bretschneider, an experienced techie who sold his cybersecurity business to put more time into his VR ambitions, is making his own.

And in order to amp up the experience even further, The Void will include non-virtual elements that are much lower tech, such as blasts of steam (while high-pressure steam systems are associated with industrial applications, low-pressure systems of 30 psig or less are more akin to steam radiators, being very safe as long as they’re inspected about once a year).

Those types of elements will set the park apart from any experience that can be offered to home gamers, according to Bretschneider. “There isn’t any way to be able to go out and create the full potential of virtual reality in the home market,” he explained to the Post. “It became really apparent to me that we needed to build a facility where people could come to and not have to worry about hooking up virtual reality, making it work and trying to run around inside their house.”

Eventually, Bretschneider hopes to build centers in cities across North America, Asia and Europe. Of course, that dream will probably largely depend on how the Utah pilot is received.