Visited: January 2018
As soon as I heard “The Void” was bringing their Star Wars experience to the UK, I made a booking. Located in the Westfield shopping mall in West London, The Void occupied a large open area inside the mall; cleverly designed to provide 2 identical stages to maximize the customer throughout.
“Secrets of the Empire” is a collaboration between ILM (industrial light and magic) and The Void, based on the Star Wars franchise; there was mention of a possible encounter with a Dark Lord!
I arrived early and had a good look at their setup, managing to get some equipment shots by standing on the second level inside the mall.
Backpack PC’s with custom headsets hung on spring loaded hooks, ready for the first customers of the day. My booking was for opening and there was already a queue building up…at 9am on a Monday morning showing how popular it was.
Whilst waiting for opening I got talking to the staff and other customers. The staff mentioned the servers hosting the content were in California, so they didn’t have to install racks of servers on site. The equipment was designed to be used for a number of different experiences, in this case adding a tracked blaster prop for each player to pickup during the session
The headset itself was a modified Oculus Rift, from what I could determine. The player rig was a clever design with haptic feedback built into the vest which also secured the backpack PC. The equipment looked robust, but well used, especially the headsets which had definitely seen better days with worn padding which didn’t look very inviting!
The Void opened on time and we were ushered in for a quick video briefing from familiar faces! My first rig was faulty so the staff then took me out and swapped me into a new rig.
After rejoining the other players (a couple) we ventured into The Void. Initially my hands were tracked by a Leap Motion module, but later on I got to pickup a blaster which felt very hefty. Seeing the other players as Stormtroopers (we were rebels infiltrating the base) was amazing with the Optitrack tracking system doing a good job throughout the experience.
With a strict “No filming” rule being enforced I couldn’t capture any footage from inside the experience. Half way through my headset started fogging up and I had to stop to lift it up and try to wipe the lenses clean. Looking up I saw black painted stage structures and a member of staff sitting above keeping an eye on the players. The stage was using redirected walking of a sort as the experience felt like it covered alot of ground despite taking place in a small footprint.
Ending the session with smeared lenses wasn’t great, I mentioned this and staff quickly gave me another session for free. This time I went solo and had an awesome session even managing to use 2 blasters at once!
The experience itself was excellent, with high quality assets, freedom to roam about and the novelty of Leap Motion hand tracking. Haptics were sharp as I took fire from stormtroopers, smell and heat were used to great effect as I walked across a gangplank from my shuttle. I had an encounter with a Dark Lord 🤯
The mix of real world structure and virtual world structure was very effective, sitting on a bench in the shuttle or leaning against a wall during a firefight was breathtaking. With the shuttle bench I had to put my hand out to make sure there was something to sit on before trusting it.
I don’t want to spoil the experience for those planning to go, but it’s easily the best location based entertainment I’ve yet tried and well worth the entrance fee. As I left after my 2 sessions I noticed a long queue building up, only 10am on a Monday so it seems The Void have been doing it right!
Thanks for reading. Rob Cole immersive_computing.