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Virtual-reality theme park blurs lines between digital and physical (+video)

Ken Bretschneider, founder of The Void, wanted to create a place where players can truly explore virtual gaming worlds.

The Void is a virtual reality theme park (of sorts) that is looking to place customers directly in the middle of a video game. Whether exploring abandoned tombs with a lantern or wandering through a mythical forest, The Void brings all of your surroundings to life using technology, your senses, and plenty of room to run around your new world.

Born from the mind of owner and founder Ken Bretschneider, The Void is looking to take virtual reality to a shockingly realistic state. Mr. Bretschneider, unsatisfied with the idea of a person being confined to a chair or room to interact with a virtual world, decided to invest $13 million of his own money in to giving individuals a proper place to play.

“There isn’t any way to be able to go out and create the full potential of virtual reality in the home market,” Bretschneider told the Washington 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.”

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Expected to launch during the summer of 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the first of the VR gaming centers will include seven 60-by-60 foot pods that will allow up to 10 players to team up to slay dragons in the middle ages or fight robots on a space station. 

The gear was designed by Bretschneider himself and is still in the testing phases. The Void’s virtual-reality headset has a curved screen with a 160-degree view, though its creator hopes to give players 180-degree view by the time the VR theme park launches.

The trickiest part for Bretschneider has been the body-tracking system, which is packed with sensors that rely on microprocessors, as he explained to the Post. Worn like armor, this big “work-in-progress” will need to be extremely reactive to maintain a realistic experience for players, who will be able to do things such as jump over objects or sprint down a hall. The gloves will also be crammed with sensors so players can simulate opening a door, punching in a code, or shooting a gun.

Each one of the gaming pods can be readjusted to a new landscape to fit the requirements of different games. Using 3-D technology and effects, players will not only wander new digital worlds, but also be able to feel the steam from an exhaust pipe on their face or sense cobwebs brushing over their shoulders (don’t worry, it’s just string). The foam walls can even have different materials applied to them to enhance the user experience.

“If we want an area to feel like a metal surface, it can feel like metal. If we want it to be organic, and we want it to feel like a cave wall, we can make it feel like a cave wall,” Bretschneider went on to tell the Post. 

For those with a strong stomach, The Void will additionally have a flight simulator where users can live out their dream of flying around city skyscrapers. 

Though Utah will be the first state to have this virtual reality experience, Bretschneider hopes to build these virtual-reality gaming centers across North America, Asia, and Europe.

Each gaming session will last about a half hour, but Bretschneider has yet to name prices. He wants to release new games every three months, as he told the Post, and is partnering with outside game studios and developers to achieve this. He even has plans for creating cross-platform video games with partners for virtual reality games for home consoles.

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