'Ralph Breaks VR' Has Gamified The Void In A Fun Way, But Is That A Good Thing?

The Void has teamed up once again with ILMxLab on a new Disney VR Experience opening this week, Ralph Breaks VR. A few days ago, I got to step inside this new virtual reality experience. To do so, I traveled to a secret warehouse in Glendale (which is so secretive that I signed an NDA and am not even able to describe any of it to you). As a massive fan of Wreck-It Ralph, I was very excited to enter the world of the Disney animated film. So how was Ralph Breaks VR? Keep reading to find out.

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What is Ralph Breaks VR?

Here's what you need to know: this experience will be available at select locations of The Void nationwide starting November 21, 2018. You and your friends choose one of six possible internet "netizen" avatars, strap on a VR headset and backpack, and meet Ralph and Vanellope, who have a surprise for you: they are bringing you into the world of the Internet. Once digitized, you make the journey to the world wide web and are inside the world of Ralph Breaks The Internet, a fully realized metropolis version of the internet.

Ralph Breaks VR is more of a series of games than a storytelling experience like Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire. You will play a Space Invaders-style arcade game, but from the unique ground point of view in this TRON-like world. From there, you enter mobile game Pancake Milkshake, which is all over the marketing for the movie. Armed with a blaster that can shoot either milkshakes or pancakes, you must take care of the growing bunny problem. And when things go wrong (because in VR experiences and theme park rides, things always go wrong), you need to help take out a drone army to save the interweb world.

It's no surprise that Ralph Breaks VR is a lot of fun, and you'll especially dig it if you go in with a full group of friends. But you're probably wondering how it compares to other VR experiences. There are three types of people probably reading this:

  • Those who haven't tried VR and have no interest in putting on goggles. It's impossible to convince someone how cool a VR experience can be until they actually try it themselves.
  • Those who have tried a VR experience at a kiosk or on someone's computer or PlayStation. As cool as some of those experiences are, it's not even comparable to the room-scale VR experience that The Void offers. With these, you move through the world, touch the walls; you can not only see real-time versions of your arms, but can see digital versions of your buddies. You smell and even feel the action.
  • Those who have done an experience like Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire or Ghostbusters: Dimension and know how cool this can possibly get. I'm going to talk for a minute to these people, because you are my people.
  • How is Ralph Breaks VR Different From Other Void VR Experiences?

    How does Ralph Breaks VR diffe from the previous Void experiences? Like I said before, it's more of a game. On your left hand, you will see a watch with a holographic display of the point totals, showing how you're comparing with the other players in your group. It makes sense for this property to make it more of a game, and thus the experience feels very different. I feel like it might be more of a replayable experience because of that. Groups might pay to play it again and see who can get a better score overall, although that's a lot more expensive than the quarter for another play that it used to cost at the arcade.

    Another different element is that you're inside a more cartoon-looking world. I would love to say that it feels like you're inside of a Wreck-It Ralph movie talking to Ralph and Vanellope. The characters and world feel stylistically and tonally in sync with the film, which makes sense considering screenwriter Pamela Ribon wrote both. But to me, it feels more like a video game than the previously mentioned more realistic-looking Star Wars experience.

    Personally, I wish that the VR experience was set inside Litwik's Arcade, bringing us inside the popular video games we know from that world, like Sugar Rush. Instead, we are inside a mash-up of Tron and Space Invaders, and a mobile game that was barely in the sequel film. I understand that they wanted to tie this VR experience with the sequel, but then why not feature Slaughter Race (Gal Gadot's character's new racing game) or something with a deeper connection?

    Instead of feeling like you're in the movie, it feels like you're in one of those not-as-great direct to video sequel that Disney used to release. I would have loved a storytelling experience that would have allowed us to explore the world of OhMyDisney, because that could have been a ton of fun. That's not to say that Ralph Breaks VR isn't fun, it's a lot of fun – but it's more of a disposable experience, like you just played a level of Angry Birds instead of participated in an immersive storytelling experience like we're used to from The Void. But maybe that's the point. Maybe families (and younger audiences, in particular) will enjoy this more gamey offering over a storytelling experience.

    One of the great things about The Void's room scale VR is that everything feels real: the walls, the objects, the buttons, it's all there in both the virtual world and the real tactile world. I feel like this experience was a couple steps forward and a few steps back in some ways. For instance, guests are handed futuristic-looking rifle blasters before they enter the experience and told that in the VR world, they can use the guns to fire either pancakes or milkshakes. There is even some non-intuitive instruction on how to use the blaster reload to switch between the different ammo. Using this kind of controller for pancakes and milkshakes felt weird to me in an environment that is supposed to feel real to the touch. Why am I using a gun? Why isn't this more thematic? Why am I being given this before the experience and not somehow discovering milkshakes that I can physically pick up and throw somewhere in the story?

    On a positive note, I think they have found more creative ways to get everyone involved in the story. At one point in this experience, the group is split up and have to work on their own to defeat the game from very different angles. It felt new and fresh, and made the relatively small physical space feel massive.

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    The Future Of The Void

    Most exciting to me was learning some of the nerdy details in a discussion with the creative team after the experience. For instance, Void locations can change out from Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire to Ralph Breaks VR in a matter of 20 or 30 minutes – it just involves moving some props and walls.

    I really do wonder how different they can make the configuration, because right now anyone who has done Secrets of the Empire will feel the virtual remnants of that experience in Ralph Breaks VR. For instance, the first room of both attractions is a vehicle flying experience. At one point in both attractions, you are looking over a balcony overlooking a massive environment. It feels like the same walls, even though the VR worlds are entirely different. I wonder how different or samey it will continue to feel as The Void evolves.

    The most exciting answer came from Curtis Hickman, The Void chief creative officer and co-founder, who described a vision for the future of these type of experiences which would allow for episodic adventures into the same world where it's not a point score that is important but your decisions that change that world. And not just for that experience, but future trips to that world:

    "There's a very clear future of where this stuff should go. It's almost this second life type thing where you're visiting this other dimension, this other realm, and your decisions affect that realm and the next time you come back to that realm those decisions have stayed. There's a permanence to what you've done. And your story varies wildly from another group that went in because of decisions you made in that experience. There's a lot of content scope with that and it will take a lot of work to make it happen, but there's a very bright future where hyperreality comes less from a linear story that we've experienced today and more like an adventure you're living and can call your own."

    While I'm super excited to visit Disneyland's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, this idealized vision of VR experiences has me excited for the possibility of annual visits back into the virtual world of the Star Wars galaxy, where my friends and I are not just visiting and experiencing a story but an active part of the story that determines the future of that world.

    We know that The Void is teaming with ILMxLab on future experiences set in the Marvel, Star Wars and Disney universes, but nothing specific has been announced.

    Ralph Breaks VR will be available at The Void locations on November 21, 2018, and Ralph Breaks the Internet hits theaters that same day.