A holodeck experience closer to the “real thing” than anyone has ever seen is on its way. This fall, Sandbox VR will be debuting Starfleet’s latest call to action.
Later this year, Sandbox VR chain of virtual reality parlors will introduce the first Star Trek Holodeck VR experience based on Star Trek: Discovery, the Star Trek: Discovery Away Mission. Directed by Michael Hampden, this free-roaming experience will launch in Sandbox VR’s Hong Kong and San Francisco Bay area locations in the fall, with worldwide availability to follow by early 2020. The company is planning an expansive rollout across the United States, with locations coming in late 2019 to Los Angeles, NYC, Austin, San Diego, Chicago, and more to follow.
“As a lifelong Star Trek fan it’s been an incredible privilege partnering with CBS to bring fans the most authentic Star Trek experience possible,” said Michael Hampden, Creative Director and Head of Experiences at Sandbox VR. “Every detail has been hand crafted in such a way that when you first step on to a transporter pad with your own two feet, you’ll feel more immersed in the world of Star Trek than ever before.”
Sandbox VR uses full-body motion capture technology to produce fully immersive experiences, similar in effect to what The Void has already been doing in its VR experiences, and with a similar heavy backpack apparatus. Players will use familiar Star Trek gear including tricorders and phaser rifles, be transported to an alien planet, and go to warp on the U.S.S. Discovery. By necessity, experiences will be integrated with real world physical objects within a confined area. By the magic of VR, it will feel like a much larger, open environment.
The sleek white VR gear shown on the Sandbox VR web site is unfortunately not very close to what really happens. Here is a piece from the South China Morning Post, a news agency in Hong Kong. They interviewed the people behind the new tech startup. In the video, you can see that the gear and process looks a lot like the motion capture studios you may have seen in special effects how-they-did-it videos.
The open activity area gives Sandbox VR a way to let you move freely within the space provided, but tends to limit the possibility of putting furniture or boundary walls into the virtual space. Being able to touch parts of your environment is a powerful way of defining the play space, a concept which Sandbox VR seems to have skipped over in its basic engineering in exchange for a more open, free-form approach.
Like The Void, the Sandbox VR experience forces players to wear full-on VR capable computers on their backs, but with Sandbox VR players body parts bristle with little balls on sticks. Cameras all over the room watch for these balls and use them to figure out exactly where your body parts are in three dimensional space, including your head, wrists, ankles, and sometimes whatever you’re carrying – like a phaser rifle.
The Void, by contrast, uses visual tracking technology mounted on the helmets and can see your hands and fingers directly without needing any extra help, and player’s feet positions are just estimated. This means that while Sandbox VR might be more precise, it also needs a great deal more hardware to make it work.
Sandbox VR worked closely with Star Trek writers and stakeholders to ensure the most authentic experience possible for old and new fans alike. The game allows players to portray a member of the Discovery crew embarking on an away mission adventure. Players will use a tricorder, fire a phaser rifle, be transported to an alien planet, and go to warp on the U.S.S. Discovery.
As of the moment, only San Francisco has a Sandbox VR location in the United States. There’s one in Vancouver, but the rest are in Asia, in Hong Kong, Jakarta, Singapore and Macau. United States locations for Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Diego are all still in the planning stages, and will probably not open until 2020.