Touching the Void
This is now our third article about The Void in the last six months. As may be obvious, we are fans of their experiences, as well as big believers in their future. But we’ve reviewed Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire. We’ve reviewed Ghostbusters and Nicodemus. What is left to review? At the moment…nothing. This article won’t be a review. Instead, we got a chance to talk to The Void’s creative team. After going through two of their Dimensions a second time, we think there is still more story to tell.
We met with Curtis Hickman, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, and Tracy Hickman, Head of Story. Tracy introduced himself by saying he wrote Nicodemus’ script, which immediately intrigued me. I hadn’t considered there would be a script for an experience largely without dialogue. There is still a flow of actions, of course, and using a script was the first indication of The Void’s emphasis for the afternoon–that they are working with a “new language of story.” It’s all about letting audiences experience the story firsthand instead of telling them.
I think it’s a great description. Storytelling has never stopped evolving, and what The Void is creating a new method for an old art form. I really believe they understand this at a deep level. In discussing the challenges of writing the script for such a non-traditional medium, he said one of the hardest parts was figuring out “where to put the silence.” Having gone through Nicodemus, this makes so much sense. If the experience was a nonstop barrage of image and sound, you would not be able to get immersed in the story. You couldn’t focus on anything for too long. By including designated silence, it gives the audience time to absorb their surroundings, to think, to look, and to go at their own pace. Plus, as any horror fan knows, silence can also amp up the tension. Everyone knows more scary moments are coming…but a long creepy silence fills you with dread and makes those moments more potent.
The Void’s first two Dimensions are branded with famous Intellectual Property (Ghostbusters and Star Wars). Nicodemus is their own creation, so I asked which they preferred. Diplomatically, they said they enjoyed both and each had different rewards. Pressed for details, they expressed that branded experiences have an “instant audience” and gives them a chance to fulfill other people’s dreams. People have wanted to step into the world of Star Wars for their whole life, and they love being able to make that come true. The immediate connection is undeniable. Tracy mentioned standing on the walls of Minas Tirith and I immediately felt a jolt of excitement. That would be my dream, more than Star Wars (No, they were not announcing a forthcoming Lord of the Rings license). They were showing the powerful connection that brands can have, and with that one reference, they proved it to me.
Original stories, on the other hand, give them a chance to fulfill their own dreams. Anything they come up with can be brought to life. With no corporate rules, they are less restricted on what they can or cannot do. It gives them more freedom as creators. My favorite aspect of this manifested as the secret Easter Eggs in Nicodemus. Going through once gives people enough to do and see that they may not even notice the words scrawled in chalk on the walls. On my second trip (and with a bit of a nudge), I knew to look more carefully. Four or 5 scribblings caught my eye, so I tried to do what they said. I failed, but it was a thrill to feel like I was on a secret mission that my friends didn’t even know about. At least I saw several new animations compared to my first trip, so I consider that a win. On the downside, I spent so much time on the secret stuff that I paid less attention to the main story. There is one particularly creepy room that I missed a good chunk of while trying to achieve the alternate ending.
I was warned it was hard to follow the secret path, and they weren’t kidding! This led to an interesting discussion about replay-ability. Star Wars will be fun every time you go, but it likely won’t reveal anything new. Nicodemus shows a way to increase replay-ability by including more content than can be see in one trip. Curtis knew that very few people would discover the secrets, let alone be able to accomplish the tasks, but it was important to him to include this feature, even at an extra cost. I loved it but wonder if it could lead to frustration. At about $30 per experience, few people will have the funds to go as many times as it takes. For those who try a few times and fail, will they get disgruntled and resentful? I think a membership program would be a good idea for The Void. For a fixed price, you can come as often as you want in certain period of time.
The Future of The Void
Tracy and Curtis were asked about Immersive Theater, which we’re big fans of at Media Geeks. They like it too but thought it was still mostly being told TO the audience. Ideally for The Void’s goals, each participant should have a sense of agency, so they can make their own decisions the entire time. This effort has been largely successful, although there are still moments where you have to progress through the story even if you’re not quite ready to move on.
Asked about the future, I got a very unexpected answer: they’re looking at educational experiences. I couldn’t think of what this might be off the top of my head, but now I can see it working. Showing children a beautiful coral reef and then a bleached, trash-strewn version could really drive home lessons about conservation that books or lectures just can’t provide.
I used The Void’s own emphasis on storytelling over gaming to ask about experiences with longer arcs. I suggested after the end of a successful Star Wars session, you get a follow-up mission that continues the plot. Or if you have played before and come back, then next time the Void’s software could add a colored badge to your Stormtrooper avatar, making you the Captain of the squad. These ideas for “multi-pathing” and rewarding players are ideas that have been (and presumably still are) being considered. However, omnipresent budget concerns have forced cuts to a lot of pie-in-the-sky features in order to focus on keeping the core experiences at a high quality. The bells and whistles will have to wait.
If The Void is a financial success, and early signs are good, then hopefully some of these features will be added in, as well as more Dimensions to experience. I forgot to ask how often they hope to introduce new Dimensions, but I’d love to see two per year, maybe one original and one licensed. Either way, I’m on board for whatever the Void does next. They really seem to understand this new mashup of storytelling and entertainment as well (or better) than anyone for now, and it sounds like they plan to keep getting better.
More information is available at The Void’s website here. They are open every day of the week, you can experience all 3 Dimensions at the Glendale Galleria location. Other locations may have a smaller selection of Dimensions available.