'Terminator' VR Attraction Blends Physical and Digital Worlds

Amusement attractions come in all shapes and sizes, and thanks to new technology, companies like SPACES are looking to the future by developing new concepts that defy traditional classification, mixing virtual reality with more familiar experiences to create something new.

The new VR attraction from SPACES mixes aspects of movies, video games, amusement park rides and playgrounds into one. SPACES CEO Shiraz Akmal calls it the "next generation" of what you'd expect to find at a theme park or tourist destination. Add in a Terminator theme, and you have what Akmal calls an "epic, interactive experience."

A visualization of what players see when entering into the Terminator VR attraction SPACES

The experience starts with a group of four to eight people, each getting a facial scan for a "passport." Guests are presented with a pre-show mission briefing before dressing up in a special suit with a VR headset. Each mission will be different, with the Terminator experience involving players gunning down Terminators, solving puzzles and completing challenges. As players are completing these challenges, they must navigate rooms with moving platforms and interact with physical objects while wearing VR headsets.

"A third of the company comes from the theme park business, a third from the video game business, and a third from film," Akmal told Newsweek. "The combination of the three disciplines goes into building the sets [for each attraction] and any integration with the sets."

During a mission, players may need to perform a task such as placing an item on an altar. There is a physical item and a physical altar in the attraction space, but guests see the object as something more, thanks to VR. "People are walking around in a digital, video game-like world, but it has physical touchpoints," Akmal explained. "What makes it more real is all the haptics and motion platforms and heat that really bring the space to life."

The attraction is made even more immersive thanks to the facial scan guests take at the beginning. "We make a digital map of your face so you can actually recognize each other in VR," said Akmal.

A look at the gear players wear when completing missions SPACES

After players finish the mission, there is a post-show briefing as the attraction space is reset for the next set of participants. Guests also receive a recording of the entire experience in 3D, a next-generation version of a photo taken on a ride.

The team at SPACES' goal for the attraction is to provide the highest level of immersion possible, a lesson Akmal learned when he put a VR headset on his then-three-year-old son. "With his very limited vocabulary, he kept saying 'Dad, this is fake.' He was trying to reach out and touch things that weren't there," Akmal said. "That's always stuck with me. Immersion ends when you reach out and try to touch something that isn't there. Crafting the real world is just as important as the digital world."

While guests use Oculus-based VR headsets for the Terminator experience, they won't be slowed down by wires and other tethers thanks to a backpack-like system. Putting on all the gear also helps with the feeling that guests are getting ready to fight for humanity's survival. "People feel like they are suiting up to go on this crazy adventure," said Akmal.

Experience the world of Terminator like never before when the SPACES VR attraction opens later this year SPACES

SPACES has been developing this VR environment over a number of years, but Akmal says the company designed it to be easy enough to upgrade any part whenever it was possible. "As hardware improves, we can swap out things like headsets or wireless routers or whatever needs an upgrade," he said. "You need to be able to consistently update your attraction to keep delivering the best experiences. You don't want to fall out of date."

Because so much of the attraction is digital, SPACES can offer multiple experiences in the same space. "Our hardware platform lets us digitally change everything," said Akmal. "Today it's Terminator for one group. For the next group, it could be something totally different. We have plans and a bunch of other IP for expansions coming in the next few months."

The Terminator attraction will launch in two locations in the U.S. this year, Los Angeles and San Jose. There are also launches planned in Japan and China. SPACES is also teaming up with existing attractions and tourist destinations, like theme parks and movie theaters, to launch more locations.

To stay up-to-date on all SPACES news, check out the company's website.