Imagine stepping out of the real world and entering in a fictional one that feels every bit as real. The people behind the technology at Sandbox VR, a virtual reality center, say that they were inspired by the Holodeck featured in many of the Star Trek TV series. But while the current technology isn’t as advanced as we’ve seen on the TV screen, it’s pretty darn close. And probably scarier.
Every experience presented at Sandbox VR was created by veterans of EA, Sony and Ubisoft. Unlike other VR experiences that I’ve tried, this one offers a more immersive experience where you can interact with up to six other players. It offers fantastic sound and sends unique sensations that roll through your body to make you feel as if you are really a part of the virtual world around you. The only sense that isn’t used in the experience is the sense of smell. Maybe Sandbox will add it in the future.
I was invited to try out one of the newest Sandbox VR locations in Kirkland, Washington and I was able to bring my family to play along as well. The inside of the facility has a sleek and modern design and with its solid black and white walls, it’s almost void of color. Its looks futuristic. Upon arriving, we were faced with a difficult task – choosing which story we wanted to become a part of. There are six to choose from where we could transform into androids, pirates, or people running away from zombies. Fortunately, our greeter was more than happy to give us more information about each of them. We decided to go with the androids.
On our way back to our VR room where we would soon be doing battle, we could hear the screams of delight from other teams engrossed in their own adventures. Peeking in, you can see that each room is almost completely empty with stark white walls and a few fans for air circulation.
Soon, we met our host, Andy who told us that we needed to come up with a team name as well as character names. Consistently professional and friendly, Andy answered all of our questions that we had. He then handed out strange gizmos (that looked like ping pong balls on sticks) that are similar to the motion caption devices you have seen used in the movies. We attached these to our wrists and ankles. Next, Andy gave us form-fitting haptic suits before being led to our empty play space (or “sandbox” if you will) and a team of employees followed carrying special helmets that completely block out the real world.
Soon we found that our bodies were no longer our own as we were turned into androids. We were told that we were free to move about the room but to watch for the red lines that glowed around us. As long as we stayed within that box, we didn’t have to worry about walking into a wall. And we didn’t have to worry about running into each other either because we could see each other in this new world – albeit in an android form. We were each given “guns” to use during the experience called Amber Sky 2088.
In our game, we were tasked with saving the earth from a swarm of aliens with the use of futuristic weapons. During the experience, we rode a space elevator that felt very real. We had 360-degree views. If I looked down below, I could see that I was standing very close to the edge of a platform. Looking above, I could see the sky. The graphics are beautiful but soon the aliens arrived, and all hell broke loose. We weren’t just playing a video game – we were the game and when those aliens attacked, it was genuinely scary. (Don’t let those eggs hatch!) Like the players before us, we all screamed and shouted even though there was no real reason to. The game went on for 30 minutes, but good news, we saved the Earth. You’re welcome.
After the experience, we reversed the process of removing our gear and then walked back to the front of the facility to a viewing area where we were treated to a movie trailer featuring us playing the game. It showed footage inside and outside of the game. And we were sent a copy of the trailer to keep or share with others. We also learned who the top scoring player was (it wasn’t me) and other stats from the experience. We had a lot to talk about.
While Sandbox VR is not an inexpensive venture ($50-$55 per person), it is a memorable one which would make a great event for a bachelor or bachelorette party, a birthday, etc. Currently, there are six experiences that you can take part in:
The 6 Experiences Now Available:
Curse of Davy Jones
This one features brighter colors than the rest and is a bit cartoony, making it a better choice for groups with younger members. Even so, it does feature a few spooky supernatural creatures to ward off.
Star Trek: Discovery
Based on the TV series and built in partnership with CBS Interactive, you will become members of the crew aboard the U.S.S. Discovery as Starfleet officers. Here, you’ll get “beamed up” for a mission on an unexplored alien world. What could go wrong?
This haunted house is the first Sandbox experience created and the very first hyperreality escape experience ever created. Not only will you fear the living dead, but they can even touch you!
A “sequel” of sorts where your crew will fight off zombies in a number of different locations. It is said that it raises the bar for interactivity. Need something stronger? You can try the special “nightmare” mode that is darker and harder to conquer. No thank you.
Here, you become a futuristic gladiator with an arsenal of weapons such as tridents, laser swords and even claws. It’s a mashup of physical sports and esports.
Amber Sky 2088
Journey from New Hong Kong to the curvature of the Earth to fight off the Rawcor invasion of Earth.
Good to Know:
- Each experience is available in English, Mandarin and Cantonese.
- Be sure to wear comfortable clothing that you can easily move around in. This isn’t a place to get all dressed up for.
- You can wear glasses under your helmet if you need to. The crew also have corrective lenses available to use that range from 200 to 700 degrees if you need them.
- While Sandbox produces box game and experiences, from what I’ve seen, they all have some terrifying elements, so if walking through a haunted house isn’t your thing, you might want to skip this until they create more gentle stories to experience.
- Be 48” or taller to play
- Be able to support 20 lbs. of equipment for up to an hour.
- Be able to walk unassisted for 30 minutes continuously.
- Be able to use both hands.
- Guests under 18 years of age must be accompanied by an adult for the singing of the minor waiver form.
- This experience is not recommended for pregnant women or those with heart conditions.
- The experience is not wheelchair friendly…yet.
Other Sandbox VR locations can be found in 14 other states including California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas Minnesota, Missouri Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio Texas, Utah and Virginia. They also can be found in Canada, Europe and Asia. Don’t have one near you? Don’t worry. Andy told me that the company is planning on opening a lot more locations in the near future. (As long as we aren’t attacked by aliens or something in the mean time.)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.