SciFi Gets Real: Meet Norman's Immersion HouseMay 04, 2017
Not so long ago (mid-1990’s), Hollywood science fiction movies like "Disclosure" and "Lawnmower Man" were depicting a futuristic concept called virtual reality; full immersion in a computer-generated environment. You put on video goggles, special gloves, and voila! You’re transported into an entirely different place, all created by a computer. But it was just science fiction, not something anyone could actually do.
Fast forward to the present. Reality has caught up with science fiction…and right down the street. A virtual reality center called Immersion House recently opened in Sooner Mall in Norman, giving science fiction a run for its money.
“People are very surprised at how immersive it is,” says Ryan Battles, co-owner of Immersion House. “It’s hard to explain it until you put the headset on. Even when you see people do it, until you put the equipment on, you have no idea just how real it feels. They’re very much surprised and have a look of wonder when they get out.”
Immersion House provides several types of full-immersion VR experiences. The first is what they call an immersion square. You stand on an 8x8 space wearing a special virtual reality helmet and holding two devices that serve as virtual hands. According to Ryan, you can move about freely in that space, ducking, dodging, crouching and performing other maneuvers. A cord suspension column suspends the cabling above your head so that you’re completely free to interact with the virtual environment. In fact, there are two immersion square stations, so you and a friend can play a virtual game at the same time. One of the more popular titles is called Raw Data.
“You start in a lab where robots are going rogue and coming at you from all directions,” says Ryan. “You have power-ups on your weapons, you’re moving in all directions. If you do co-op you have a partner in with you and you advance through phases. It’s terrifying at times, but so exciting.”
Immersion House also offers a seated experience designed for racing and flying. Presently, their feature title is a VR racing gamed called Project CARS. The chairs provide force feedback and six degrees of freedom to simulate the forces of the car. And with multiple chairs, Project CARS is becoming a popular outlet for tournament play.
According to Ryan, “We offer monthly tournaments on the cars. In fact, we’re building a VR gaming community where people can come out and compete. Our configuration also offers a spectator event. We offer four, forty-inch monitors so you can see what every player is seeing in their headset, allowing spectators to watch the action.”
If battling robots or racing cars isn’t your thing, the facility offers varied options like a 3D painting space with Google Tilt Brush. Or you can go sightseeing in faraway places or walk through a museum to see famous works of art in a fully immersive way.
And according to Ryan, this is just the beginning. “Our end goal is to have a facility with race rooms, flight rooms, omni-directional treadmills, a fully immersed experience. We’re also looking to build a VR community in Oklahoma for developers. All of those things that are coming down the market, they need support. So we’re going to start a VR meetup for those getting into VR development in Oklahoma, and those looking to see what VR can offer industry.”
To find out more about Immersion House, including options for birthday parties, group events and VR tournaments, check their website at ImmersionHouse.com. Their first VR developer conference will take place in June. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Editor’s Note: In preparing for this story, I actually tried Raw Data and Project CARS for myself. After several minutes into the Raw Data experience, I actually forgot I was in a mall…too many robots to fight!