Recently, I found myself fighting off evil drones and saving the internet using nothing but a trusty weapon that fires milkshakes and pancakes. This, of course, happened in virtual reality. Specifically, the Void’s latest collaboration with Disney and ILMxLAB: Ralph Breaks VR, based on the films Wreck-It Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Much like the Void’s previous experiences, Ghostbusters Dimension and Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, Ralph Breaks VR puts you, the player, in a fully immersive, fully mobile, virtual reality experience. You can walk, you can talk, you can interact with the environments, and, eventually, you can shoot milkshakes and pancakes at creatures just like in the trailer for the new movie. It comes to multiple Void locations on November 21; this week, io9 got to play it and speak to some of its creators.
The first, and maybe best, thing you notice in Ralph Breaks VR is that it’s not merely echoing the new movie. While the experience takes place on the internet (the setting of the Ralph Breaks the Internet), it has a huge component that harkens back to the thing that made Wreck-It Ralph awesome in the first place: retro video games.
“It was very important that we bring the nostalgia and heart of the first film into it. The retro vibe you get from those old video games.” said Curtis Hickman, chief creative officer and co-founder of The Void. “So from a very early place we pushed to make that part of the experience.”
“We even talked about whether or not they should go to the internet [at all],” added Pamela Ribon, who wrote the VR experience and co-wrote the new movie. “[We thought] ‘Maybe they should just be in Litwak’s Arcade.’ But then I remember thinking, ‘The internet is gonna look so pretty, you guys.’” And it looks beyond pretty.
Without giving too much away, Ralph and Vanellope sneak you and your team into the internet to play what Ralph describes as the best game ever. Since this is Ralph, though, the game doesn’t end up being something new and exciting. It’s more like Space Invaders inside Tron and it’s called Dunder Dome. That sounds sort of humdrum—but in virtual reality, you are literally inside that game, firing a huge canon at little aliens zipping all around with Ralph and Vanellope offering commentary the whole time. It’s immersive and wild, and that’s just the beginning.
Things then go from the more 8-bit vibe of the first movie to the expanded internet from the sequel, with a few story twists that eventually have you grabbing that aforementioned Maker of Milkshake Mayhem and wreaking havoc with Pancake Power.
The idea of milkshakes and pancakes comes from the very first teaser trailer for Ralph Breaks the Internet, but, minor spoiler alert, was actually cut from the final film. That posed a bit of a problem for the teams working on Ralph Breaks VR because, well, that was kind of a huge part of their game. “We saw an early cut of the movie and [Pancake Milkshake] gets this huge laugh and we were like ‘It’s going in!’” said Jose Perez III, the lead experience designer from ILMxLAB. “And then we heard it might get cut and we were like. ‘B-but...Pancake Milkshake? This will be a thing.’ So we just kept pushing for it and I think it paid off.” It does but, well, we’ll leave that for after you see the movie and play the game.
In the end, the VR experience ends up being a nice compliment to the movie because the two things were being created simultaneously, changing constantly, and bouncing off one and other. “We’d do check-ins with the filmmakers at certain points throughout the development cycle because things do change frequently,” said Shereif Fattouh, a producer at ILMxLAB. “[To] make sure we remain aligned still. What’s happening with the film? What’s going on with the characters? Was there some adjustment to the tone of the characters? That’s one of the awesome parts of this whole process is how engaged everybody has been.”
One of the coolest developments in that back and forth is that Ralph Breaks VR was able to resurrect a character that film directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston cut from Ralph Breaks the Internet.
“[The producers] came to me and went ‘We need this villain, a security system.’ And I was like, ‘We have that! That used to be in our movie,’” said Ribon. “B.E.V [which stands for “Built to Eradicate Virus” and was based on co-director Phil Johnston’s mom] was a character in our early screenings. So I was able to tell Rich and Phil that B.E.V. is in the VR and they were like ‘Yeah! B.E.V. lives!’”
In the end, all the Easter eggs and film connections aside, Ralph Breaks VR is about putting people inside a fun, exciting story, which it does and then some. There’s so much going on in it, so many different ways to play, that you could go through the experience a bunch of times and make it new every single time. “Our hope when [people] go in isn’t so much ‘Are they going to get our story?’” said Hickman. “It’s ‘Are they going to come out with an amazing story?’”
Ralph Breaks VR opens November 21 at 7 Void locations across the U.S. and Canada and will be happening concurrently with the amazing Star Wars experience, Secrets of the Empire. Check www.thevoid.com for locations, tickets, and showtimes.