the void’s heritage
Ken Bretschneider, chief executive officer and co-founder of THE VOID was born to be an entrepreneur. With companies like DigiCert, LINK, and People Water under his belt, some might be surprised to learn that he also loves art, film, and theater.
“I love haunted attractions, being immersed in fantasy worlds, and interactive theater experiences,” says Bretschneider.
Growing up in Port Dover, Ontario, Canada, (a small fishing village located on the north shore of Lake Erie,) Ken was inspired by the creativity and efforts of his community to make each holiday season magical, especially Halloween.
His passion for creating memorable haunts began in 2008 when he started a humble haunted experience out of his home.
Each year friends, neighbors, and complete strangers would visit. Ken grew the scope and production of the experience each year until it not only consumed most of his newly built dream home, but also his half-acre private park.
“In two nights, we had over 11,000 people visit our home haunt. We consistently overheard people exclaim that our experience rivaled Disneyland, which is really quite a compliment, considering it wasn’t a massive theme park. But, for a couple nights we created a world that fired up the curiosity and imagination of both young and old alike, it was very exciting and gratifying.”
Eventually, he decided to take his Halloween event several steps further and Evermore Park was born.
“Evermore was going to be a permanent park that would host a variety of immersive experiences throughout the year that people could live through.”
In 2012 Ken finalized the Evermore brand and started the planning and design of the company. He hired his good friend Curtis Hickman (now co-founder and CCO at THE VOID) to lead a team of “Visionaires” through the planning and design phase of the proposed park. Shortly after, James Jensen (now co-founder and CVO at THE VOID) was contracted to recreate a digital version of the park using the Unity game engine.
With the ability to visualize the park in real-time, the team could discover what worked and what didn’t quickly. Bretschneider and Hickman soon realized they were missing a core attraction and began playing with the idea of adding virtual reality to the park. This led Jensen to share his long-held dream with them of mapping digital worlds over physical spaces.
The development of a prototype was completed within months. It borrowed from the best available off the shelf hardware and used customized code to connect all the pieces. Having been “frankensteined” together, it was very much a prototype. But it worked, and the end result was nothing short of astonishing. It was a monumental moment in which the vision and experience of three combined to create a bigger idea.
“We were able to walk wirelessly down the corridor of a spaceship, exit a doorway onto an overlook of the universe, and finally re-enter and walk down another part of the spaceship.”
It looked and felt so real. That’s when I knew we really had something.
While THE VOID was originally going to live within Evermore Park, Ken, Curtis, and James realized that what they had was something much bigger than an attraction within a theme park.
“I think it was fate. There were too many good things that had to come together in order for us to create this new reality.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
THE VOID was officially formed in 2014 and the “three musketeers of VR” immediately got to work developing custom hardware and software so they could fully realize their dream of bringing a new form of entertainment to the world through VOID Experience Centers (VECs).
“Our experiences are allowing people for the first time in history to visit new worlds.”
Think of a VEC like a futuristic movie theater that runs multiple hyper-reality experiences at a time. Tickets are purchased through an app or online and there are trailers to watch. Eventually, these trailers might even be experienced through the lenses of an at-home VR headset.
“We have designed two styles of stages, one we call an ‘attraction stage,’ which consumes approximately 30×30 feet of floor space and a full ‘dimension stage’ at 60×60 feet. The primary difference between the two is that attraction stages are designed for high throughput and are to be featured primarily in concentrated tourist locations, whereas dimension stages will be featured in our VEC locations and designed for longer, nonlinear experiences that will cater to repeat customers.”
While this isn’t the first time a VR arcade or entertainment center has been opened to the public, Ken says THE VOID’s VEC model is a new and powerful idea.
“The big difference is that technology is finally in a form that can deliver believable VR experiences. Our VECs will take people a step beyond reality (HYPR-reality) by combining digital and physical together. Furthermore, we will deliver on the true promise of VR through continued development of advanced technologies and by producing ongoing content that will drive our audiences to visit our VECs again and again.”
The ability to deliver experiences that feel completely real is a big priority. In order to fully realize this goal, the audience needs to forget that they are wearing any tech. THE VOID is in constant research and development in several areas of technology including computing, haptic feedback, full body tracking, and an advanced visual system called AMBIENT.
EVERMORE LIVES ON
While THE VOID is now the focus of Ken’s time, he still dreams of one day creating a full-scale version of Evermore Park.
“Some of the content we want to create at THE VOID has an Evermore feel. It’s a great brand and it ensures the whole idea of fantasy and exploration.”
While most of the content will be family friendly, there are also plans for some intense and terrifying experiences. With Ken running the show, it’s no surprise he wants to create some content that is designed for adult audiences.
“I’m really excited to explore experiences that can really scare people, but this will have to be done cautiously of course!”
As attraction stages continue popping up in locations across the country, Ken is looking forward to opening the world’s first VEC in his home state of Utah.
“Utahns love fantasy. We were named the number one geek state in the union. Depending on what stats you look at, we have the second or third largest Comic Con in the United States now. That’s really interesting in a state with only 3 million people.”
For now, Ken’s dream will live on as Evermore Gardens – across the street from THE VOID campus – where he’ll be found hosting immersive parties, festivals, concerts, and of course, haunts.