Universal Orlando recently offered TechnoBuffalo a chance to fly down to Florida to check out its new horror/virtual reality experience called "The Repository."
It's this year's addition to Universal's annual "Halloween Horror Nights" and offers a new spin on theme-park horror adventures. Instead of walking through a haunted house – don't worry, you'll experience some of that, too – you're taken to another world through the use of virtual reality. The experience isn't cheap – it's $49.99 plus tax on top of your Halloween Horror Nights admission, but it's fascinating and fun.
I don't want to give away too many spoilers, so I'll tell you the backstory and a bit of my experience with the event, and let you enjoy the rest yourself.
The Repository is supposed to be an ancient warehouse built in 1775 for the Scottish army. Since then, it's been used as a space for collecting haunted artifacts, the sorts of things you hear about in folklore.
The artifacts include anything haunted, maybe a bell that rings at night when everyone is upstairs sleeping, or a doll that mysteriously makes its way to different rooms around the house. It's these sorts of scary objects that have been collected and exist here in The Repository, giving the space some sort of evil power and aura. Somewhere along the line, between the armory and a fire in 1795, rumors of a "Grimslew Curse" have swirled.
Your job is to find out if that curse is real and, if so, if you and four of your comrades can break it.
"We really wanted to play with a story about artifacts and hauntings," senior director of art and design at Universal, TJ Mannarino, explained. "Everyone has something that they know that's haunted. It's surprising how much people segment their horror, ghost stories hits a chord with everybody. Super-natural paranormal is interesting because it starts to play with the psychological aspects."
You'll enter into The Repository with the goal of finding a "key." It's up to you to decide what that key is and, along the way, you'll meet a crazy keeper of the relics, a rude scientist, several angry army personnel, a mad key-keeper and more.
When it's time, you'll travel through a portal to the other world, where you'll work with certain tools to understand the afterlife and try to get a better understanding of the aforementioned "Grimslew Curse."
A VR Portal
This "portal" is where virtual reality comes into play. Characters within the warehouse will help you apply a virtual reality headset after which you'll explore a burning library, stand atop a pillar hundreds of feet in the air above the ocean and walk in a graveyard.
The effects will exhilarate a first-time VR user, but may not be as exciting to someone who has used an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. You will, at the very least, feel transported from this world into another.
Mannarino told me Universal uses immersion techniques it employs in other attractions.
Actors may touch you at certain aspects and effects like blowing air will help make you feel like you've visited somewhere else.
You'll even see other folks in your group while in the virtual realm, each one represented as a glowing mask. While you'll travel during this experience, in reality you've never left the room where you first donned the VR headset.
A lot will go on during the roughly 30-minute adventure, so be sure to pay attention. You'll need to pick up on clues throughout the experience if you want to "win" at the end.
I won't reveal what happens, that's for you to find out on your own tour through The Repository.
I found the entire experience very fascinating. Universal used detailed sets, characters and props that it has employed in other experiences, but decided to get its feet wet with advanced technology, too.
Mannarino and his team wouldn't comment on whether or not this is something we'll see used in more rides that have a permanent position at the park, but said it's exploring those sorts of options, including looking at other new technologies like augmented reality, and that virtual reality is going to play a huge role in entertainment moving forward.
Park-goers and fear-seekers will really enjoy seeing the forefront of where VR can play a role inside amusement parks. Be sure to check out The Repository if you're heading to Orlando between now and Oct. 31.
Disclosure: Universal paid for my flight to Universal Orlando and a night in a hotel so that we could experience The Repository before it opened to the public.