Time is running out inside the Gamebox, and you’ve got to jump or die. You’re a contestant in Squid Game, the hit South Korean Netflix series, but in this interactive version, you’re playing inside an illuminated cube measuring 12 feet in each direction.
You’re partnered up with your friends, who must agree on questions about a series of images projected to the left and right of you. Each of you wears a visor with sensors on top of it; the box can tell where you are and how you move. In this challenge, called “Glass Bridge,” your team must decide, as seconds tick away, the answer to questions like, “Which side had the most birds?” To vote, teammates jump on circles representing the left or right side.
Answer correctly and your onscreen avatar jumps safely forward onto a rectangle of glass. Answer wrong? Your character falls to a bloodless, relatively nonviolent death (compared to the TV show), and your team takes a hit, losing some of its player characters.
The game moves quickly and bathes you in the pinks and yellows of the TV series. The members of your group must work together through six challenges inspired by the show, including “Tug of War” and “Red Light, Green Light.” But it’s not Squid Game: The Video Game, it’s one of about a dozen titles that also includes Angry Birds on a software platform that’s spreading to movie theaters and entertainment centers in the US and overseas.
Immersive Gamebox is the name of the cube, as well as the British company that makes it. The boxes started rolling out in 2019 in London and have since expanded to play centers, malls, and movie theaters. They are now in about 20 US markets, including Dallas, San Jose, Denver, Salt Lake City, and New York City, with a target of 100 locations in the next two years.
Will Dean, who previously cofounded the Tough Mudder obstacle course event company, said that for his sophomore startup, he was looking to do something similar involving group play, but in the tech space.
“I became really interested in this idea of taking the dynamics of a video game, which is the individual versus the environment, and creating something that’s all about team bonding,” Dean says. “I think I’m good at understanding what makes things fun, and we live in an age where, unfortunately, technology isn’t bringing us together in the ways it might have 15 or 20 years ago.”
Dean says he looked at VR but felt it wasn’t collaborative enough. Instead, he began building off inspiration from tech like the original Nintendo Wii to start working on a smart game room that would use projection, motion tracking, and lidar. The first prototype, made in 2018, was a version of Pong with two players moving around the room functioning as the paddles. Dean says it was “super basic, but it was fun, and I think people enjoyed it.”