The Virtual Arena: The Attraction Industry’s VR Future! (Part 2)

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Continuing the coverage of the Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment (DOE) applications of Virtual Reality, in his second part of Kevin Williams, charts developments that were seen at the leading International Amusement and Attraction convention in Orlando.

In this next part of our coverage from the show floor of the largest trade event dedicated to the theme park, attraction and amusement industry:

VR Standalone Enclosures

As previously covered in our first report from the record breaking International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo (IAE); and we follow on from the developers of facility based free-roaming VR backpack, multi-player experiences, we have seen new developments in this business approach.

Many exhibitors at IAE saw the appearance of Standalone VR Enclosures, that can offer the VR backpack experience with in a compact foot-print. These pop-up modular designs have gained momentum and made a big splash onto the scene. Leading the charge was media attraction developer TRIOTECH who in a far-reaching agreement partnered with game publishing powerhouse Ubisoft towards releasing their Virtual Maze. Developed with Asterion VR, this modular maze VR experience was launched to the IAE audience running Virtual Rabbids: The Big Maze. But this was revealed to only be the start, with TRIOTECH and Ubisoft taking to the stage to announce their partnership, and following the Rabbids title, will in 2018 also launch a game based on the successful Assassin’s Creed franchise.

Ernest Yale, President and CEO of Triotech and Deborah Papiernik, senior vice president of new business for Ubisoft The TRIOTECH Virtual Maze in action

Major partnerships to drive adoption of new VR attractions is a common component of the growth of the Out-of-Home entertainment industries approach. Regarding development of Standalone VR Enclosures’, another prominent developer at the show was A.i. Solve, who presented their WePlayVR – a popular VR backpack enclosure system, having players’ either navigating a virtual temple, or alien invasion. In partnership with leading amusement manufacturer and distributor BANDAI NAMCO Amusement, the companies have already installed the system in over thirteen locations, with many more sales chalked up during the show.

The WePlayVR experience

VR Standalone Platforms

Beyond the dedicated enclosures, several exhibitors promoted standalone (pop-up) VR platforms, created to be placed in a wide variety of venues ranging from shopping malls, cinema foyers, and family entertainment centres (FEC). These standalone approaches came in multiple varieties – leading lasertag and escape room specialist, Creative Works has partnered with the developers of the HoloGate VR platform; a four-player VR platform for FEC operators to deploy. The tethered VR experience using the HTC Vive head-mounted display, and offering a competitive multi-player experience that proved popular with many of Creative Works clients.

The HoloGate VR system in full flow

Another company offering a plug-and-play solution for operators that want to deploy a unique VR experience was motion cinema seat developer MediaMotion. The company promoting their ReactiVR product range that includes the ‘Motion VR’ platform, a two-seat MediaMotion MX4D motion-seat, linked to HTC Vive headset and controllers. The company demonstrating available game content working directly with Skydance Interactive (Archangel) and The Rogue Initiative (Steel Cobras) to integrate their games with this immersive seat configuration.

The Motion VR experience

The ability to drop a turn-key VR solution was demonstrated from VRX Networks. The company has presented their VRX Zone – the platform partnering with Hollywood movie studios to produce VR interactive blockbuster movie experiences, leveraging the power of the big marketing budgets. VRX Networks looking to have installed at over 50 installations by the end of the year. Running on their Oculus VR headsets games promoting The Emoji Movie, Jigsaw and Jumanji motion pictures.

Various examples of turn-key VR standalone solutions were also seen from SMAAASH, an Indian based developer of FEC facilities and attractions for their market. The company promoted their Finger Coaster VR virtual rollercoaster and Vertigo, their walk-the-plank experienced. Another standalone approach was from CXC Simulations – the company famous for their competitive network racing simulator race rooms, have turned to VR applications with their over 20 facilities running VR race rooms, employing the HTC headset.

The Chinese developers have lead the charge in the out-of-home adoption of VR entertainment systems, and the leading developers came on mass to IAE to offer interested operators a range of platforms. Manufacturer NINED presented their range of products including the Baby Bear virtual viewers for younger guests, all the way up to the KAT Walk platform. The unique omni-direction VR system, offer competitive experiences.

The KAT Walk network experience

The other Chinese developers included Movie Power, with their Skiing VR piece and their more traditional egg-shaped 9D VR ride experiences. While developer Skyfun Animation showed their own selection of VR systems such as the motorcycle system Crazy Motorbike VR – these systems using the Deepoon BPVR E3 headset. One Chinese developer, LEKE VR, came to the Orlando show with their stylish racing car experience called the VR Racer. It was revealed that the company has signed an exclusive partnership with new UK operation Immotion Group – and following a fundraising of some £1.3m, the new operation plans to distribute VR Arcade pieces into the West.

VR Amusement Platforms

The ability to offer a VR experience in a package that operates similarly to a conventional video amusement piece has not been lost on developers of the latest platforms. Amusement machine manufacturers embracing the new technology to develop amusement quality VR standalone platforms, and the leading examples made the trip to IAE.

No stranger too VR amusement pieces, UNIS had already partnered last year with VIRTIX to launch their Omni Arena – network gaming experience that is now supported by the brand new Omniverse – a proprietary content delivery and arcade management platform for use by commercial Omni operators around the world. The UNIS booth at IAE saw two new VR systems, with the launch in the West of the game D-Day 2077 – a alien invasion VR experience with the player wielding a Gatling gun. The other game was Tiger Knight an ancient Chinese knight horse riding game. These games dependant on the use of the HTC Vive headset.

The UNIS based D-Day 2077

Amusement manufacturer LAI Games released Virtual Rabbids, the latest developer to partner with Ubisoft to utilize the lovable Rabbids brand. With their new VR amusement piece, the company has developed a two-rider motion simulator with three selectable VR experiences, LAI Games promoting the systems as the first attendant-free VR ride experience that is operated and serviced like any other coin-op amusement game.

Virtual Rabbids

VR Special Attractions

With a crowded show floor with the latest trends for the theme park and attraction sector – VR was defiantly a ubiquitous technology with many examples popping up across the event, not a niche but a definite trend in the market.

Of the less than usual applications seen at the show, and D3D Cinema, a company working with science museums and planetariums, has partnered with SOMNIACS to launch their Birdly VR physical flight simulator – the company revealing that they have placed the system in several museums, and are now looking to the amusement sector.

The big surprise in deploying VR into DOE saw the waterpark industry apply VR into their future business. The developer Ballast presented the on the Wiegand Sports booth what they called the world’s first aquatic VR headset – in partnership with the water slide developer, they are launching their VR Slide a system that marries a specially created VR experience.

The prototype Ballast waterproof headset

But Ballast was not the only developer of a waterproof VR headset for application in water parks. Turkish based Polin Waterparks, through their new interactive entertainment division Polin Games has partnered with VR specialist Polymorph to create their SplashVR – running a demonstration on their booth, with guests sitting in a rubber ring and using Samsung Gear VR’s, the actual attraction will use the specially developed waterproof headset of their design – riders viewing a unique game experience while traversing down the water ride.

The production version of the SplashVR waterproof headset

A demonstration of the SplashVR system

VR was everywhere at the IAE theme park show, even seeing it applied in a Mixed Reality experience. Created by N-Flatables, an inflatable race track accommodating RC car, specially configured with their own camera, what transmits the images to players wearing headsets and controlling the vehicles (called Live-Drive RC). This unique game experience is developed as a perfect private hire style attraction used for parties, and temporary installations.

The Live-Drive RC announcement

With the end of IAE for another year, it was clear that VR was fully imbedded in the thinking of the DOE scene. While the consumer videogame scene is still finding it hard to establish true mainstream momentum for the technology – some observers claiming that the latest consumer adoption of VR has stalled – for the attraction and amusement industry there has been an incredibly large investment towards deploying immersive technology into the mainstream business.

As an observer of the immersive technology scene, for me 2018 will be the proof of the pudding for this latest attempt to adopt VR into the attraction scene. We will now be in a position in the coming months where we will see a slew of new VR based attractions and operations opening across the globe. It will be this point where we see if VR can pay it way, and that this latest attempt to adopt the tech will be more than a novelty, and a bankable business – we will endeavour to cover the main developments in this sector in VRFocus.
Kevin Williams will return with The Virtual Arena in the New Year.