Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-generated environment, in which you and/or your team interact with an artificial world with immersive virtual surroundings. Virtual Reality offers you a completely new and unique experience in a different world you would never otherwise enjoy. It’s no wonder, the virtual reality technologies are going to be widely used in the entertainment industry, initially in the out-of-home sector.
The formula of future entertainment consists of three words – ‘Digital’, ‘Immersive’ and ‘Interactive’. In today’s era of fast changing high technology, it is difficult for brands to capture the attention of their potential customers. The experts predict that Virtual Reality will become an essential piece of everyday life in the next few years. That`s why the brands that invest their time and resources into new VR technologies are the ones who will have the ability to capture market share. This is not only because they see VR as a leading trend, but also because the technology offers a different experience for each play and new software can be easily and quickly downloaded to encourage repeat play. The out-of-home leisure family entertainment centers will have the ability to provide the latest hardware and upgrade as necessary, something that will not be easily accomplished at home.
THE VIRTUAL REALITY HARDWARE
VR comes in many different forms. It can be the cheap headset that works with your i-phone and then there are the much more immersive options that in addition require a powerful PC or gaming console and some safe space to move around in.
The most important piece of a VR kit is the headset or head-mounted display (HMD), a device like a thick pair of goggles that goes over your eyes. It includes the built-in headphones, microphone, and movement sensors, which are able to maintain a sense of realism. This is accomplished by incorporating a tracking system that tracks the user’s head and body movements and feeds this information back to a computer. The computer responds by changing the images in front of the person to match their change in perception.
There are other optional accessories from hand controllers to treadmills that are all designed to enhance the simulated experience of being in another world. Hand controllers, for example, translate the player’s real-world gestures into whatever game or application you’re using. The latest technology eliminates the hand controllers and uses the player’s actual hands and arms to control the action (more on this later).
The most significant breakthrough in the quality of creating a VR environment occurred in 2016 when three new products appeared on the market, bringing the use of VR to an entirely new level. It is necessary to briefly describe them for further understanding the working basis of the most successful start-ups.
Four years after its first crowdfunding campaign, the first commercial version of Oculus Rift launched in early 2016, sold initially from the Oculus VR website and gradually made its way to retailers around the world. Until now, you needed a powerful PC to use the Oculus Rift. However, Oculus has just announced that thanks to a new technology breakthrough, the Rift is going to work with PCs costing as little as $500.
Oculus is also expanding its hardware offering and in the near future, Oculus will launch a dedicated Oculus Touch controller which translates your hand gestures into the virtual environment (this has now become a reality).
HTC Vive is a partnership between Taiwanese tech firm HTC and the games company Valve. Vive is a direct rival to Oculus Rift, though several games and apps are available for both devices. Like the Rift, Vive requires a PC to run its software, and HTC helps buyers purchase the proper kit by maintaining a list of Vive Ready computers.
The Vive kit includes the headset, two wireless hand controllers, two base stations and a link box to connect it to the user’s computer. It has some unique features, including a front-facing camera which, in certain apps, can bring the real world into the virtual environments. Also included are two hand-worn gestural controllers, unlike the Rift, which partly can explain Vive’s higher price. The Vive also comes with a base station that tracks the player’s movements, so within fairly tight limits the player can move around inside his/her VR space.
Sony PlayStation VR
The third big gun in the VR race is Sony’s PlayStation VR headset, which launched in October 2016 as an accessory for the PlayStation 4 games console. The first console-connected VR headset out of the blocks, PlayStation VR, is also the most affordable high-end model even though you have to buy the PS4 to run it.
Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Andrew House likens Virtual Reality in a theme park, mainly because the experiences are short in duration but very intense. Overall Sony sold 60 million PS4 units of which to date includes more than 1 million Play Station VR units. The average PS VR session is lasting 25 minutes. At E3 Sony announced a new Virtual Reality experience is in the making built around Breaking Bad series. Statistics show that 645 million hours has been spent gaming on PS4. After E3 Sony is expected to drop the price on select PS4 systems from $299 to $249 for one week in mid-June 2017. Sony currently has 26.4 million subscribers on it’s premium PS Plus service.
VR devices have their own app stores, similar to smartphone app stores, where you can browse and download games and apps. Some of these stores can be accessed only using the device itself, while others are placed in the VR section of the digital game’s store and can be browsed on your computer.
THE VOID – THE MOST OUTSTANDING VIRTUAL REALITY ENTERTAINING CENTER NOW
The most discussed new VR-anchored center opened over the recent year is The VOID, an immersive virtual reality theme park, based in Utah that transports users to another world they can see, feel, and interact with. The VOID (an acronym of “The Vision of Infinite Dimensions”), where groups of visitors can use a combination of VR hardware with motion tracking technology and special effects systems to explore and interact with virtual settings within the specially-designed environments. The VOID was co-founded by CEO Ken Bretschneider, a serial startup founder, and Curtis Hickman, a visual effects artist, and former stage magician.
The VOID’s virtual reality uses aspects of haptic feedback and other physical effects. Participants wear a helmet with a head-mounted display, noise canceling headphones and a hand tracking sensor. A haptic suit tracks their movement and provides a sensory experience.
The system is designed to allow its users to freely walk through and explore a virtual world. In physical reality, each user is confined to a “stage” equipped with ceiling-mounted motion tracking cameras to read the user’s movements. To provide physical feedback and make the virtual experience even more realistic, the “stage” contains foam walls, special effects equipment such as fans, mist machines, and heat lamps and other props, such as guns and torches. All of these physical elements correspond with elements within the virtual world seen through the headset, increasing the illusion of immersion.
The VOID gaming experience lasts a minimum of 30 minutes. VR Entertainment Center has seven (7) 60 ft. x 60 ft. room spaces, each room has is own layout and the walls in each room are removable and modular. Each room accommodates up to 10 players at once.
“Our technology allows us to create the illusion that the player is exploring miles of terrain or incredibly tall structures without ever leaving our game pod. The end result is a physical connection to the virtual world and a sense of exploration never before possible.” By The VOID
The company’s business plan is to create entertainment centers around the world, small-scale versions of what it built in Utah, powered by the same technologies. The VOID is going to create its own content, where users will be able to explore, battle, fight and wander through deep jungles, war zones, other planets with robots and aliens, and the darkest dungeons with fierce, fire-breathing dragons! They plan to offer a variety of experiences visitors can choose from. Some of the software is being developed in-house; while a video-game company and researchers at the University of Utah are working on other concepts/ideas. A local Mormon organization, for example, is developing a way for people to feel as if they’re walking through historic Jerusalem.
However, The VOID will also serve as an immersive version of the most famous films and video games. If you go to see “Star Wars” in theaters and you love it, you can pay an additional $10 or $20 to spend 15 minutes actually walking around in the universe interacting with the “Star Wars” characters and films environment. Today, The VOID announced a launch of its first public experience, a partnership with Sony Pictures around its new “Ghostbusters” film. The New York attraction is being called “Ghostbusters: Dimension” and will open on July 1st, just ahead of the film’s July 15th debut.
Currently, the VR Entertainment Center has two VR experiences ready. The first, “Dimension One” is a deep exploration into a temple in a jungle. Besides numbers of immersive details, a functioning ancient elevator and fire that sends off realistic heat has been added to intensify the immersive gaming experience. The second is the futuristic “Research Facility” experience, a multiplayer game that enables a user and his/her team to track down and hunt aliens. All players will appear as space marines from the galaxy within The VOID’s mixed reality game environment.
The VOID takes you beyond the limits of reality into a rich immersive experience where you can connect with others, while engaging all your senses. By combining a physical set with real-time interactive effects and going beyond virtual reality, The VOID lets you not only watch a movie or play a game, but to live inside it, creating unforgettable experiences and memories.
The VOID’s vision is not just to create a VR gaming theme park or a virtual reality entertainment center. What The VOID has in mind is to create a total experience, an experience that begins the second that you walk through it’s mysterious doors.
THE HYPER REALITY EXPERIENCE
This month “The Hyper Reality Experience” will launch the UK’s first virtual reality-powered game experience “Tick Tock Unlock” at the Leeds International Festival, as a public installation at Trinity Shopping Mall, Leeds, UK. Tick Tock Unlock is a real-life escape game designed for small groups of 3-6 players per room. The escape game merges virtual reality technology with physical sets and stage effects with video games, movies and stories in order to create an incredibly immersive and unique quiz. This is a new type of entertainment and new way to explore different realities, which is suitable for anybody with a sense of adventure.
“It’s an incredibly exciting, creative and imaginative industry to be a part of,” states Tick Tock Unlock founder, Samrien Hussain. “In fact, imagination is key – you have to have innovative ideas and keep pushing the boundaries of technology. It’s also an industry that’s rapidly growing. In the next 10 years or so, VR is going to be a big part of people’s lives, and we’re keen to be at the forefront of that growth.”
“TORCH ENTERTAINMENT VR”, IN PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
One of the VR entertainment world leaders, “Torch VR”, is located in Prague, Czech Republic. Its founder/owner Jorge Torales, was recently video interviewed by Frank ‘the Crank’ Seninsky in May 2017. Jorge came up with a combination of VR, augmented reality and the idea of multiplayer, which means that a group of friends or a family can be involved into the same game experience and everyone of them can feel themselves as a part of the ‘Team’. The name of one of the games is “Cosmos” – an escape challenge game, where the players are stuck in a space shuttle and have an hour for the entire team to escape the shuttle and several space challenges, and return to base station.
Torch VR has integrated new technology that permits a user to use their hands and arms as the controllers. At the beginning of each game, a player extends his/her arms so the computer can adapt the avitar’s body to the player. Stretching out both arms permits the player to ‘fly’, gaining speed as the arms are stretch out. It is similar to how Superman/Super Woman flies and seems very realistic. Anyone can quickly learn how to take off, fly, turn left/right, or go up/down.
One of the weak parts of a generic escape room game is that after completing the game a few times, the operator will have to change the game significantly to keep the game interesting for repeat play customers. One of the ways to fix this is to make players solve different puzzles, or to solve them in a different way, or to complete the game with another team, as each person acts differently. All of this adds more playability to the game.
George Torales believes that the future of VR entertainment lies – as it is a high tech business – in content development. VR isn’t going to disrupt the traditional type of the family entertainment business, VR can improve this business and increasing frequency of visitation. VR can also enhance the experience of a physical roller-coaster or any theme park ride/attraction, something that simply cannot be done at home.
“CTRL V” – NEW VIRTUAL REALITY ARCADE
Ctrl V Inc. is the first virtual reality arcade in Canada, offering experiences in the newest way of entertainment and gaming. With custom-designed VR stations featuring the HTC Vive, Ctrl V offers high-end commercial virtual reality experiences and a variety of different games.
Ctrl V, based in Waterloo, ON, Canada, has developed its own business approach that includes the variety of virtual reality games and experiences, expansion into movie theaters and the development of a convincing internal user interface. Ctrl V’s attention to details shows its commitment to developing a first-class, stable business.
In addition to Waterloo, Ctrl V operates a virtual reality arcade in Guelph, ON, and plans to open eight more over the next year in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The company chose the Vive immersion system for its facilities because of its “much larger selection of content, elimination of latency problems, and built-in features preventing users from running into real walls,” explained Ctrl V chief executive Ryan Brooks.
Ctrl V currently offers over 30 games in its arcades. They include Job Simulator, Space Pirate Trainer, Smash Box Arena and Universe Sandbox. Job Simulator and Smash Box Arena are among the most popular games. The arcade has attracted a steady stream of customers. According to the Ctrl V chief, “Over 13,000 unique customers have visited the Waterloo arcade.” Customers are charged $25 an hour (Canadian) to play games in the arcade.
THE SHOPPING MALL VR ARCADE
In the city of Orem, Utah, a VR arcade has just opened for business, giving us an idea of how these arcades might look like in shopping malls all over the world. The new VR arcade in the University Mall is called “VR Junkies”, letting customers shoot away zombies or play a few rounds of mini golf on the HTC Vive. When the mall retail location opened its doors, there were queues of up to 40 minutes over the weekends with customers waiting to get some immersive play time.
The VR Junkies space is currently 5,000 square feet, but only 2,500 of it is being used at this moment, as the owners are currently waiting for additional VR headset systems to arrive. The retail space has three HTC Vive sets, showcasing six different VR experiences, as well as Gear VR headsets and Cardboard viewers that customers can take home with them.
Pricing is $5 for the first 5 minutes or $10 for the first 10 minutes to give the customers a ‘taste’. Then the regular pricing is $25 for half an hour and $45 for a full hour. Pricing for VR arcade time is such a new concept, it’s hard to say what the optimal cost per hour might be. But considering the demand, this could be a price that consumers are ready to spend to try the latest technology. According to VR Junkies’ owners, the content developers are extremely interested in the potential, with some of them even making special arcade versions of their games to streamline the visitors’ experience.
Only time will tell whether the VR arcades and “pay to play” VR games will be a successful business model. Considering that many visitors will most likely want to try VR before they invest in their own HMD system, or may not have a large enough space at home, or just can’t afford purchasing high-end VR hardware, the future of VR looks bright.
SOME SPECIAL VR SIMULATORS
Through VR you can hike the Grand Canyon, tour the Louvre, experience a movie as if you are a part of it, and immerse yourself in a virtual world. Being able to see something virtually is one thing, but being able to physically interact with it is a completely different level of reality. You can touch real items and feel real conditions – truly bringing the world to life. Imagine you are standing on a top of a Medieval tower and feeling the wind on your face…or coming down into a deep cave and feeling the smell of the damp air.
With VR 3D games adding a sense of immersion, users feel like they are a part of the game, and they are able to interact and be engaged into a fully immersive virtual reality. As an option, participants can use their bodies to interact with the game environment. Here are some of the coolest VR experiences, which a lot of visitors would definitely like to try.
Flying and Exercising at the Same Time
The exhilaration of flying like a bird has inspired mankind for centuries. Now, the onset of Virtual Reality has gotten many people excited about the possibility of producing realistic flight-like experiences.
Gaming, sport and excitement – all in one. ISPO BRANDNEW Overall Winner in 2016, Icaros combines all these attributes in one device and is aiming to revolutionise fitness training. On the futuristic device, athletes have fun gliding through virtual worlds while training their entire body at the same time. The core muscles in particular are given a real workout while flying through virtual canyons. The system consists of the ICAROS device, a controller fitted with sensors, a VR headset and an app, and is set to become the exercise machine of the 21st century.
Researchers at Zurich University’s Interaction Design Program have developed the most realistic birdlike flight experience, Birdly. Its goal is to allow the user “to enjoy the ultimate freedom of a bird and intuitively explore the skies.” The reason Birdly produces such an authentic flight experience is that it goes beyond a VR headset and headphones.
Thanks to its hydraulic mechanism, the platform tips forward when you dive in the virtual world, matching the angle of your “bird” body. There is also a fan whose speed adjusts according to your flying speed. The whole thing is meant to recreate the experience of flight as realistically as possible by engaging your whole body.
Switch Genders and Enter Someone Else’s Body
The ‘Machine to Be Another’ is in development, a project of BeAnotherLab, whose mission is to teach empathy. Now, this is all in development, but the idea is to get a better understanding of someone else, in this case, someone of the opposite gender.
‘Virtual Jump Simulator’ (VJS) allows users to perform a virtual parachute jump over the city of Vienna. The simulator combines a real physical jump with an immersive 3D simulation, starting from the view out of the virtual plane, the free fall towards the virtual city of Vienna, and the landing in the virtual Vienna University of Technology. Tactile cues such as wind and spray as well as sound effects enhance the level of immersion. For the jump, the user is equipped with a head mounted display for 3D scene viewing, a stereo headset and a tailor-made jump suit that is attached by a mechanical rope system to a 3 x 3 x 3 meter bearing structure.
WHY VIRTUAL REALITY WILL SOON AFFECT EVERY PART OF OUR LIVES
To best answer this, it may be a good idea to finish with something that may be even more exciting than Virtual Reality, the Hololens technology:
The video above is not about virtual reality. The Hololens technology is a new product from Microsoft, which transforms the surrounding world with HD-holograms. Hololens works not only with games, but also with other visual media, like TV, film or presentation. The principle of the technology is described as “mixed reality” – that combines the physical world, virtual worlds and augmented reality. Unlike VR-systems, Hololens does not need full immersion, and the physical world acts as a skeleton for optical and audio illusions.
P.S. ZERO LATENCY (UPDATE)
Zero Latency operates six virtual reality gaming venues, the first opened in North Melbourne, Australia in August 2015. The company was founded in August 2015 by Tim Ruse, Scott Vandonkelaar and Kyel Smith, who are the current directors.
Zero Latency develops free-roam VR systems, which allow users to move in a space without being hold back or limited by cables and other equipment. Currently, the company offers four different VR experiences: Zombie Outbreak, Singularity, Zombie Survival, and Engineerium, where up to 8 participants can play at the same time.
Zero Latency uses some perceptual tricks in its free-roam VR, such as “Change Blindness Redirection” to make the player`s mind see a virtual space larger than it really is. This allows an area of 400 sq. meters (4000 sq. ft.) to be perceived by players as being more than twice as large (800 sq. meters).
The company also sells its systems to other entertaining businesses like public virtual gaming spaces or theme park attractions.
Zero Latency has six different locations.
- Melbourne, Australia. Opened August 2015.
- Tokyo, Japan. In conjunction with Sega at the Joypolis Amusement Center. Opened July 2016.
- Madrid, Spain. In conjunction with 7Fun Centre. Opened November 2016.
- Orlando, Florida. In conjunction with Main Event Entertainment, V-Play powered by Zero Latency. Opened November 2016.
- Pocono, Pennsylvania. In conjunction with Family Entertainment Group, LLC at the Kalahari Waterpark. Opened January 2017.
- Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. In conjunction with Family Entertainment Group, LLC at the Kalahari Waterpark. Opened January 2017.
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