The Virtual Arena: Amusements’ XR Focus

The leading UK amusement and entertainment trade event holds many XR secrets, industry specialist Kevin Williams, in his latest Virtual Arena column – looks at the trends shaping an industry that is gaining ground after a period of lockdown.

The Out-of-Home (OOH) entertainment scene has a wide array of weapons at its disposal. Be it Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Projection mapped immersive enclosures, being Mixed Reality (MR) – all under the general umbrella term of Extreme Reality (XR). All covered by the parapluie of these applications were on show with the return of the physical exhibition format at Entertainment Attraction & Gaming Expo 2022 Expo (EAG). An event dedicated to the best in amusement, entertainment, and leisure developments for the trade, held in London.

EAG London
Image credit: KWP

Virtual Reality

First off, the return to a physical trade event allowed many of the trade buyers to get their hands on the latest VR offerings from the international market launched last year – and making UK landfall for the first time.

One of the major trends shaping the amusement adoption of VR is the ability to offer a self-service, standalone kiosk. The obvious savings in not having to constantly man the game system, as well as a level of automation to the VR experience have proven a draw.

The VRsenal ‘V2’ is the latest incarnation of this approach. The company building on their previous VR Kiosk system, have now created a two-player standalone platform, supporting an automated controller and headset retraction system after each use.

VRsenal Kiosk
VRsenal Kiosk. Image credit: KWP

Content is king in the land of immersive entertainment and the ‘V2’ hoped to bank on its available games. The system offers the chance for players to try Vader Immortal – Lightsaber Dojo: A Star Wars VR Experience. A specially commissioned version of the Star Wars property developed by ILMxLAB for the amusement scene.

Also available on the platform, is a special VR arcade version of Rhythmatics – offering a highly active VR music game – and Pirate Trainer; bringing full-on blasting action. The ‘V2’ is sold under special agreement in the UK and Europe through BANDAI NAMCO Amusement Europe (BNAE). The system uses a converted HTC Vive headset and controllers.

Another automated VR kiosk with a unique presentation was ‘VR Agent’. Developed in collaboration between Chinese studio 3MindWave, and SEGA Amusement International (SAI). The platform is a unique approach to immersive gaming – with the player viewing the virtual environment through the headset mounted to the weapon they are wielding. This alleviates the need for players to wear a cumbersome headset.

3MindWave VR Agent
3MindWave’s VR Agent. Image credit: KWP

On the SAI booth, the kiosk-style amusement platform also incorporates a headset retraction system. Offering a pure shooting game experience, reminiscent of Virtua Cop – the player traversing an office block populated with robotic enemies. This new approach to immersive gaming proved compelling. The platform uses a cutdown 3Glasses VR headset.

Returning to the BANDAI NAMCO Amusement Europe (BNAE) show booth, two examples of the other trend in VR amusement were on show. The deployment of what has been called VR Ride Systems – a genre of two-rider player systems with motion seats and special effects, have found popularity with operators.

On display was King Kong: Of Skull Island (developed by Raw Thrills) – which has two players using their hands to complete activities, while racing on the back of a jeep through the home island of the giant beast, avoiding monsters and obstacles.

King Kong of Skull Island
King Kong: Of Skull Island. Image credit: KWP

Also, on the BNAE booth was STORM (developed by TRIOTECH) – which also had two players sitting on special motion seats, waving their hands to collect points and gain a high score as they traversed a world of confectionary, in the latest game on the platform, called Sugary Slope.

Storm - TrioTech
TrioTech’s Storm. Image credit: KWP

While the Raw Thrills platform uses the HP G2 headset, the TRIOTECH system used the HTC Vive Pro. Though both platforms incorporated the UltraLeap motion tracking system to represent the players’ hands in the game. Along with wind and motion effects to add to the experience.

Though not on the show floor, a new VR attraction developed by Frontgrid was just being rolled out in Qatar. The ParadropVR: Pod system is a compact virtual reality paragliding experience, based on the older brother platform. This new version of the system comprises exhilarating motion, rising, and lowering the virtual flyer as they soar through the landscape, collecting points in competition.

ParadropVR - EAG
Image credit: KWP

It is the application of physical effects to the virtual experience that single outs many of the successful VR amusement and attraction platforms. Far more people have experienced VR over the years through amusement and attractions, accelerating the development of new systems in the field. While EAG exhibitor Harry Levy offers examples of the latest Chinese VR motion-ride film systems that provide a passive VR experience.

Harry Levy Motionride system
Image credit: KWP

Mixed Reality

Beyond the traditional VR experiences, the Out-of-Home entertainment sector has embraced the other elements of immersive entertainment through MR applications. EAG exhibitor Sports Simulations had their active entertainment enclosure, using a large projected screen and object tracking. This offers a virtual sports simulator and even includes a bowling game.

Sports Simulations
Sports Simulations. Image credit: KWP

Another immersive projection system presented was from Interactive 365, with their ‘Augmented Reality Air Hockey’ system. Using the latest object tracking technology and short throw projector, the company has taken the traditional amusement and given a major new twist. The platform offers different styles of mini-game incorporated into the air hockey action.

AR Air Hockey - Interactive365
AR Air Hockey by Interactive 365. Image credit: KWP

Concerning the wider immersive entertainment scene beyond EAG, drawing on all the elements and technologies of XR, the London scene has seen a growth in investment in Immersive Live Experiences. Away from just the MR hardware, these new “Immersive Theater” experiences are popping up across London offering high-profile IP, with immersive technology elements in puzzle solving, and presentation.

Most recently we have seen popup experiences including Tomb Raider, and Money Heist from Netflix. There is also a brand new Gun Powder Plot experience in development by Layered Reality that will incorporate new XR elements; the same team that developed the War of The World’s immersive experience. Expect a full report in the coming weeks.