The Virtual Arena: Amusements VR Obsession Continues – Part 1

The application of XR into the attraction and amusement landscape is covered by industry specialist Kevin Williams. His latest Virtual Arena column provides two-part coverage of America’s largest amusement trade event, charting the leading immersive trends.

Image credit: KWP

It would be difficult to hide the shock that some in the media have had towards the explosion in interest for out-of-home amusement and entertainment, following the arduous global lockdown. Where some had written that the restaurant, cinema, and amusement industries would never survive – in the shadow of the global health crisis. But the customer has again proven popular media wrong – and has jumped at the ability to socialize and enjoy entertainment post calamity. Mirroring the 1918 pandemic, many observers now expect a “New Roaring ‘20’s” atmosphere to grip the market.

The American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA) and sister organizations held in Las Vegas during March, the 2022 Amusement Expo International (AEI), gathering all things amusement and entertainment to bask in the return to physical show events, but also the newfound excitement in the business – and one of the trends that was defined in this excitement was VR.

Virtual Reality

We have reported from the last London amusement trade event on developments seen there, and we can see that they have gathered pace since January with many new developments and trends in evidence on the Las Vegas show floor. The leading trend was the continuation in investment in “Self Service VR Kiosks” – these systems offer an amusement-like operator’s dynamic, but still embrace the interest in VR entertainment.

We had reported on the launch of the VRsenal ‘V2’ Standalone VR Kiosks previously. The game was shown for the first time for most US operators at AEI, supported by the latest game content, including Vader Immortal – Lightsaber Dojo (licensed from ILMxLab). And new titles Rhythmatic (developed by Blackwall Lab), and VR shooter Space Pirate Trainer (developed by I-Illusions, through Vertigo Games). The ‘V2’ uses a rugged HTC Vive headset in a special retractable harness mounted into the eye-catching kiosk.

AAMA - VRsenal titles
Latest selection of titles on the V2. Image credit: KWP

Creative Works booth also showed a ‘V2’ platform, but this one was populated with content developed by VRstudios. The new ‘Fury’ platform was running the two-player basketball skill game Hoops Madness. The immersive hoops game had the player trying out their game in virtual reality, developed to support an extensive tournament element that will create league-based competition supported by online apps. This is the first of a series of sports-based VR games aimed at creating thrilling competition from VRstudios.

AAMA - Hoops Madness
Getting to grips with the Hoops Madness VR game. Image credit: KWP

A newcomer to the Western market that launched at AEI was VAR Live with their ‘VAR Box’ VR kiosk system. The company has had strong success with the system in the Asian market. The ‘VAR Box’ currently using an Oculus Rift headset (though the company is planning on rolling out a new headset soon). The player wielding a gun interface incorporating their controller, taking part in several shooting experiences. These games are linked to a dedicated tournament infrastructure, which has eSport support and looks to apply the same model in the West.

Shooting action with the VAR Box. Image credit: KWP

Also, on display in this category, exhibitor Benchmark Games International, working in partnership with BoxBlaster had developed ‘VR X-perience’ – a VR kiosk with a popular kid-based VR game called ‘Gold and Mace’, offering one of the first ticket-redemption VR pieces. We had already reported on the launch of the SEGA Amusements International (SAI), ‘VR Agent’ platform – the upright VR kiosk that incorporated the VR headset into the body of the players gun to create an immersive shooting experience that did not need cumbersome headbands, that was seen by the US trade at the show, for many for the first time.

We have also charted in the trade the explosion in “VR Ride Systems” – two-rider, motion seat machines such as the Virtual Rabbids (LAI Games), STORM (TRIOTECH), or King Kong of Skull Island (Raw Thrills), along with at AEI, Chinese examples from company 360action! using Deepoon E3 VR headsets.  But the technology had gathered pace and a new entrant to this category was revealed to the amusement trade.

AAMA - VR Ride Systems
The VR ride experience from 360 action! Image credit: KWP

Creative Works on their crowded AEI booth showed SpongeBob VR a licensed property, developed in partnership with MajorMeg. The game has two players taking the rolls of SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick Star in a wacky racing game. The motion-base cabinet, using tethered HTC Vive headsets, has the driver using his body movements to steer their jalopy, while the player at the rear launches Krabby Patties at customers lining the course, to score points. Building on the VR ride experience, but with a strong game element to generate repeat play.

SpongeBob VR
Fast two-player action on SpongeBob VR. Image credit: KWP

The ability to offer a unique physical element within the immersive experience differentiates Out-of-Home VR gaming from consumer applications, and AEI had examples of the latest “VR Motion-Platform” products. Barron Games represented the ‘Birdly’ flying VR experience from Somniacs. Players lay on the special motion platform, moving their arms to steer their flight through the virtual world. With experiences such as ‘Wingsuit’ and the virtual bird simulator ‘Cities WeR’.

The ability to totally immerse the player within the virtual world was given a new spin at the show with the launch of the production prototype of the EnterIdeas, gyro-motion ‘AT360’ platform. An enclosure single seat simulator that spins the player through a 360’ motion envelope, offering a thrilling ride experience. The company has developed the unusual DogeCoaster, a VR crypto meme-based ride. Just starting the process of placing the attraction at venues in the US.

AAMA - AT360
Going for a spin in the AT360. Image credit: KWP

This concludes the first part of our coverage of the 2022 American Amusement trade extravaganza. The second part will follow shortly covering the other VR and MR trends making their mark on the scene.