The Virtual Arena: The Theme Park Points The Way For VR Attractions (Part 1)

A two-parter for December, Kevin Williams looks at what could be found at the IAAPA Expo 2016

Continuing his regular column for VRFocus – leading exponent of the out-of-home entertainment sector, Kevin Williams, in this two-part feature, undertakes to cover the major VR developments launched at the world’s largest theme park, attraction and amusement exhibition last month.

Taking place in Orlando, Florida during November, the largest theme park and amusement entertainment convention proved a valuable Launchpad for the establishment of virtual reality (VR) technology in the commercial entertainment sector. The 98th International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA) Expo 2016, covering over 550,000 square feet of show-space populated with inflatables, the latest arcade releases and the most advance roller coaster platforms.

But also spread throughout the event were the latest VR attraction technology.

Image via parkworld-online.com
Image via parkworld-online.com

The first aspect of VR’s application in the amusement scene was seen via the ‘VR Arcade’ platforms, using the current consumer VR applications in a commercial application. The big presentation was given by Taiwanese amusement giant Universal Space (UNIS), who has undertaken a partnership with Virtuix Omni, employing their omni-directional platform as part of a dedicated gaming stage called the ‘Omni Arena VR’ – the system having players done their special shoes and HTC headset, and navigate the virtual world in a e-Sport style competitive experience.

Another interface that was originally focused on consumer VR application that now has turned its gaze to Out-of-Home entertainment. Also, represented by an Asian amusement operations (InJoy Motion), was the FutureTown Totalmotion technology. A universal movement interface that represents body movement into the virtual experience; the system was shown as a technology demonstrator looking towards being turned into a deliverable system next year.

The entertainment sector has been working to utilize the consumer VR systems in deliverable Out-of-Home application, offering a simple turn-key ‘VR Enclosure’ solution. On display at IAAPA was the VRsenal Holocube VR system with six playing areas running HTC Vive BE systems – the platform also including a new gun interface and sonic vest to offer tactile feedback to selected games. The company working closely with consumer game publishers to include their games on the system.

Another company offering a pop-up enclosure to play specially configured VR games were Virsix showed their VR Cube, also using the HTC system and offering a selection of games in a individual enclosure approach. The Chinese amusement trade also represented their offering of a VR standalone experience; Betop Multimedia presented their WEWOD – space-time squad, using a motion platform to simulate traversing through a space-station blasting aliens using a large laser-rifle.

The VRsenal, VR Cube and WEWOD systems all use the HTC VIVE BE and are all using specialized cable management systems allowing for an unimpeded Room Scale experience. Another Chinese exhibitor, MediaFront, exhibited a VR experience that used a caged VR experience that also had the player walk an improvised gangplank.

Another aspect of the development seen in VR’s application in this sector were VR Game Platform, dedicated stand-alone amusement style offerings of VR technology. Eastern Europe has lead the charge of development of this kind of approach and IAAPA saw leading examples, Virtual Reality Park represented the Star Blade VR 360 degree motion simulator VR system manufactured by Total Interactive Technologies, and one of a handful of virtual reality systems at the show that used a bespoke HMD. Another similar 360’ motion platform was presented from Korean Motion Devices and their two-seater Top Vulcan offering a virtual Space Invaders-style experience. Eastern European manufacturer Stereolife showed their standing VR experience Stereolife eMotion, offering a selection of passive VR film experiences. The company also offers a two-seat motion ride version called the Stereolife Rifter, fellow countryman Xtrematic, also presented their Extreme-Machine, another standing VR experience machine – all systems including physical effects such as wind and vibration.

Another Eastern European exhibitor was Yotto Group, who demonstrated their ExoPlane – a paraglider shooting experience that has the player suspended while steering their craft round a desert island course. Aimed at the shopping mall and leisure entertainment venue market Brazilian manufacturer RILIX showed their convention Rilix Coaster, a simple VR roller coaster ride simulator built to be a standalone experience.

Those exhibitors that used Oculus Rift CV1 headsets for their system demonstrations, were keen to confirm that they were mainly head-set agnostic able to run their system with any of the best available head mounted displays that can be used for commercial application. While many other exhibitors offered VR entertainment systems that favoured the use of Mobile VR (smartphone based) headset experiences, due to its simplicity of utilisation.

Leading Korean 4D theatre and simulator manufacturer Simuline, (part of the CJ cinema empire) presented their VR X Rider eight-seater motion theatre experience. This was also next to the two-seat cinema motion chair platform, the 4DX VR. Both systems offer an effects theater approach to VR, running special 360 degree style VR films – running on the Samsung Gear VR. Chinese exhibitor 9D Electronic Technology (NINED) also showed their 9DVR Cinema eggshell shaped VR system, as well as the VR Eyeshot Theater– a tank-themed six-seater VR motion theatre experience.

On the Korean Pavilion (KGames) at the theme park and attraction exhibition, organized by the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), exhibition Inno Tech Media showed their VR Shooting Rider, another two-rider motion chair systems, but in this case running a mystical interactive shooting game experience. Both the 9D Electronic’s and the Inno Tech VR systems running bespoke HMD’s developed in China.

Several of the IAAPA VR systems promoted extreme motion platforms offering a strong experience linked to the immersive visuals. Turkish based DOF Robotics, are specialist in large motion theatre attractions, and the company has promoted their Hurricane VR – the three-rider system using Gear VR headsets includes a 360’ rotational element to the suspended motion ride. A cockpit based 360’ axis motion simulator (the two-seater ‘S3000’) developed by Maxflight, was another example of the extreme motion experience married to visuals from a VR headset.

The development of VR in attractions to offer a replacement to the screens used in driving and flying simulators was evident on many booths. Cesys, the European developer of simulator based entertainment attractions showed their brand-new concept; the Cesys Motorbike Simulator has riders astride a simulated motorcycle on a two-degrees of freedom (2-DOF) motion platform, able to race round a circuit wearing a CV1 head-mount – the final version of the concept will use a headset mounted into a motorcycle helmet.

Motor sports simulation was also on display from CXC Simulations – developer of a specialist motion driving cockpit for the Pro-Sumer sector has invested in developing special Race Room installations using networked ‘Motion Pro II’ systems. The company had on their booth six of these networked systems, players donning the popular disposable masks (‘Ninja Mask’) before wearing Oculus ‘Rift’ headsets to take place in competition. A more compact motion seat system was on display from Talon Simulation showing their Atomic A3 Virtual Reality Simulator, the company having already sold the system to the CaddyShanks Interactive Sports Pub chain.

Offering a compelling immersive motion driving systems was on display on many booths, UK based Motion Simulation showed their T3 capsule, with a unique immersive projection screen, complimenting their unique variable driving position cockpit, riding on a motion system by D-BOX. The company also showed their versatility running a cockpit with a VR headset. D-BOX is a popular motion platform provider in the commercial sector. A private demonstration at a hotel close to the conventions center, was arranged by The Third Floor of their The Martian VR experience, which also uses the D-BOX platform.
This concludes the first part of Kevin’s coverage from the Orlando show floor, the next and final part of will follow later this month. On Christmas Day in fact, so come back then to find out what else went on at IAAPA Expo 2016.

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