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VRcade Talks Wireless, Out of Home VR and More

While companies such as Oculus VR and Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) are still working out how best to bring VR into the home, others are looking outside of that space to arcade-like experiences that can take advantage of technology not yet viable for the living room. One such company is VRcade, which is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for its first full motion VR experience, The Nightmare Machine, which hopes to debut at the EMP Museum in Seattle in October 2014.

VRFocus will have more on The Nightmare Machine going forward but for now let’s focus on the system itself. Free from many of the limitations that the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus must tackle, this is a wireless system with its own head-mounted display (HMD) capable of tracking a user’s body.  Watching the system in action proves to be something of an alarming experience as it pulls off technical feats that you might think were years off when looking at more popular VR setups. 

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VRFocus recently spoke to VRcade co-founder Jamie Kelly about the system, its capabilities and its future. Below, Kelly discusses the HMD’s current specs, the difference between in and out of home VR and more. VRFocus will continue to report on VRcade moving forward, reporting back with any further updates.

VRFocus: VRcade in its current form uses its own custom head-mounted display. How does the device stack up to the likes of the Oculus Rift DK2 and Project Morpheus in terms of display resolution etc?

Jamie Kelly: We are currently upgrading our HMD. Our current HMD uses a 5.9 inch screen at 1280×800. We don’t magnify as harshly as the DK1, so there is no screen door effect and the pixel density is higher. We are sourcing a 7 inch 1080P screen which would allow for a wider FOV and clearer image. The interesting component of our HMD is that it’s completely self contained. It is able to receive a video stream, display it on the screen, and pull the power from a small battery. There are no cables or backpacks, allowing easy on and easy off. We have also mounted the lenses in such a way that it’s a universal fit. There are no dioptic or IPD adjustments because the lenses work for everyone so far (2500+ people). There is also no tracking technology built into the HMD as all of the positional data is handled with a camera array overhead.

VRFocus: How wide an area does the technology cover?

Jamie Kelly: The space can scale to 13,000 square feet.

VRFocus: Why do you think there is space for a VR arcade revival if Oculus successfully brings the technology to the home?

Jamie Kelly: The Oculus brings the display and head tracking technology to the home. However, you still need adequate prop tracking, which may be solved by Sixsense devices, position tracking, and you need a powerful machine to run it all. These are barriers to entry for main stream VR use. For tech heads, it’s a small hurdle. For your mom or little sister, it’s not going to appeal to them. The VRcade not only solves head tracking, prop tracking, and position tracking issues across a wide play space, but it also introduces completely natural, controller-free movement, wireless operation, a stream of purpose built software experiences, multiplayer, and a cost barrier that is equivalent to going to the movies. VRcade lowers the barrier to entry for VR while increasing the level of quality, thus making VR consumable. The fact that there is no controller is an absolute game changer. Someone who shoots guns in real life can fight against someone who plays Halo all the time and while both have different skills from their respective activities, they converge on the battlefield relying on their natural reactions and speed. There is no controller to fumble over.

In addition, real life tournaments where you train at home on an Oculus and perform with your whole body on the world stage at the VRcade is incredibly appealing. My big focus is the creation of the world’s first true athletic e-sport. To have teams and players who are sponsored to play because they are good at calling down lightning or riding dragons opens up an intense wave of potential for e-sport viewership. Competing out of your living room sounds silly when you need the ability to dive and take cover behind a virtual wall or when you need to be able to really run and really jump over pits and obstacles that aren’t really there.

Also, you might step on your cat.

VRFocus: Just how easy is it for a developer creating videogames for the Oculus Rift to bring their titles to VRcade?

Jamie Kelly: We have been having a lot of fun bringing Unity and Oculus projects over to the VRcade. It literally takes one minute to remove the Oculus plugin and replace it with ours. If there are a lot of complicated scripts connected to the head, those have to be rewired, but in terms of opening a project and walking around inside of it, minutes. Ivan has been doing a ton of this over the last two weeks. He just converts a project or has an idea and does it. And it always works. And every result has been amazing so far.

We will set standards and guidelines for development, meaning you know exactly what the player will be using for hardware, exactly where they can walk, how far they can move, etc. This is a level of precision that Kinect developers on the Xbox can’t enjoy because everyone’s playspace is going to be a different size.

VRFocus: When might we see the first VRcade stations open to the public? Where might they be based?

Jamie Kelly: Our first location is in Seattle. We are upgrading our cameras to allow for a 25’x25′ play space. We are opening the doors to developers this month to create Nightmare Machine content. Through those developer relationships, we will develop specific content for VRcade use (shooters, racers, RTS games, etc.) as well as create our own content. Once the content is available, the facility will operate as the first public facing arcade with set hours for entertainment use.

VRFocus: On the software front, what are you developing for use with VRcade?

Jamie Kelly: Currently we use Unity, but we are beginning to integrate Unreal. We mostly build functionality rather than titles. We focus on the platform and workflow that allow developers to come in and create/deliver their VR content. Whether that is police and fire training, medical simulation, PTSD therapy, architectural visualization, or a first person shooter. We make sure the infrastructure is there for developers to make experiences which run on our platform and that the public has access to the facility to easily consume those experiences.

VRFocus: VRcade isn’t intended for the consumer market right now. Could there come a time when the technology is affordable and viable for the home? When do you think that might be?

Jamie Kelly: As technology grows in the home, it grows outside of the home as well. One of the reasons why arcades declined so heavily was because home technology grew so rapidly. Larger displays, surround sound, peripherals, etc. The arcades couldn’t entice consumers because the majority of their appeal was technology based. With the VRcade, that is partially true, but the differentiator is that the VRcade offers physical space for natural movement, which has no alternative in the home next to sloppy treadmills and nauseating controllers. If there was an at-home hoverpad that allowed you to bob and weave while running full speed and never moving while tricking your brain into thinking that you are moving, that would be different. So far, nothing like that exists. Someday, perhaps. Until then, space provided for movement is a big advantage over the home.

The next big advantage is cost. Even if consumers could buy their own equivalent VR hardware, how much would it cost? How much room would it take up? Is it standardized? How do multiple people play in a room? Is it easy and cheap to just try out before investing? VRcade answers all of these. You can go to the movie theater and experience a movie in the most ideal way while having a 24″ TV at home that doesn’t compare. It’s fine that it doesn’t compare. That person goes to the theater for their ideal experience. Conversely, you can buy a home theater. Get a specific room in your house, black out the windows, set up 8 speakers, get a projector, get a 100″ pull-down screen, get seating…and then set all of it up. Even if the same experience could be had in the home, it will likely be expensive with many different components and the hassle and space requirements alone would stop most people. The VRcade lets you consume VR in whatever quantity you want, increasing exposure to home VR while setting itself apart from home VR in terms of performance, functionality, accessibility, and price.

Finally, the at-home experience is very singular. It’s not like Goldeneye where you would physically be in the same room with your opponents. The VRcade is a place that you go to, embody an avatar, and throw fireballs at each other. You step out, shake hands, and chat. You show up with 3 of your friends and the 4 of you play together in the same space at the same time. The home experience has a hard enough time shoehorning one person into a room that was designed for a TV or a home office. 4 people is just wacky.