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The Virtual Arena: The Theme Park Points The Way For VR Attractions (Part 2)

Continuing his regular column for VRFocus – leading exponent of the out-of-home entertainment sector, Kevin Williams, concludes this final part of his coverage of major VR developments revealed at the world’s largest theme park, attraction and amusement exhibition last month.

Returning to the hectic IAAPA 2016 trade show-floor, and leading 4D cinema and theater developer and installer, MediaMation, offered one of the more unusual VR demonstrations on the Florida show floor. The company showed a version of their REACTIVr motion EFX system – based on themed ATV, with a driver and co-pilot, wearing CV1’s, traversing a virtual game course in a highly competitive environment. The company also had their new MX4D POD that the uses a two-rider motion chair system with effects and Gear VR – used for promotional and marketing deployment. MediaMation has also turned their resources to create a unique eSports Theater platform that uses their MX4D motion chair, and can incorporate immersive displays.

An aspect of the theme park business is the advancements made in development evermore compelling attractions to draw guests to the vast entertainment resorts. The latest immersive technology is now being employed in the latest developments with ‘VR Ride Attractions’ already starting to open across the Globe. One of the earliest developed is European based VR Coaster; riding high on the installation at over 20 parks with their VR Coaster platform. The company having been awarded a patent for their system, based on special synchronisation on roller coaster ride cars synced to the riders Samsung Gear VR headsets, running compelling VR experiences.

Many theme parks announced during the IAAPA exhibition the signing of new orders to develop brand new roller coasters and ride attractions for their venues. SeaWorld Orlando holding a press conference during the show to reveal more details on their Kraken Virtual Reality (VR) Roller Coaster scheduled to open in Summer of 2017. The legendary Kraken coaster at the park to be transformed into a virtual reality roller coaster experience. Using specially developed headsets that will be incorporated into the coaster train to deliver a new one-of-a-kind VR adventure.

Other attraction manufacturers on the show floor revealed their investment into VR based attractions. Veteran attractions ride manufacturer and developer Zamperla, (celebrating their 50th Anniversary), operated on their vast booth a full-scale attraction employing VR. The WindstarZ VR, saw two of the 12-arms of the ride-attraction used to run two versions of their VR-System, currently in development. Either offering a Gear VR experience or an advanced PC based headset configuration (using the Oculus ‘Rift’ for the show). The concept a new approach to ride-attractions, and in some cases hoping to reboot aging flat-rides with interactive VR content.

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[Image via: themepark-central.de]

The use of VR, beyond just amusement and attractions, was revealed on many booths, companies using Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR and even Microsoft Hololens as development and creation tools for theme park and attraction construction. Even the waterpark industry wanted to embrace VR opportunities; exhibitor Polin Waterparks, a Turkish water resort and ride developer celebrating its 40th anniversary, ran on their booth the VR Waterslide Simulator. Guests able to sit on a rubber ring and through a special motion platform and wearing a Gear VR, simulate various virtual waterslide ride configurations.

Some exhibitors at the show wanted to promote the opportunity to deploy new attractions using VR. Kraftwerk Living Technologies, the 3D, 4D and large format simulator theatre developer, presented on their booth one of their cinema 4D SFX Motion Bases, equipped with HTC VIVE headsets for three riders, who experienced a VR ride film from Mack Rides’ Coastiality mobile VR app library. At the same time, major attractions developer CAVU Designwerks announced the formation of DreamCraft Attractions, a new division that will be dedicated to create immersive attraction platforms, revealing their first project as being the DreamCraft VR. The company revealed concept sketches, intending to develop a brand new two-part VR headset designed, built for the needs of the theme park audience.

Dreamcraft-virtual-reality-motorbike-ride

The final big development revealed at IAAPA 2016 was the explosion in interest in what has been dubbed ‘VR Arena-Scale’ – the ability for backpack or wireless VR experiences. One of the leading providers was represented be their partner Simuline; VRcade showing their wireless head-mounted display system running a two-player large free-movement enclosure on the booth, offering games such as Time Zombie, and the new cowboy game Barking Irons. The company had recently announced the signing of a number of lucrative deals seeing installations across the Globe; and during the show they announced the signing of an installation of their VRcade platform at the Muckleshoot Casino chain.

The use of backpack VR experiences has gathered much interest from the attractions and amusement community, and one of the leading developers of this approach had some surprises at the Orlando show. Australian based Zero Latency, came to the show with an operational installation. A V-Play Reality using their hardware and software was operated at the new Main Event facility at Pointe Orlando, only a few doors down from the IAAPA exhibition center. Show attendees eagerly registered to receive a VIP chance to experience the operation of this backpack based VR system that the company refers to as “Warehouse-scale” free roaming VR facility. Part of a brand new Main Event facility.

Zero Latency was the talk of the show regarding the ability to come to the event with an operational attraction, and many excited parks investors were keen to try for themselves this up to six-player tracked gaming environment. Many leaving their experience mightily impressed by the opportunity that this technology represents, especially in how Zero Latency seems to have packaged the system in a means familiar to those used to operate laser tag sites. During the show the company also revealed other facility operators that had signed to install the system across their sites.

Other companies promoted their entrance into the free roaming VR entertainment experience sector; though not exhibiting, French developer Polymorph, revealed the development of their ModulMaze, in partnership with AsterionVR (a spinoff from UCO Lava University). Based on the concept demonstrated at the European theme park convention held in Spain during September. The system employing indoor positional tracking based on a very accurate dedicated system, able to support one to six players, (the first facility based on this system opened in Rennes, France last week). It is expected that other developers will be throwing their hat into this particular ring; along with the next stage of development from The VOID.

In promoting virtual reality application Augmented Reality also started to make inroads in to the Out-of-Home entertainment sector. Developed by Japanese company Meleap, they showed a demonstration of their “techno sports” platform called ‘HADO’. Using a specially configured head-mounted display for a see-through mobile phone device, the system offers the ability for virtual characters to be placed within special enclosures, and the player to interact with them using hand gestures. The system has also been developed for competitive action with players able to take part in a virtual game with AR represented balls and goals. The company one of the first of many AR (or Mixed Reality) systems that are expected to be launched in the sector.

As with our previous column, the issue of keeping VR systems safe in large throughput locations was on many attraction professional’s minds; the approach to using disposable masks (Ninja Mask) and sanitizer wipes with VR system, an aspect that may see official direction from the IAAPA trade association governing attraction safety.

The Out-of-Home entertainment application of VR (and AR) has started a second renaissance, and it can be expected that this sector will drive many of the new investment in immersive technology in the coming months. We have much to look forward to seeing in 2017.