The Virtual Arena: London Gets First VR ZONE Portal

Kevin Williams provides an exclusive report as London becomes the first Western city to experience VR ZONE goodness from BANDAI NAMCO.

At the debut of a secret installation of selected VR attractions operated at a popular family entertainment location in the capital, Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment specialist and VRFocus columnist Kevin Williams gives his report after he becomes one of the first to experience the setup. 

The speed in which the deployment of VR in the out-of-home entertainment sector has caught many by surprise, and only a matter of weeks after reporting on VR arcade DNA VR opening in London, we have gained exclusive access to the first deployment of BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment new immersive entertainment concept with the test-opening of VR ZONE Portal London.

Enter London’s latest VR experience. [via KWP]
BANDAI NAMCO’s VR ZONE concept has gained great interest from the international media following the second opening of their virtual reality entertainment facility concept in Japan. VR ZONE SHINJUKU, opened with a two-story 3,500 square meters facility in July of this year. Comprising some 15 activities (12 of which are VR based), the VR community was wowed by the level of immersive engagement achieved, and big properties deployed – including the appearance of Mario Kart Arcade GP VR.

The Japanese toy, game software and amusement conglomerate following the successful launch of their VR ZONE experience has now an interest in establishing this brand, promoting the Project i Can initiative they have created – and amongst the fanfare for the launch of the Shinjuku facility, it was revealed to selected media that this was the beginning of a major roll-out of facilities. The company planing both standalone VR ZONE and smaller pop-up attraction VR ZONE Portal locations; and rather than just looking at Japanese installations, the company was in full swing to open VR ZONE Portals in Western cities such as New York, Las Vegas, Dubai and London.

Jump forward to August 2017 and BANDAI NAMCO made good on this promise with the opening of ‘VR ZONE Portal London’. As part of the Portal phase of the VR ZONE, the virtual reality attractions are pop-up installations within an already existing entertainment sites. The London O2 venue, in the centre of Greengage Peninsula, saw their Hollywood Bowl entertainment facility play host to the West’s first installation.

 

Once known as the Millennium Dome, The O2 Arena (or simply ‘The O2’) is now the hub for entertainment in Greenwich area of London. [via KWP]
Inside at the VR Zone Portal London venue. [via KWP]
Guests to VR ZONE Portal London were required to book to play the VR games at the reception, also used for the state-of-the-art bowling lanes, but unlike the other video amusement games and prize machines that are paid for with coins. This first Western test location offered two of the previously seen VR ZONE games to play. Either playing Hospital Escape Terror (short hand for the original titled Horror Real Experience Room Escape Ward Ω), or the anima mech game Argyle Shift. The players paying £7.99 ($10) each, and allotted a slot to play their respective games.

These are English translated versions of the original Japanese release, running on the HTC Vive headset, and borrowing heavily from the BANDAI NAMCO amusement industry track record. The VR systems using elements from previous amusement pieces construction in their design. Two enclosures of what are called “Immersive Horror Rooms” sit at one part of the area, running Hospital Escape Terror – a game that sees two wheelchair riding “Test Subjects”, navigate a body strewn abandoned hospital evading psychotic assailants and avoiding traps.

Hospital Escape Terror – Players positions inside the enclosure. [via KWP]
While in the other part of the area, running on what was labelled a “VR Cinematic Attraction”, was Argyle Shift – a VR game offering offers two networked motion cockpits allow players to take control of their flying experimental mech power suit, accompanied by a voluptuous co-pilot, dropped into a mass battle with enemy mech’s in the skies and on the ground.

Argyle Shift – The unmanned cockpits… [via KWP]
Argyle Shift – Players engage in combat. [via KWP]
These games offer a compelling VR experience if slightly shorter than expected, both, had a “To Be Continued” screen at the end of the game; a possible nod to future updates perhaps? These VR experiences lent heavy on the competitive two-player element as championed by BANDAI NAMCO’s Project i Can initiative. The area offering disposable Ninja Masks for hygiene purposes with regards the public’s use of the VR headsets.

The author – with hygine mask – about to enter battle on Argyle Shift. [via KWP]
Overall, an interesting first choice in VR games to bring from their selection of 12-experiences developed so far, and obviously at this point no word on future games that will get the Western translation and be shipped over, though expectations are high that the Nintendo first co-developed VR experience Mario Kart Arcade GP VR, is in the frame.

For those interested, you can see find links to the original Japanese teasers for Argyle Shift and Hospital Escape Terror here.)

A tantalizing first taste of the amusement sector’s deployment of VR into the mainstream Out-of-Home entertainment sector. Far more than just a ‘VR Arcade’ approach utilizing consumer games in a commercial entertainment setting, the VR ZONE Portal offers the expansive amusement operator industry – comprising family entertainment centers such as seen with Hollywood Bowl, or the likes of Dave & Buster’s in the States – a means to drop an exclusive pop-up VR experience into their mix.

Expect to read more news of developments in this sector being covered at the dedicated conference taking place in Las Vegas on September 13th-14th 2017, the Future of Immersive Leisure event will provide much more information on other new developments that will hope to shape this aspect of the market. VRFocus a media partner of the event, and will be covering developments in coming reports.

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