The Virtual Arena: The Attraction Industry’s VR Future! (Part 1)

Kevin Williams goes over the many experiences he came across at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo.

As more and more investment pivots towards Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment (DOE) applications of Virtual Reality (VR), in his latest column, Kevin Williams, charts some of the pivotal developments that were seen at the leading International amusement and attraction convention in Orlando last November.

The 99th anniversary International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo (IAE), proved to be a hot-bed of innovation and development regarding all things to do with the adaptation of virtual technology into the theme park, visitor attraction, zoo, science center, family entertainment center (FEC) and leisure industry. The industry conservatively valued $39.5 billion industry. This year’s IAE seeing record-breaking attendance of some 25,300 industry professionals.

The vast show floor of the Orange County Convention Center

Of the 1,114 corporations showcasing new products at the Orange County Convention Centre, over 60 of them were promoting VR application or implementation in their product line-up. As one of the few trade executives that must navigate the entirety of the 576,235 net square feet of trade show floor (inside and outside), I have tried to encapsulate the key developments that illustrated the impact VR is having on the “FUN” industry.

To get a better idea of the coverage of VR in the commercial entertainment sector, I have broken the coverage into the main sphere of influence in this specific market:

VR Attractions & Dark Rides

The million-dollar theme park and visitor attraction scene has seen several major developments employing the latest immersive tech. The subsidiary of the venerable rollercoaster attraction developer MACK Rides – VR Coaster were promoting their new project for Merlin – with LEGOLAND and The Great Lego Race, riders wearing Samsung Gear VR head-mounted displays (HMD). VR Coaster promoting over 40 operation coasters incorporating VR. At this years show the HMD developer Sensic revealed a partnership with VR Coaster to launch a specialist headset designed respectively for Out-of-Home entertainment application called the RideVR.

Taiwanese media attractions and dark rides developer Brogent promoted their new 12-seater motion-based ride attraction called Q-Ride. The system offering an immersive under-sea adventure VR attraction. The company revealed that the first attraction will open in Taiwan. The Q-Ride employing Windows Mixed Reality Acer AH101 headset, the first to employ the Microsoft platform based headset in the industry.

Riders try out the Q-Ride, wearing Acer WinMR headsets

Another veteran ride and attraction developer, Zamperla has started a specialist division called Z+ to develop new immersive attractions that marry their proven hardware with immersive technology. The company had two knew developments on display at IAE, the first being Windstar Z – the traditional spinning attraction, with one pair of seats reconfigured to run Oculus VR headsets. Zamperla, also showed their new VR BOX – an eight-rider suspended motion-base attraction offering a rollercoaster experience for facilities without the space for the real thing. The riders wearing mobile VR headsets running a 360° immersive video of a real coaster.

The Windstar Z attraction loading riders into the VR experience

The creation of new extreme motion platforms, that offer 360° motion envelopes, married to extreme VR ride films was seen on the show floor. Korean attraction developer and operator Lotte World Consortium presented a mixed bag of immersive systems. Taking pride of place was their Avatar Coaster – the “world’s first AR telepresence attraction”. The Gyro-VR motion system made by Sangwha, with three riders experiencing the virtual and physical representation of a model rollercoaster. The motion platform popularized by its appearance at CES.

Other developers of extreme motion platforms with VR components included Turkish developer DOF Robotic, with their Hurricane VR, and manufacturer AMEGA Entertainment, promoting their rotating Cinecoaster VR simulators for four-riders. Entertainment simulator specialist Maxflight offered a brand-new prototype of their FS-VR, two riders spun in all directions at the control of a virtual plane. The compelling VR experience offering a unique motion system with great immersion.

A new entrant to the attractions scene is MMCompany, the company has raised funds to develop their unique single seater motion system offering an extreme VR platform called the MMOne. The platform on display in the outside exhibit, running a Ubisoft game as demonstration, the VR visuals supplied by the OSVR DK2 headset.

The cinema sector has been embracing the latest immersive technology, with cinemas installing 4D theatre seats. Leading cinema theatre attraction developer CJ 4DPLEX presented a slew of VR attractions that also comprises their specialist motion systems married with VR hardware. First of the companies 4DX VR range was their 4DX VR Rider – a eight-rider motion platform. Next was the 4DX Disk, a two-seater motion theatre seat system, with a unique rotational motion effect. The company also looked towards interactive attractions with their 4DX Racer – a car racing experience view from the headset. (All systems running on the Samsung Gear VR).

The rotating 4DFX Disk

Not all the motion-platforms promoted at the show were large multiple rider platforms, there has been a big popularity in smaller motion-seat platforms, offer reliable 3DOF experiences. Korean based Innosimulation had several single seat motion chair platforms that run specially created VR based ride films. Another provider of smaller motion systems was Talon Simulation, with their compact Atomic A3 Motion Base.

Belarus based immersive attraction developer StereoLife had two approaches to the compact motion attraction, first with their previously launched two-rider VR StereoLife Rifter and a brand-new ergonomic motion capsule style simulator with the single seater Flyer. Both systems running at the show on the Oculus Rift.

The StereoLife Rifter

VR Free Roaming Platforms

The big development in the Out-of-Home entertainment sector regarding VR technology has been the explosion in Free-Roaming (Arena-Scale) multiple player VR attractions. The technology offering an immersive alternative to the traditional Lasertag approach. The market has grown in popularity from its first appearance last year, with a considerable momentum towards opening Arena-Scale internationally.

At IAE the latest developers of this approach were celebrating new advancements. Major powerhouse in the sector is VRstudios, with their VRCade range of systems. Major developments were announced from the company during the Orlando show, with the first appearance of their new VRcade Arena running the new game Terminal 17 – players wearing PC backpacks and taking part in an alien team based shooter, with some 500 pre-booked guests trying the system during the show. VRstudios promoted during the show the announcement that Chinese developer TPCast had joined their “VRstudios’ Partners Showcase” with Hewlett Packard, NVIDIA, HTC Vive and Audiokinetic. New versions of their arena platform with many prominent signing during the show.

Group of players start their progress through VRcade’s Terminal 17

The other major player in the development of “Warehouse-scale’ free roaming backpack, multiplayer systems is Australian based Zero Latency. The company has established several prominent installations of their platform, and guests were able to try out the attraction at an operator close to the exhibition facility. Zero Latency was awarded two major Brass Ring Awards from the show organizers for their innovative technology and announced several signings including the opening of a VR attraction at the Cinépolis Plaza Satélite multiplex in Mexico City the first VR Arena-Scale attraction in the country.

The Zero Latency platform

Other developers of Arena-Scale VR attractions that came to Orlando’s IAE included Anvio VR, the Moscow based developer of their own VR backpack multiplayer suit. The company running the City Z zombie blaster game experience, and revealed during the show that after its Moscow facility they have plans to open a London facility in February.
New generation of Arena-Scale, free-roaming VR backpack, multi-player experiences have gained great momentum and funding, and though not exhibiting at IAE, the well published company, The VOID, were deep in completing the first roll out of their Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire “Hyper-Reality” installation, planned for an Orlando and Anaheim. It was also revealed that a temporary version of the Star Wars VR attraction will be opened in London. (We hope to be an exclusive report on the opening of  this London experience on VRFocus in the coming weeks). Another Arena-Scale developer Notiom VR, presented recently their ALICE SPACE VR attraction supported with content created by Opaque Studios in collaboration with NASA, and gave visitors the chance to virtually venture onto the surface of the moon.

This is the first part of our two-part coverage from the IAE exhibition, on Christmas Day we will look at the other aspects of the business on display including the brand new Standalone VR products that were exclusively revealed on the show floor, and some of the other more unusual developments.

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