The Virtual Arena: China’s VR Entertainment Revolution – Part 1
There was plenty of VR to see at the Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo, as Kevin Williams reports.
At the beginning of April, China held its largest Out-of-Home entertainment convention, along with theme parks and amusement, virutal reality (VR) played a prominent part at the Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo. In a two part feature, Kevin Williams, specialist in the interactive immersive entertainment scene, reports from the heart of the entertainment dragon.
[Disclaimer: All images are the property of KWP Limited and cannot be used without the express permission of the company.]
The importance of the AAA Expo can not be understated. Covering some 130,000 square meters, of the China Import & Export Fair Complex, Guanqzhou, China. Comprising 12 halls, and some 6,500 booths, offered an eclectic mix of amusement, theme park attractions, cinema, billiards, soft-nose darts tournaments and obviously the latest virtual reality entertainment platforms. The AAA event representing a great opportunity to see the trends about to shape the commercial VR entertainment scene.
This vast show comprised the leading trends that are percolating down to influence the commercial VR Western sector, and is unlike any other event. The core areas of development in VR amusement and attractions were broken down into these elements:
Standalone VR Amusement Systems
Or alternatively, coin-operated machines able to be deployed on their own.
Along with their previous launched VR pieces, UNIS Technology exhibited the Japanese developed VR SENSE pods – developed by TECMO, the pod offers eight 4D effects ranging from motion seat, wind, heat and event olfactory elements triggered during the VR experience. This experience was powered by the Sony PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation VR platform – the first usage of the PSVR in a commercial entertainment environment. Also seen on the UNIS booth, AUDIO BOX offered one of the first music, dance VR games, proving to be a compelling experience, based on the HTC Vive platform, the platform developed by FoldSpace.
Inroads towards deploying VR amusement machines into the Western scene have already gained considerable momentum – also seen at the show are previously launched platforms such as the WAHLAP Technologies‘ Overtake VR – comprising a simplistic arcade racing game, with a motion driving cockpit and HTC Vive headset. The closest yet seen to an amusement VR hybrid.
One of the major developments seen on the AAA show floor was from VR hardware developer FuninVR. Along with several more conventional VR arcade machines – the company launched VR Racing Kart. The Chinese company’s interpretation of the previously launched Mario Kart VR; but as BANDAI NAMCO / Nintendo have postponed consideration of shipping this highly anticipated VR kart racer outside of Japan, the FuninVR version hopes to fill the vacuum. The game incorporating HTC Vive headset, and Vive tracker on the players wrist, so they can collect items racing round the track and throw them at opponents.
NINED, a powerhouse in the VR amusement scene had a plethora of immersive concepts, but the company launched a brand-new motion racing cockpit, as well as a new motion tank combat platform called Final Fire – the majority of their systems using the Deepoon headset. Sleek designed racing VR cockpits were found across the 12 halls of the show, exhibitor Virtual Alliance had their VR MotoGP simulator, and the sleek VR Racing Car II, representing the latest generation of VR designs.
The standing enclosure style of machine, incorporating room-scale VR, has become a popular Chinese derivative in the standalone market. One interesting standing enclosure was from DakaVR, who had a machine pistol duel wielding shooting experience called Star Guard. Another unique application of the standing approach, saw the deployment of full enclosures – a soundproof phonebooth-like kiosks that allow VR to be consumed within any kind of location – an approach that would not find strong support in the West.
One of the most unusual aspects of the Chinese development of the VR experience has been a greater focus on younger players (between 3 and 6 years of age). Several exhibitors promoted machines in this genre, including the brand Super Captain, and their ‘7D’ theater, as well as their Planet No. 1 four-rider merry-go-round using VR viewers.
The VR viewer for younger players has been incorporated in many systems; one of the most bizarre was a prize amusement machine using immersive entertainment. Launched by Immersive Technologies, VR Shark seems a convention prize machine, expect the player accumulate the prize coins to win the merchandising, from a virtual seabed, shooting fish spied through the viewer.
VR Motion Simulators
Both multiple and single seat motion systems.
The motion VR experience scene is broken down into the multiple rider passive theatre experiences – every one of the key exhibitors at AAA included a version of this approach to the market. A novel approach to the VR multi-rider experience was seen from Movie Power –showing a standing motion theatre platform, called the VR Hurricane. But in general, the passive theatre approach seemed to be reaching saturation point.
The development of the next generation of VR theatre experience sees a drive towards building a more compelling virtual attraction to enthuse a jaded audience. One of the leaders in the Chinese VR Park development and operation scene is VR LEKE – the company has already established partnerships with HTC, illustrated by VR LEKE being the first to show the HTC Vive Pro headset at this or any show. The first usage of this Prosumer HMD was in the Deep Ocean Adventure nine-seater submersible-themed attraction.
The second generation of interactive audience motion theatre experiences; VR LEKE was also driving the move towards next gen motion theatres with an interactive element – the company showed their Starship platform for has six-players on a motion theatre, with mounted weapons that they use to blast oncoming aliens – the machine using the Deepoon headset.
Several exhibitors showed paragliding-style VR motion harnesses, hoisting the players into the air and allowing them to control their decent, while taking part in game experiences. Systems such as the JMDM unit, and the more elaborate paragliding systems were on display – offering this unique approach to an exhilarating virtual experience. Not all the systems on display were from Chinese manufacturers, ICAROS showed their unique body powered virtual motion platform – looking to penetrate this profitable territory.
The majority of new VR motion simulators seen at AAA were those of single seat solutions. A considerable number of the single seat systems offered inverted 360° motion platforms experiences – examples included the Skyfun Animation VR 360 King Kong unit. While more open seat variants included – and one of the most stylish was from Virtual Alliance with their VR Simulator Tornado, a seat based 360° rotational platform – the rider viewing the virtual experience on the mobile VR Pico headset.
The ultimate 360° motion platform on display incorporated the use of a robotic arm throwing the rider through a wide motion envelope. Called the VR Enlightenment – presented by the exhibitor K-Unattended – the developers had mounted a single seat and harness to a KUKA robotic arm. Another major surprise to this exhibit was that the attraction was using one of the first Pimax 8K head-mounted displays (HMDs). A first for the show, and a first for the market, being the only appearance of the Kickstarter funded HMD in public so far, underscoring Pimax’s focus on commercial entertainment deployment.
So much to try and cram into these short features, so we will end here and continue next time. Look out for the second and final part of this coverage next week.