Virtual reality (VR) is expensive. 2018 has seen a lot of price cuts for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive (and Vive Pro), PlayStation VR, as well as the release of various Windows Mixed Reality headsets and standalone headsets, VR is still too steep of a price for consumers to buy en masse. Sometimes the easiest way to enjoy VR is to simply get out of the house and try some location-based VRs. Nina Salomons, the video content creator at VRFocus, discusses her favourite digital out-of-home entertainment (DOE) VR experience and explains why it stood out for her.
I have tried several out-of-home experiences that usually use Optitrack’s sensors. From The Void, Arizona Sunshine, Kenzan Studio, Anvio VR, Hologate VR , StarTracker as well as trying out Derren Brown’s the Ghost Train at Thorpe Park and a few dozen VR experiences in Dubai’s ‘PVRK’. I believe I’ve tried quite a few different variations of VR out-of-home experiences.
DOE experiences, as the name suggests occur in a space where players put on a VR headset and are usually given a VR backpack, some accessories that are tracked and an experience where they can play with friends. Out-of-home VR experiences excel in creating social VR experiences where more than one player is able to enjoy an experience. Although this is quite tricky to track multiple players in a space, it is possible. For some strange reason, almost all of the out-of-home VR experiences have been first-person shooters (FPS). The company usually gives you a fake gun that is then tracked in the virtual space and has special triggers or buttons that allow you to reload, change weapon and give players haptic feedback or recoil to make it more realistic.
Having tried all of these out-of-home VR experiences as well as console games for a few years, I can honestly say it’s getting more difficult to get excited about experiences unless they’re truly innovative, realistic or engaging. It wasn’t until somebody asked me what the best VR experience was I’d ever tried I had to sit down and think. It took me some time to answer the question, but I concluded that it was something I experienced in New York created by Neurogaming on their Polgyon VR platform. The incredible potential of the Polygon platform was showcased in this interview with Alex Morozov, Chief Marketing Officer of Neurogaming, but perhaps didn’t quite bring across how impressive it was.
Travelling to America a lot to cover VR at events like GDC, GTC and E3 where Silicon Valley and ex-Hollywood storytellers come to showcase their products, you would expect me to have chosen an American-based company from there for my best experience. Surprisingly it’s a Russian company that’s known for its videogame World of Tanks VR that left me speechless and excited about the future.
Unlike some out-of-home entertainment experiences, Polygon VR required a player to put on full body tracking accessories and equipment. Similar to how actors would be captured for CGI characters in films or how Ninja Theory created Hellblade:Senua’s Sacrifice. Players are asked to put on accessories that have little grey balls attached to then wrap your arm, legs, hands and feet. This creates for a truly immersive experience where like Vive trackers, you can use parts of your body to interact with your immersive space (like kicking dinosaurs in Island 359).
The experience required me to put on full body tracking accessories, a gun, and a VR headset tethered to a backpack. The experience I tried on Polygon VR was a FPS where myself and Kevin Joyce were soldiers on a mission to take down enemies. Neurogaming could also change the whole virtual world without physically moving us, or asking us to change outfits. We were suddenly inside a close quarter map of orange corridors, elevators and various guns. the experience allowed Kevin and Myself to use the full space of the warehouse and we spent over an hour roaming around the virtual worlds created for us by Neurogaming.
The importance of dying
Having tried Anvio VR’s full-body tracking and shooting zombies is the closest thing I’ve tried to Polygon VR. Both required guns, were FPS experiences, are Russian and allow for several players to be tracked in a large warehouse space. Where Polygon VR differentiated from all the other FPS out-of-home experiences, is that it allowed you to die. A blue ghost figure would appear in the virtual world to reflect where you are in the real world – helping players understand both the virtual and real world spacing without taking a headset off to avoid physically walking into the player once they died.
Not only was friendly fire on, there were various ways of dying. Falling or jumping off moving elevators, slipping from a ledge or getting shot. Unlike the other videogames, what I did mattered, and I could die in-game. It now mattered finding that health pack, it mattered listening to the footsteps of other players to avoid or find them, it matters finding cover, it matters if you die midway through a battle. Suddenly it’s like all my senses are heightened because I can now die.
This simple act of death – it drives you to care about your actions and not simply hold a gun at zombies or just stand there not caring as they overwhelm you in-game.
Sharing is caring, best enjoyed with no latency
Everybody who has been in VR for a while understands the importance of social VR. You want to be able to share experiences with friends and be there with them. What I try and drive home in the video below, and what I try and showcase in gameplay is how incredible that feeling is when you interact with somebody in VR that you’ve never met in real life. Like a meeting between two different tribes – we try and find something in common and end playing childhood games of clapping our hands as a form of easy communication (even though we have microphones and can speak to each other).
You can also see how freaked out I am by Ivan walking through me, and although no gameplay footage of him walking in and out of walls is available you can clearly see the physical and immediate reaction I had to his physical actions (all of which he was doing in Russia). What really got me was that there seemed to be barely any latency. Like a baby throwing things to see a cause and effect, I found myself touching, kicking and moving at different speeds to test the ‘rules’ of this digital world. Very soon I was comfortably walking in it as if I was walking in real life.
It felt like everything was real. Everything was behaving, reacting exactly as it did in the real world, besides a few tracking issues – I believe Ivan was real. I believed he was there in real-time and even if he wasn’t in Russia – the fact that all three of us were comfortably moving in this digital world with no hiccups even when dying felt great.
The possibilities of the Polygon VR platform are endless and become even more interesting when you think about various platforms around the world connecting to each other and allowing for more than ten players to be in a virtual world together. I pitch some ideas and possibilities of what this could mean for the future of entertainment, eSports and VR.
Check out the video below to see some gameplay of us trying the Polygon VR platform and more. Stay tuned to VRFocus to hear more about the platform and immersive technology.