The Virtual Arena: China’s VR Entertainment Revolution – Part 2

Kevin Williams' report from the AAA Expo 2018 concludes by taking on location-based VR and VR tethered enclosures.

Continuing coverage of China’s largest Out-of-Home entertainment convention, reporting things in the virtual realtiy (VR) amusement and attraction at the Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo – And in this final part of this special feature, Kevin Williams, specialist in the interactive immersive entertainment scene, concludes, by looking at emerging trends from the Chinese convention.

Disclaimer – All images are the property of KWP Limited and cannot be used without the express permission of the company.

The Virtual ArenaNavigating the 12 large halls of the AAA Expo 2018 was hard on the feet, especially when nearly every booth seemed to proffer a new and interesting concept towards the application of immersive entertainment. AAA was not just a show filled with VR goodies, but also included a wealth of immersive projection systems, the latest video amusement and theme park attractions – but our focus for these features is the VR aspect.

AAA was also not just one show, but an amalgamation of trade events combined into one offering – the show including the 2018 Asia VR&AR Fair&Summit – a major conference session for developers and operators of VR&AR in the territory, which also saw awards to leading Chinese entrepreneurs in the field. Previously in The Virtual Arena, we covered the emerging trends from the Digital Out-of-Home entertainment (DOE) VR business presented across the vast show floor; first with ‘Standalone VR Amusement Systems’ and then with ‘VR Motion Simulators’ – we now move on to the next genre.

Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018

VR Tethered Enclosures

Pop-up enclosures housing four player VR systems.

One of the new trends that is sweeping both the Western and Asian VR entertainment space is the use of an enclosure style environment, for up to four players, standing up, competing in networked game environments. Most of these systems running PvP style shooting experiences. And to ensure simple operation use tethered headsets. Originated by German based Hologate VR, last year – the concept has become a popular concept from a growing number of manufacturers.

AAA, had the largest number of this genre of system in one place, VR entertainment developer NINED, known for championing the VR business, showed their entry into the field, with their VR SPACE system, offering an open enclosure and four tethered HTC Vive’s. The company also showed ‘VR Jump Multiplayer Game’ – another enclosure game for four players, but this system used a vibrating floor to add a new dimension to their zombie and dinosaur blaster.

VR SPACE - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
VR SPACE
VR Jump - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
VR Jump
VR Jump - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
VR Jump

What was labelled as “the first internet VR multiplayer gun battle game” was previewed from FoldSpace, on their booth, with a hyper realistic military shooter in its own enclosure. Called Ace Attack, four-players using tethered HTC Vives, and wielding realistic automatic weaponry defend their position from hordes of enemies. Exhibitor CA SEGA JOYPOLIS (the Chinese operational division of the Japanese amusement giant) presented their partnership with German based VR Nerds and showed their four-player enclosure experience TOWER TAG – a game already installed at a few sites, and which they hope to sell into the sector.

VR LEKE building on their exclusive usage of the HTC Vive Pro had their own enclosure concept – called Zombie Jail, the enclosure is themed like a cage, with the players locked inside, using tracked force-feedback weapons and the Vive Pro headset. The game having the players fend off waves of undead criminals, locked within an infested prison. The system saw long ques stretching off the booth of attendees wanting to try out the game for themselves.

Ace Attack - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
Ace Attack
Zombie Jail - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
Zombie Jail

There are serval multi-player VR experiences that offer a similar operator opportunity as that promised by tethered standing systems – these include the omni-directional treadmill platforms. Many of which have already been available in enclosure style presentations. One of the best known in this field was on the UNIS booth during AAA, with their OMNI ARENA demonstrate in their two-player configuration. While on the Play-V booth, the exhibitor showed the KAT VR system running its own PvP experience. Such systems are now being linked to tournament competitions, creating their own VR eSports environments.

OMNI ARENA - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
OMNI ARENA
KAT VR - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
KAT VR

Location-Based VR

Arena-Scale (free-roaming) multiplayer experiences.

The last few months has seen a decretive drive towards developing Arena-Scale platform in the West; with FoxNext, Nomadic, Dreamscape, The VOID, and others, testing their platforms – while established operators such as Zero Latency, VRstudios and trueVRsystems, to name a few, continue to expand their installed base, and build on their product line. At the AAA show, the Chinese VR scene proved it was ready to join this battle.

The dedicated free-roaming attractions on display were represented by Jisei Interactive Technology showing their 2,000m² optically tracked environment, running backpack PC’s, weapons and Oculus Rift headsets – in a game environment they called VR Big Space. A few venues in China have started to operate their own backpack based multi-player attractions, though this was the only one at the show.

VR Big Space - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
VR Big Space
VR Big Space - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
VR Big Space

One of the developers of a free-roaming tracked based system without backpack, was Noitom – the company presented their Project Alice tracking architecture running three attractions, with a four-player shooting experience, a young player virtual soft-play environment with tracked objects (using their unique architecture married to the Oculus Rift – and a virtual bumper-car experience using real bumper-cars, with the player tracked in a virtual experience, using the Deepoon headset.

Project Alice - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
Project Alice
Project Alice - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
Project Alice
Project Alice - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
Project Alice

Concerning the deployment of VR into the Chinese mainstream, the latest generation of VR entertainment has evolved from the 9D passive (egg-shaped) motion theatres and looked towards the next generation of immersive experiences – interactivity plays a major part, and room-scale VR has found strong interest, as well as the use of physical effects to create a compelling experience. It is obvious that Location-Based VR experiences will play their part in this drive – and already several Arena-Scale VR attractions have opened in the territory, mirroring the interest they have generated in the West.

Arena-Scale - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
Arena-Scale
Standing - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
Standing
9D - Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo 2018
9D

The question must be; faced with this vast available supply of VR attractions illustrated by the AAA show floor, how many of them will find deployment outside of China, and from this supply, will there be a strong enough demand? Or is DOE about to see a massive restructuring to meet the explosion of investment attempting to capture this exploding opportunity? The one major takeaway from AAA 2018 is how much more important strong game content is to this business to ensure success in a crowded market.

For those needing expert commentary about the international Location-Based entertainment industry, and immersive Out-of-Home entertainment – there will be held on May 16-17th 2018, the second Future of Immersive Leisure (FOIL) conference in Las Vegas; VRFocus is a media partner of the event and for more details click here.

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