Virtual Arena: London’s latest VR attractions
The application of XR to the attractions and entertainment landscape is covered by industry expert Kevin Williams in his latest Virtual Arena column – he looks at the explosion of new location-based entertainment venues offering the latest VR experiences in London.
Author: Kevin Williams
In this latest column for MIXED, we look at one of the major developments in the application of VR into the mainstream. While many had expected consumer VR to be the main champion of this technology, the commercial entertainment scene through amusement VR machines and Location-Based Entertainment (LBE) venues, have offered the chance for many thousands of players to get their first experience of immersive entertainment.
Reopenings after the reopening
Following the Global Health crisis, some had claimed that Out-of-Home VR would be dead, unable to return to popularity – but the reality has been an explosion in investment and development of VR in commercial entertainment. We have been able to visit several of the new venues that have opened and gauge the impact they are having on the market.
The United Kingdom, and in particular its capital has proven a major launching pad for the adoption of the latest entertainment technology, and London is no stranger to new VR entertainment venues. Making its first foray into the UK scene is the chain Sandbox VR.
The company saw London open its first franchised store in the capital, boasting four free-roam arenas, able to accommodate up to six players at a time. The backpack PC experience sees the players hands and legs tracked with a selection of VR game experiences, including their new zombie blaster ‘Deadwood Valley’.
The Sandbox VR site in London is the first to include a hospitality element, with guests able to order cocktails from ‘Toni’ the cutting edge bar-tending robot. With a space that has been laid out to support group bookings. At this point Sandbox VR has internationally some 30-venues, and their roll out strategy continues for their VR brand, revealing their plans to open their largest venue, again in the UK, in the city of Birmingham in the coming months.
Divr Labs opens its third location
Another brand new free-roaming VR experience opening in the capital recently was Divr Labs – with their VR arena. The development company has brought their VR adventure platform to the Westfield mall in London, offering a unique VR experience for groups of up to four adventurers at a time. The arena is configured to run several special adventures including their popular ‘Meet the Dinosaurs’ – a time travelling experience, set some 80 million years back in the past and places the guests face to face with Pteranodons.
This is the third location developed by the company, supported by a growing library of experiences that mix physical and virtual elements. The company using the latest technology such as the new HTC Focus 3 headset, so removing the need for backpacks and complicated tracking.
A mix of cabin and free-roam VR in one room
The ability to offer the latest VR experiences in a venue-based business has grown in popularity, one of the first VR arcade operators was DNA VR. The operation now having grown to four venues in the UK, three of which are in the capital. Their latest venue opened recently at Battersea Power Station, one of the new landmark locations of the capital. The VR arcade space has both VR booths to play a selection of tethered VR games, and a free-roaming space for backpack multiplayer experiences.
VR arcade gaming offers a wide selection of content to select from, including the popular VR escape room adventures. Packaged in 60-minute booked sessions, offering both a strong draw to those that are familiar with VR, and those that are first time players. The new venue is also one that offers the Ubisoft VR Escape Room range – escape games developed using the Ubisoft properties such as Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia.
Ubisoft based VR content can be found at the other London VR location, Meetspace VR. With five venues in the UK, the capitals Wembley Park location offers a mix of VR arcade gaming, VR escape rooms and a special free-roam arena space.
Operated in partnership with Zero Latency, one of the largest of the free-roaming VR platform developers, the space has a selection of the latest multi-player experiences. This includes the Ubisoft original title ‘Far Cry VR – Dive into the insanity’ – this eight-player backpack PC experience, places the guests within the Far Cry universe, deep in the action for real, blasting their way through hoards of enemy and working as a team.
VR experiences outside of arcades
Not all the capital’s VR experiences can be found in VR arcades. Recently, developer and operator Layered Reality created two unique immersive attractions that combine live actors with physical and virtual environments.
First opening Jeff Wayne’s The War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience, and then following this with The Gunpowder Plot. This latest experience, located near the Tower of London builds on many of the elements from the previous development, creating a mixture of live event and immersive adventure.
In these experiences, VR is used as a narrative tool to recreate the unique world in which the guest is placed. The historic Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is brought to life not only through live actors and an atmospheric setting, but also through the use of VR in set sequences throughout the adventure. These include hair-raising journeys across the Thames and even an audience with the King. VR is used to place guests in the immersive story and even help shape it.
Immersive Van Gogh
A number of other immersive experiences opening in London have included VR, either as an added component, or as part of the overall event. Such as the inclusion on the Van Gogh Exhibit in London: The Immersive Experience, along with the immersive projection element, the “Artainment” exhibition includes a VR experience that has guests walk in the footsteps of the artist, seeing the journey that inspired some of his iconic painting. It is the mixing of various immersive technologies to create a compelling event that is shaping this new generation of entertainment venue.
These mark the latest foray into the deployment of VR into the public space, but there are new developments that see next-gen technology that moved from VR to MR and even XR being employed into the market. In the coming features to look more at the technology and applications that are defining this phase of development in Out-of-Home entertainment.
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