I feel the need to precede this post with a disclaimer: I wouldn’t call myself a tech-savy gal. My knowledge of VR/Gaming (ETC) is relatively limited, but I am doing my best to learn, and quickly at that. So feel free to educate me on any misinformation I may be unaware of… (:
When traveling on the East coast last week, I had the opportunity to play a multiplayer VR game at a hotel resort, Kalahari, about an hour and a half outside of NY City in the Pennsylvania Poconos. Imagine my surprise when I realized that it was not only a full blown VR game, room scale, but wireless with multiplayer tracking and interaction. This was my first time encountering this level of immersion for multiple players. All VR venue experiences currently open for public entertainment that I have checked out are not multiplayer in the sense that you and your buddies are all in the same room-scale experience.
The game technology was created by an Australian company, Zero Latency VR, that specializes is free-motion VR experiences with Alienware as their equipment source. The motion tracking technology they use (the little glowing balls on top of the HMD & Gun) were similar to what I saw displayed at VRFest/CES 2017. I spoke with the arcade manager after playing the game, as it was the opening day and he was eager to get feedback from players. I was told that there are only three experiences like this in the United States. Zero Latency also boasts that there are no other VR experiences out there that give you this range of motion and multi-player immersion.
The “game master” (aka kid running the experience) was not able to answer the million questions I had about the equipment and game itself, but did an excellent job explaining your abilities within the game. Basically, up to six people would be in the game together. You logged your gender & height, which would define your avatar. Equipped with a HMD, backpack (was holding the wireless computer/whatever was powering up the system, I assume), and a wireless gun. The gun allowed you to switch between an assault rifle, heavy assault rifle, shotgun , & sniper rifle. There was a button to reload and to switch modes. Each gun used a laser to show you exactly where you were aiming. The game lasted about fifteen minutes, not including any pauses that may occur.
You had free-range around the room. If you got too close to a wall the game would pause until you backed away. You were able to see your buddies’ avatars, including what they were shooting, though you could not see their laser. For the ones behind you or out of view, a second visual was over-layed showing you their position. When you got too close to someone who was behind you or out of sight, an alarm would sound to notify you to be careful.
What I thought was really interesting is that you had the option to hop in an elevator to move to the top level of the structure and play from there. You couldn’t exit the elevator, but it was still cool to experience the change of perspective. It was also a horrible idea to go up the elevator as you were immediately attacked by zombies. I had the impulse to jump from the elevator to the ground level by walking off the platform, but wasn’t sure what would happen and chickened out (maybe next time). Also, along with zombies attacking the perimeter of the structure, there were riot-police zombies and giant zombies that would break through the barrier and literally try to eat your avatar. They did not emerge until a few minutes had already gone by, so it was pretty startling when they unexpectedly came bursting through the barricades. The barricades were made of rubble, and you would rebuild them by shooting at a target. Not only would this protect you from zombies, but you got points for maintaining security.
Head-shots got you the most points and killed the zombies most effectively. I was impressed by the accuracy of the guns. The tracking seemed really good, and no one in my group encountered issues with their equipment, other than the display fogging up. Considering the amount of movement we were doing and the intensity of the game, this was a given issue. They paused the game about halfway through so the game master could wipe off each player’s HMD with a cloth. I thought this was pretty ineffective, and each player should just be given their own cloth wipe to save time. But then again, the pause ensures you wouldn’t be attacked by zombies as you were wiping your display, so maybe I shouldn’t criticize. Your scores are accessible online after the game, and you are ranked within your group but also across the players of other games and locations.
In all, it was a ton of fun and I can’t wait to see these popping up everywhere. It is exciting how quickly VR seems to be disseminating into our popular culture. Having partially grown up in this part of Pennsylvania, I am still cracking up over the fact that my first experience with VR of this scale was in the Poconos.
If you have experienced something similar elsewhere, or know of similar gaming experiences let me know! I am eager track and check out all of these awesome developments in VR.