The video game world is teasing with VR once again but it is hardware that still has plenty of potential in the arcade/amusement space. A year ago this month saw the release of the new Sci-Shooter by MoCap Games, and the Oculus Rift VR hardware has brought a renewed interest in the technology at large. I think that the renewed interest as shown by the Rift is something worth capitalizing on in the arcade sector, although care will have to be taken to not repeat the mistakes of the past, which went beyond rudimentary graphics.
In this article, VR specialist Kevin Williams takes a short trip down memory lane, discussing a recent presentation he gave in London on the subject while also looking to the near-future of what applications VR hold for the arcade space. He also gets into a competing idea to VR called CAVE, which may end up stealing the show to some degree since those do not always require head-gear to make it all work. Over to Kevin…
Looking At VR from a New Perspective
I was recently asked by VRFocus to host a presentation about Oculus Rift/VR for the Games Meetup that took place this past February in London.
For those that are not familiar with my VR experience, I have worked in the immersive entertainment sector for a number of years specializing in the application of such technology in the public space. The focus of my presentation was looking at the application of Virtual Reality(VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) immersive entertainment technologies. I run a consultancy (KWP Limited) that works with developers and operators in this sector and have been involved in charting technical trends.
The presentation entitled “The Virtual Game Dimension: Past-to-Present of VR Gaming”, started with a brief bio of myself, and then an explanation of what we call in our industry the “Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment” (DOE) sector. The DOE illustrated by a Venn diagram that shows the interrelationship of the amusement, attraction, retail, hospitality, museum and leisure industries. The importance of the ‘public-space’ entertainment industry underlined by its use of direct payment for play, rather than the multiple hands dipping into the profits of the consumer entertainment approach; these deep pockets able to invest in the latest technology years before its cost-effectiveness reached the consumer application level.
Jumping into VR, the presentation charted the history of the idea and the technology – briefly looking at the roots of immersive presentation with the fad of the Victorian-era stereo viewers, to the success of the children’s past time ‘ViewMaster’ from the 1930’s. But the first real application of personalized virtual viewing was represented with the “synthetic-world” viewing technology devised by Ivan Sutherland in 1967 and the “Sword of Damocles” contraption for his rudimentary HMD (pictured).
After that there is a large gap which brought us to 1991 and the first immersive options created by Virtuality and their arcade application of VR through their ‘CS1000’ and ‘SD1000’ amusement pieces. The rudimentary first faltering steps demonstrated the speed in development – the cumbersome HMD of the 1000-series transformed in only a matter of years to the sleek and compact versions seen with the 2000-series in 1994. The development of VR as a line of interest with amusement giant SEGA licensing Virtuality technology to create their first prototype VR arcade machine (‘Electrobrain’ / ‘Netmerc’ / ‘Tecwar’) – and their VR amusement theme park (ATP) attraction – the ‘VR-1’.
(Editor’s Addition: Not to twist the knife for fans of the Trocadero in London but here is a video showing a Virtuality setup at the Troc back in 1991 that I found on Youtube)
The faddish application of VR in public-space was underlined with the bizarre Orbotron X-O-Tron system – the aerotrim gyroscopic manned device using a VR HMD (popularized in the ground breaking VR film The Lawnmower Man) offering discomfort to the cumbersome nature of early HMD’s applications. Also the simplistic approach jumping on the VR bandwagon – with the Alternate World Technology ‘Reality Rocket’ and the presentation of WolfensteinVR (the first involvement of id Software into VR application).
My presentation then moved onto the application that Walt Disney Imagineering (the R&D labs of the Disney corporation where I am an ex-Imagineer myself), the first fledgling development of VR for theme parks attractions charted first with the DisneyVision HMD and early EPCOT exhibit. It was this groundwork that led to the development of the DisneyQuest ATP – the $90m project to build digital attractions for a new generation of theme park facility – though only two ever opened, the one remaining site (DisneyQuest – Orlando) still running to this day, and its two VR attractions – ‘Ride The Comix’ (VR sword fighting) and ‘Aladdin Magic Ride’ (VR carpet flying) have seen millions of visitors over its more than ten years’ of operation, proving the longest operational VR entertainment experience to date.
At this point the presentation marked the collapse in VR – a mixture of a failure to deliver on the hype coupled with issues on the limitations and fragility of available technology, up against vast expense.
And then to current times – with the rebirth of interest in VR my presentation drew the comparison between the aspirations of Steve Jobs with his Apple computer in 1978 that “…Things don’t have to change the world to be important.” And how this mirrors the idealism of Palmer Luckey in 2014 for “…VR opens the door for limitless innovation.” Going on to present how the Oculus VR Rift DevKit has also been a great draw as a public-space demonstration platform as well as a consumer dev kit.
Not just focused on the Oculus VR approach, I charted the investment that Sony Consumer Electronics with their HMZ platform to experiment with the approach of VR and how their technology has been used as a stop-gap towards having a reliable source of VR technology for DOE application. Then the presentation charted the recent visit to the SteamDev Days event in January that I was able to attend. Here I stressed the importance of the Valve Corporation’s proof-of-concept of their vision of VR – even if they are not proposing to build them themselves… yet. While in Seattle I was also able to experience the Technical Illusion ‘CastAR’ application bridging AR and VR representation.
Moving forward from a DOE perspective – the rebirth of VR has not been lost on this sector and the use of VR applications as a marketing and promotion tool is strong, with examples such as the INITION Nissan Wingsuit experience. This brings back memories of Konami’s Hang Glider, with a touch of VR for good measure. Examples of concepts in development included the development of a VR lasertag platform offering a cost-effective alternative to the physical space and liabilities of a normal lasertag site (with the MoCap game concept). Also demonstrated while in Seattle during that visit to SteamDev was VRCade and their proposal for a full motion gaming environment – only achievable as a next-generation arcade approach to the opportunity of VR.
(Editor’s Addition: Video I found on Youtube that is a year old showing the suit in action; this very much shows an amusement application for the technology combined with motion tech. Although I do not understand why VR products consistently have such outdated/poor graphics, aside from guessing that it must have something to do with the development budget being spent on getting the hardware right)
The importance of immersion was made in the latter part of the presentation – and how in the 1990’s the dream envisaged by The Lawnmower Man movie drove the anticipation of VR, it has been the representation of the Holodeck from Star Trek that has fired the imagination of the current audience. The DOE industry has striven to offer this experience and in the presentation I presented examples of new developments that take VR from a head-mounted device and towards the Computer Automated Virtual Environments (CAVE) with their projected interactive surfaces.
Recent examples include the LivePark4D venue developed in South Korea as a virtual environment in 3D, offering a compelling entertainment experience – as well as the application of military and law enforcement CAVE systems and reapplying them for interactive entertainment platforms. Disney once again was charted as investing in this technology with their Digital Immersive Showroom (DISH) used to design the future theme park experience; and finally systems like Motion Simulation with their 180’ projected cockpit platform offering a unique and highly immersive network racing experiences.
In conclusion of the presentation, I described the establishment of the Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment Network Association (DNA) that was created as an organization that defines and gathers those working in the DOE scene internationally. In defining this sector and looking and the compelling and highly attractive opportunities that immersive entertainment has to offer beyond the restrictions of consumer game application the DNA Association has also be involved in looking to the future opportunities. The DNA supporting the publication of a brand new and first of its kind book on the DOE sector from its history to current development – called “The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier” (published by Gower in May), this book has gathered over 60 interviews with leading lights in the sector, including the first interview with Palmer Luckey in a book.
(Editor’s Addition: While not mentioned in Kevin’s piece, here is a refresher on recent application in the arcade space for VR, MoCap Game’s SciShooter)
At the end of this presentation the audience of some 40 VR developers and enthusiasts that has gathered at the Bossa Studio facility to attend this latest VR Meetup asked a number of questions at how the DOE application of VR differed from the consumer (home gamer) application. I would like to thank all those involved in inviting me to present to such an enthusiastic and informed audience. I hope to meet more of the community as the application of VR gains momentum, and look forward to welcoming many to the future immersive entertainment facilities that will emerge from this wealth of investment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Kevin Williams has an extensive background in the development and sales of the latest amusement and attraction applications and technologies. The UK born specialist in the pay-to-play scene; is well-known through his consultancy KWP; and as a prolific writer and presenter (along with his own news service The Stinger Report), covering the emergence of the new entertainment market. Kevin has co-authored a book covering the sector called ‘The Out-of-Home Interactive Entertainment Frontier’ (published by Gower). And is the founding chairman of DNA Association, focuses on the digital Out-of Home interactive entertainment sector. Kevin can be reached at – firstname.lastname@example.org – http://www.thestingerreport.com