(Thanks to Kevin Williams for the tip)
It was reported a short time ago that Bandai Namco was launching a new but temporary VR-arcade style facility in Japan by the name of VR ZONE Project iCan. With the launch date happening yesterday on April 15th, reporters and interested players in Japan have been able to check out what was in store with the six different VR game experiences on hand.
From looking at the report over at MoguraVR.com, this facility represents why there is a VR Arcade Conference going on next month (which by the way is building up quite a field of support despite being announced only a short time ago). The main thrust of Namco’s project is to try and provide VR experiences that you only really get using an arcade setup – a cabinet or controls that most people are not going to take the time or have the money/expertise to put together for themselves at home. For its six month run, you do have to make a reservation to get in to play. Depending on how it works out, we’ll see if Namco decides to expand on the project or bring the games overseas. The current setup is using the recently launched HTC Vive VR hardware.
Let’s take a look at the six games/experiences (click on the images to enlarge them):
Real Drive – This wasm’t a part of the article above but it is found at the facility. It would be the only non-HMD VR on site as it uses Namco’s proven dome screen technology (used in Gundam pods, Mach Storm and Star Wars Battle Pod) to create a wrap-around visual effect. We’ve covered this game/simulator before but this us the first time I believe it is installed on a site for profit instead of testing.
Ski Rodeo – The game sounds a little less fast paced than the Alpine Racer but it does reuse one idea from the recent Super Alpine Racer with its wind blower. The graphics are also considerably more detailed than SAR had.
Escape Ward Ω – This takes a page from a short VR film that is out there where you are wheeled through a psyche ward on a wheelchair but this takes a step into interactivity as the player sits in a vibrating “wheelchair” that allows them to control movement with a lever on the left and flashlight controller on the right. Designed for 2-4 players, which you can communicate with through a microphone in the headset, the game forces the players apart but you have to work together to solve puzzles and escape. Using that separation to its advantage, this one apparently isn’t for people that scare easily.
Here is a video of this one in action:
Fear of Heights – Continuing to play on fears or phobias (which Namco made a central theme of their Dark Escape 4D arcade game) is this Fear of Heights. Putting one or more players in an area with wooden planks and a VR headset, it presents the illusion that you are walking on a plank that is sticking off the edge of a building where you get the impression of being 200m(656 ft.) off the ground. It is interesting how stereoscopic 3D can make that illusion feel – even when not walking on a plank, experiences like that can fool your brain into thinking you are high off the ground (example is from the Scale-1 Attraction which did this).Anyways, here your objective is to save a cat that has no qualms about heights as it sits on the edge. In the real world, a soft cat-shaped prop is there for the user to grab. Good thing it wouldn’t move around like a real cat.
Argyle Shift – Japan is well known for their love of giant fighting robots and anime girls so what better way to showcase VR tech than with a game based on both. Here the player sits down with a joystick for each hand to control their robot. Within the cockpit, an AI girl by the name of Eine guides you through the experience. Judging by the writers reaction he was more enamored by the guide than the game. Granted, she is standing in the way of your view the whole time, from the looks of it.
Train Master – Train conductor games have never taken off in the West but Japan has had a few to enjoy. This VR experience gives the player a seat and station with realistic train controls to interact with. There are five lines for the player to choose from as they try and safely transport riders from one point to another.
They also have a photobooth there with specific backgrounds based on the experiences above.
Overall it is an interesting setup that Namco is experimenting with at the moment. As VR hardware is finally hitting home and users are realizing the costs involved, the arcade space does have an opportunity here given the advantage of simulator type controls to help sell the illusion to the user and at less cost to that person to try out specific games. What are thoughts about the VR Zone?