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The Virtual Arena

The Virtual Arena: Amusements VR Obsession Continues – Part 2

The concluding part of The Virtual Arena’s visit to the 2022 Amusement Expo International in Las Vegas.

The application of XR into the attraction and amusement landscape is covered by industry specialist Kevin Williams. His latest Virtual Arena column concludes its two-part coverage of America’s largest amusement trade event, charting the leading immersive trends.

AEI showfloor
Image credit: KWP

Returning to Las Vegas, and the 2022 Amusement Expo International (AEI) – the event offered a chance to chart the significant trends that are shaping the market. The hunger for VR was still intense from operators entertaining the returning audiences to their facilities. The lockdown has incubated a “cabin fever” with many of their customers, and social entertainment has proven still to be a growing business, even post lockdown. However, there is a need to find the right mix of immersive technology, and repeatability, from the trends on display.

One of the leading new trends in VR for location-based entertainment (LBE) adoption are those of tethered “VR Enclosures” and free-roaming “VR Arenas”. The latest tethered headset enclosures offer the ability for players to compete in groups, with multi-player experiences. This was represented at AEI by Inowize, bringing its ‘Arkadia Arena’ six-player VR Enclosure to the show, avidly played by exhibition attendees. The company launching a new VR game for the system called Heroik – a competitive battle arena game.

Akadia Arena - Inowize
The Akadia Arena from Inowize. Image credit: KWP

Regarding developments in the free-roaming VR applications, AEI debuted several new developments. Previous years had seen backpack PC’s employed in the free-roaming business approach, but the latest standalone VR headsets, favouring mobile processors (mostly the Qualcomm XR2), have offered an opportunity to develop the next generation of VR Arena, and offer a more simplified operation model.

VEX Arena
VEX Arena in full action. Image credit: KWP

Exhibitor Shaffer Distributing represented VEX Solutions, which had its VEX Arena hyper-reality platform, going through its paces at the show, an arena that is scalable, able to accommodate the available space at various locations. Next to them was SPREE Interactive, with their family-friendly SPREE Arena. Both platforms are able to accommodate multiplayer VR games, using Pico headsets.

The Pico Neo VR headset series offers equal performance to the Meta Quest 2 but is focused on enterprise, and had become a simple alternative headset for mobile processor standalone gaming. SPREE was also promoting development of a new arena-based experience with its VR Bumper-Car platform, developed in partnership with I.E. Parks, a report on its deployment after launch coming soon.

Spree Arena
Multiplayer action on the SPREE Arena. Image credit: KWP

The competition element in social entertainment was underlined across the numerous new releases at the amusement trade event – and especially regarding VR developments. One of those exhibiting their state in this was Phenomena, with its ‘VR Esports Arena’. A dedicated turnkey arena-based system that can support from four to eight groups of players, competing in a fast-paced eSports-based tournament with livestream eSports support, all from an audience-friendly arena. The platform is one of the first at the show to run on the HTC Vive Focus 3 headset, though many other manufacturers in this sector are looking at this headset as a go-to solution for the next generation of standalone gaming.

Phenomena arena
Competitive action in the VR Esports Arena. Image credit: KWP

Mixed Reality

Not all the interest in the market was on the VR side, AEI was the launchpad for a brand new MR platform. Developer Valo Motion will be a familiar name to readers from our coverage of their Valo Climb augmented reality climbing wall platform – marrying projection mapping onto the wall and tracking players’ movements and interactions with the virtual objects. So, creating an interactive game system from a conventional climbing experience.

Valo Motion has taken the aspect of placing the player’s physical movements into the game experience to a new level, with the launch of the ValoArena. Using chromakey and tracking, up to six players can compete in mini-games within the “Immersive Enclosure”, with their bodies and movements represented on the screen. The competitive games are supported by the ValoApp which allows players and operators to chart scores and create tournaments – leading obviously to a streamed eSports opportunity. Game videos can be shared instantly, too. Exhibitor CSE also had a body tracked game system with its ‘iWall Arcade’ – players getting quite a workout from the system, their body movements represented by their on-screen avatar.

ValoArena
Physical turned digital in the ValoArena. Image credit: Valo Motion

The ability to mix the digital with the physical was also illustrated by exhibitor Media Vision. The company along with their active physical games systems demonstrated The Great Bazookaball Time Transporter. Using a large projected screen, players use the company’s pneumatic “bazookaball” launcher, shooting real balls at hordes of zombies on screen, in a cartoon wild west game. The ability to have multiple players makes this both a fun and compelling game experience for indoor and outdoor applications and illustrates the diversity of the immersive game experience in the modern market.

Bazookaball Time Transporter
Physical balls launched at digital screen from Media Vision. Image credit: KWP

AEI 2022 was a great return to physical trade events, and an eye-opener to the advancements and developments in the LBE VR scene, but also opened a window on the greater deployment of immersive technology with MR starting to make inroads into this lucrative market.

COMING NEXT – While staying in Las Vegas, The Virtual Arena will be reporting on the application of XR in the venue business, with detailed coverage from the brand new AREA15 immersive entertainment venue.

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