#1139 – Entertainment’s Pomp & Majesty – Part 3

Our next section of coverage of Europe’s biggest amusement, attractions, and entertainment expo, along with details of developments impacting the international scene. In this third part, we conclude the VR coverage and developments, and then look at MR’s appearance on the show floor.

IAAPA Expo Europe 2022 (IAAPA-EMEA’22)

VR Headset Developments

While still impacting Out-of-Home Entertainment VR development, the consumer VR headset revolution has seen major developments as the performance and capabilities of these headsets improve. Most recently, the VR community has been awash with speculations following the growth of Eye-Tracking being included, with a slew of the next-generation of systems from the leading manufacturers. It was revealed that the SONY ‘PSVR2’ would have a 4K resolution achieved using Eye-Tracking – while at the same time, it was revealed that the Meta ‘QuestPro’ would employ this technology, and even the rumored Valve ‘Index2’ was confirmed to include this capability. Not to be left out, in September, HTC announced they would be offering an Eye-Tracking upgrade to their new ‘VIVE Focus 3’ headset. The ability to track the user’s eyes allows an increased pixel density where the viewer is looking, so securing high performance. Meanwhile, others hope to use the knowledge of the area where the user is looking to track data on engagement or incorporate experience related abilities.

Increased investment in creating high-fidelity was revealed with the news that commercial VR headset manufacturer, Varjo, has succeeded in raising some $40m in Series D funding. The company plans to place this investment into developing their high-end, enterprise-focused XR headsets (XR referring to both VR and incorporated AR, see-through elements). Also, investment will be placed in their plans for a cloud-based environment for the streaming and development of what some call a “Varjo Reality Cloud” environment. The development of high-end VR is used in training and industrial design, and far surpasses that achievable on current consumer VR hardware.  Varjo has already launched their new standalone high-end PC VR headset (with Eye-Tracking) called the ‘Varjo Aero’. 

Many observers see this next-generation move in fidelity as a distinctive step by the true VR community towards high-end PC VR, abandoning the lower performance of Mobile-Processor (smartphone) VR – what some have dubbed “Standalone PC VR” (SPV) against “Standalone Mobile-Processor VR” (SMV). This fidelity differential will define the next-phase of VR adoption and investment – but also points to the need for greater immersive power that can only be achieved from PC based cloud-computing, rather than the limitations of smartphone performance.  

The importance of VR headsets in location-based entertainment was not lost on the leading manufacturers. IAAPA-EMEA’22 saw representatives from HTC promoting, off the show floor, their new Focus 3 headset to invited guests. Meanwhile, representatives from PICO also walked the aisles. This is the most intense focus on promoting systems to manufacturers, as they all look to upgrade from the phase two hardware to the new phase three VR platforms, into the location-based entertainment industry.  

MR Enclosures

While the consumer VR headset scene sees continues to evolve, there are moves underway towards high-end (greater fidelity) experiences – and the LBE sector has started to see new deployment of “Mixed Reality” (MR), with both AR and XR applications investment growing, reflected at IAAPA-EMEA’22. One of the major aspects of the MR revolution is its removal of encumbrance, such as the need to wear bulky VR headsets and glasses-based display systems – or the need to wear PC backpacks. A new trend that seems to be gaining a lot of ground in the MR scene, as reflected at the show, was “Immersive Enclosures”. These are projection enclosures that offer game experiences, some of which build on the Active Entertainment approach, while also offering a physical game interface – bringing the physical to the digital.

One of the eye-catching groups of immersive enclosures on the show floor came from Valo Motion, who officially launched ‘ValoArena’ onto the market with a chance for delegates to get to grips with the computer vision platform. Players in groups of up-to-six took part in highly active game experiences, where their physical representation is placed into the game shown on screen, controlling the outcome. The company has already successfully installed their first ‘ValoArena’ at several locations in Europe, such as ‘SuperPark’ in Helsinki, ‘Hi-Fly’, ‘Abenteuerland’ and ‘MyJump’ trampoline parks in Germany, and the operators felt their young audience loved the combination of movement and game from this digital entertainment. Valo Motion revealed they have three US installations underway, with several other European sites looking to take delivery. The platform has been designed for activity parks and other indoor spaces, and offers a freeform game that requires no wearables to play, with the intent for maximum physical activity and social interaction for the players.

Exhibitor Attraktion! Placed their ‘PlayNeo’ platform front-and-center on their booth. Launched at last year’s IAAPA EMEA, the interactive entertainment enclosure has guests using their ‘ACTIVE SHIELDZ’ handheld interfaces to throw water, energy, or magic for different tasks during gaming, at the immersive 270-degree projection screen, supporting four-player action, with seven or up-to-20 players at the same time. The turnkey solution offers several experiences that are constantly in development. Also, the first three installations were announced for autumn this year, including well renowned ‘Two Bit Circus’, at their new Dallas, Texas location. At the same time, Attraktion! had a model showing the layout of their new immersive walkthrough attraction, ‘Jurassic’, where guests interact with lifelike species on huge projections and experience several games and rides. One ‘Jurassic Experience’ will tour next year through different locations, with two permanent sites announced for Saudi Arabia and Vienna, and plans for Austria in the upcoming spring. The company has been rolling out their attractions with news of their ‘Explorer 5D’, Stand Up Motion Theatres, with three new sites in 2022 opened in Germany, Austria, and Mexico. Again, for transparency, Attraktion! is a client of Spider Entertainment.

The deployment of object-throwing, screen-based enclosures was another aspect of the trends on display at the show. Developer PLAYMIND, who we have reported on previously, with their giant screen, ball throwing experiences, brought their new ‘PLAYBOX’ system, with a smaller footprint for indoor application, and a wide selection of multiplayer ball throwing game experiences for all ages. NeoXperiences came to the London show with two examples of their enclosed entertainment projection space for multiple players, alongside the ‘Neo-One’ running their football game (being actively played during the show). The company also showed their enclosure running their ‘Angry Birds’ license, complete with a physical catapult to launch the balls at the screen. 

Another example of immersive project enclosures was from Sports Simulator, who came to the London exhibition with their projection sports gaming and training system, offering over 60 sports, 1,500 game challenges, and 3,600 sporting venue experiences. The projection screen platform tracks the moving object and traces the trajectory into the game being played. The company has a new multi-play game experience, using a football game based on the tenpin bowling scoring system, to offer a new level of competition. 

The use of a projection enclosure was also seen on the SimWay booth, with two examples of their shooting experiences. The first was the four-player ‘Wild West’, offering a fun shooting gallery game style, while they also showed examples of the pistol target shooting, and rifle wildlife shooting experiences (‘Hunt Pro’) – much more realistic, offering a target shooting system that goes beyond just being a casual game.

Along with conventional projection enclosures, some unique applications were on display at IAAPA-EMEA’22, as seen from Australian developer Axiom Holographics. The company has been covered before in The Stinger Report, with their ‘Euclideon Entertainment’ facilities, and their crowd funding activities. The company had a holographic enclosure on the show floor, taking small groups to see the laser-light system in action. The company also announced they were working on an immersive dark ride style attraction based on this technology. 

MR Exergaming

Mixed Reality (MR) platforms were a continuing trend, and many of the companies we had reported on in previous IAAPA Europe show coverage were continuing to expand their operations. CSE Entertainment exhibited at the London show with their growing range of “Exergaming” competitive entertainment systems – these included the popular ‘iWall’, with the players’ body movements tracked and represented, controlling the game, through several fun sports games. But the company also showed the production versions of their ‘Cyclo Beat’, a pedal powered game system, with the players peddling and steering their racer in the game. Next to this was their ’Run Beat’ that has the players on a treadmill competing on screen. 

These “Active Entertainment” systems, deployed in schools, leisure fitness and entertainment venues, offer a compelling new game platform. PLEYO showed their ‘PleyoStation’ – a single-player trampoline style jumping attraction, with the player taking part in minigames using their movement to direct the action. The system can be networked for multiplayer, active, social entertainment. Another interesting physical interactive experience was from MagneTag High Tech Foam Combat – the company has rolled out their production version of what they like to call “lasertag meets Game of Thrones”, a foam combat game, with sensors that track the hits scored, to create a turnkey and fun scored attraction.

MR Entertainment 

The deployment of interactive elements into digital display and tracked entertainment has grown in the sector, along with that Edutainment approach, and several developers are offering “Gamification” to all aspects of Soft Play. During the London show, Digital Interactive Products had examples of their digital wall (‘Draw Alive’), surface projection system (‘Quantum Space’), and interactive projection sandbox. Another interactive educational and entertainment developer seen at the show was Kylii Kids, with their tracked treasure hunt system (‘Kylii Quest’) and their interactive game kiosk systems, brining digital fun to wherever the audience is. 

A new face seen on the show floor, coming from the Edutainment scene, was Sensory Cave, a company with their ‘Sensory Room Experience’ used by schools, malls, and leisure venues to offer entertainment for children with special needs, through light, sound, and other effects. Their ‘Controlled Audio-Visual Environment’ (CAVE) is developed to be robust to the needs of this sector and the company is now looking to turn their experience towards applying the same approach for sensory entertainment. The application of unique AR technology to existing amusement platforms was seen on the Interactive365 booth, bringing their ‘Augmented Reality Air Hockey’ to the show (as covered in our EAG’22 coverage). 

This level of sensory engagement was reflected on the IAAPA-EMEA floor with the growth of “Escape Room” providers, and how these systems are becoming more and more digitally based. Exhibitor GAME OVER Escape Rooms, from Greece, presented their unique ‘Cube Challenge’ designed attractions, offering highly themed, digitally controlled escape experiences. The company has fabricated over 400 room installations since starting. An example of innovation in this sector was represented by Swedish exhibitor, Prison Island AB, developers of the indoor adventure, with teams competing against other teams, through multiple rooms, achieving scores; and an example of the concept was seen on their booth. This is a concept that started in 2004 (long before the popularity of Escape Rooms) and the brand has been franchised across some 50 venues. Another example of the team-building social elements sweeping the sector.

MR Attractions

The ability to build immersive and physical entertainment spaces, as well as the new generation of Escape Room, Lasertag, and VR attraction arenas, has seen the emergence of a new breed of fabrication and development house. Many of those from Europe attended IAAPA-EMEA’22, and “Gamification” was the watchword as they showed off multidiscipline developments. 

One of those from the US that made the trip to the London show was Creative Works, taking a booth to promote their fabrication and VR platforms. The company is one of those that is working on new Competitive Socializing attractions, such as their ‘Lucky Putt’ digital mini-golf. The company is celebrating their 25th anniversary and coming off the heels of a successful ‘Amusement 360’ FEC conference seeing a record 90-attendee gathering, which also saw a tour of their new manufacturing operation warehouse.

The deployment of “Gamified” minigolf experiences across the sector has gathered pace. Along with Creative Works, Holovis and HOLOGATE have both launched their interpretations of the digitally enhanced golf experience. Holovis also exhibited at the, discussing their ‘360 Golf’ interactive platform, as well as revealing the ‘TiO’ – a new attraction that offers the players a choice between two different experiences, simultaneously, for 3D theaters. This is based on the polarised screen display technology that many of our readers will remember from our 2019 IAAPA-Orlando coverage – more details on these were hoped to be seen at IAAPA Orlando 2022. At the same time, Jora Vision exhibited at the show and brought an example of the interactive minigolf platform. The company also announced the opening of their new ‘RemarkaBall’ at ‘Dama Factory’ entertainment facility in France. The facility offers a social entertainment mix to the minigolf experience, with the use of the company’s new competitive game platform. Along with the tracked golf ball, the system uses RFID wristbands to collect players’ scores. 

Although not exhibiting at the show, the ‘IAAPA Indoor Entertainment Day’ seminar visited Immersive Gamebox, the operators and developers of another immersive enclosure platform. This system is offered as both a standalone LBE and a platform for facility inclusion, being rolled out internationally. The operation has pivoted towards homegrown content and includes licensed game experiences. Following on from their deal with Rovio for the ‘Angry Birds’ IP, the company announced a partnership with streaming media service Netflix, launching the ‘Squid Game’ experience, based on the Korean dystopian gameshow global smash hit series. This is part of a deal that will see other IP from Netflix turned into six-player, immersive, game-room content, including ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Bridgerton’ themed experiences. 

The use of licensed properties in the Out-of-Home Entertainment landscape is an important factor in the overall appeal of the industry to engage with the audience. Netflix has been involved in several attractions and experiences based on their properties. Most recently, the corporation announced, in Japan, a partnership with KidZania, in Fukuoka. The roleplaying children’s adventure park will now include a ‘Rilakkuma’s Theme Park Adventure’ – based on the soon-to-be-released streamed TV series. The adventure will have children working as a team to create stop-motion animation using special digital workstations. The series is planned to be streamed globally, but there is no word if other KidZania locations will be including the attraction at this point. 

Mixed Reality’s deployment into the karting scene was represented at the London show. First from Little Lion who, along with the immersive live experience venue projects (such as with ‘Crystal Maze’ and the ‘Tomb Raider Experience’), are also behind the ‘Chaos Kart’s projection go-karting experience – previously reported on by The Stinger Report at the London venue. This has now closed, and the company revealed they are working on a permanent Manchester, UK, venue to open in 2023, along with interest from other venues to include this into their attraction mix. One of the first developers of the concept of a projection space where karting can be taken to a new level of immersion was BattleKart. The company came to the IAAPA-EMEA event, promoting their already established 13 European facilities, and looking for franchise partners to expand their market.

Along with MR experiences incorporating projection, we have also seen Augmented Reality (AR) projects gaining momentum in the theme park and entertainment venue business. During IAAPA-EMEA 2022, we saw companies such as Lagotronics Projects, BoldMove Nation and others, showing smart device based augmented apps on mobile and tablet (as covered in our earlier report); and we have seen the first major deployments, such as in the UK at ‘LEGOLAND Windsor’ with their ‘MYTHICA Augmented Reality Experience’. We expect, at the Orlando show in November, to be reporting on many more new entrants to this field of development.

About the author

Kevin Williams

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The brainchild of two location-based experience enthusiasts, Christine Buhr and Brandon Willey, the LBX Collective aims to inform and educate, create opportunities to connect with industry peers, and to spur collaboration, discourse, and cross-pollination of ideas.

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