#1149 – Immersive Entertainment Shines in Orlando – Part 4

This marks the fourth-part of our International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA’22) convention coverage.

Reporting on the major trends shaping the investment of immersive technology into the amusement and attractions scene, and we have VR Kiosks. The development of the “unattended” VR amusement platforms continued apace, with several examples on display, having gathered momentum over the last few months as a popular platform for amusement deployment. 

Along with examples on the Creative Works booth (representing the VAR Live and VRstudios platforms), the VRsenal booth showed their new slimline ‘Monolith’ platform. Gone was the VR headset retention system, and it now offers a new sturdy headset cable which the company has specially developed in cooperation with HTC, towards surviving the abuse of amusement deployment without the expensive retention system, as with previous designs. The company is also looking to sell the cable system to existing operators of current HTC based VR amusement systems, to address this point of failure. 

On their new small footprint VR kiosk, which includes a 4k LED monitor on the front, VRsenal revealed their brand-new shooter ‘Zombiland: Headshot Fever’. Developed in partnership with Sony Pictures, the game offers two players the ability to navigate the world of the popular movie series – shooting hordes of approaching zombies and scoring high for accuracy to progress through the game’s stages. The game on the ‘Monolith’ incorporated the gun mounted onto the VR headset, so the player is able to use the headset as a viewer for easier use. An example of the same approach was applied on the SEGA VR shooter ‘VR Agent’. Another game presented on the VRsenal platform was ‘Synth Riders Arcade’ – a beat music rhythm game, hoping to fill the vacuum left by the removal of ‘Beat Saber’ from the commercial entertainment scene.  

In fact, one of the major trends amongst the VR platforms at this year’s IAAPA was “the search for the next Beat Saber”! This referred to the loss of the hugely popular music game VR experience from Beat Games, that had been removed from commercial entertainment deployment, forced on them following their acquisition by Meta. Removing ‘Beat Saber Arcade’ by VRsenal, along with all the other licensed games from VR arcades, removed one of the few universal strong-earning VR titles. Now the VR sector was being filled by companies releasing “clones” of the music game to fill this vacuum, and the IAAPA convention saw numerous launches of hopefuls to capture this lightning in a bottle.

Another entrant to the unattended VR kiosk scene come with the latest version of the partnership between BoxBlaster and Benchmark Games, with the new version of ‘Gold and Mace’. The unattended VR kiosk has the HTC Vive Pro headset and controller tethered to the cabinet for players to be able to jump straight into the fun cartoon experience, configured as a VR redemption game. This is a new version of the concept, having abandoned the original headset and controls retention system for a simpler design, still representing one of the first ticket redemption VR games. The production prototype version of the system was on display at the show, with plans for the final version to be released early next year.  

A developer working in the sphere of immersive attractions is VRPark – known for their seasonal VR ride experience ‘Santa’s Sleigh’, allowing riders to enjoy a flight through a snowy Christmas wonderland. The company also used the show to launch their new ‘VRPark Gaming Station’ – a unique kiosk that allows two VR headsets to be connected to a simple base-station. The tethered HTC VR headsets are connected to a platform that offers some 400 games on demand, with titles such as ‘Fruit Ninja’ and ‘Angry Birds’ available. 

Another exhibitor with a selection of seasonal VR ride experiences was Martin & Vleminckx – the company had on their booth the ‘VR Jungle Boat Ride’, with four riders sitting on a themed motion platform wearing PICO Neo headsets, while enjoying a virtual ride experience. The company has also developed their ‘Magical Sleigh Ride’ based on the same principal, along with a Halloween experience. There were also examples from VRLEO USA – proclaimed as the “World’s First Self-Service VR Kiosk”. The company had examples on display of their kiosk system, with its retracting mechanism for the VR headset (now supporting the ThreeGlasses VR headset), as well as a built-in UV disinfecting process when retracted. 

Another new platform adding to the long list of VR kiosks seen at IAAPA’22 was the built-to-impress, ‘PORTALX’ VR tower, a collaboration between SynthesisVR, XR Immersive Tech, and VirtuaWerks. ‘PORTALX’ incorporates over 20-years of experience developing commercial systems and aims at reinventing the classic arcade experience for virtual reality. Harnessing the power of the SynthesisVR platform and its extensive content library, the VR tower has a modular interface, allowing multiple gameplay modes, the latest VR headset in HTC Focus 3, custom video playback, online statistics, and leader-board visualizations with optional player profile support, along with other features.

Moving towards another major trend in immersive tech shaping the attraction and amusement scene, we have VR Arenas & Enclosures. Industry leader HOLOGATE took one of the many crowded booths that defined the expansive 2022 IAAPA gathering, as the company basked in major new developments. First off was the production version of ‘Ghostbusters VR Academy’, developed in partnership with Sony Pictures Virtual Reality and in collaboration with Ghost Corps. The ‘HOLOGATE Arena’, with its four VR tethered HTC Vive Pro headsets and haptic vests, places the players in the shoes of apprentice Ghostbusters. This will be one of the biggest new game releases for the Arena platform that has seen installation across some 400 locations globally. Also on display was the ‘HOLOGATE Blitz’ VR motion simulator, having players take the wheel of a prototype ECTO vehicle that is put through its paces.   

These games will be the first major VR experience based on the movie IP since the ‘Ghostbusters: Dimension’ experience released by TheVOID in 2016. It was also announced that the consumer VR scene will be seeing its own releases with ‘Ghostbusters: Rise of the Ghost Lord’, developed by nDreams for Sony Pictures Virtual Reality studio, planned for a Meta Quest 2 and Sony PSVR2 release in 2023. This will be the latest consumer VR release since Sony’s critically panned ‘Ghostbusters VR: Firehouse and Showdown’, on the original Sony PSVR in 2018.

The other big release on the booth was the appearance of ‘TowerTag Battlezone’ – the latest version of the popular VR multiplayer competitive shooter that established the strength of eSports-based VR experiences. Working in partnership with HOLOGATE, the developers of TowerTag have created a unique physical arena with physical towers that are married into the VR experience for players to dodge between as they blast their opponents. The virtual reality lasertag experience is running on the HTC Focus 3, for up-to-eight players, with an arena space that is flexible. HOLOGATE also promoted their interactive mini-golf platform ‘Hyper Golf’, one of several exhibitors at IAAPA’22 promoting the next generation of social entertainment infused golfing.

Another of the crowded booth, and one of the busiest areas of the IAAPA’22 show floor was at Creative Works. The company had turned their presentation up to eleven and were rocking a group of booths that comprised the latest VR and interactive entertainment innovation. The big news was surrounding the launch of their new ‘LimitlessVR’ – an eight-to-16-player free-roaming platform (expanded up to a maximum of 16-players). Building off the extensive lasertag arena experience of the company, they have developed a free-roaming platform that incorporates physical walls and barriers that are represented in the virtual experience, bringing physicality to the virtual world. The platform was shown as a turnkey arena platform at the show, which can be expanded, as well as a version of the system that can be deployed in conjunction to an existing lasertag arena, mapping the virtual gameplay with the physical environment available. The system showed off a simple turnkey approach with special enclosures for the HTC Focus 3 headsets deployed for the games, and a touchscreen registration and launch kiosk. The system has already been deployed in a beta version at several sites and was the object of much interest during the show. 

Creative Works has partnered with several innovators in the VR scene, and the latest fruit of these efforts was seen with the inclusion of VRstudios presenting their ‘Fury: Solo’ VR kiosk running ‘Football Frenzy’. The company had the fast-paced American Football game running on the VRsenal ‘Monolith’ cabinet – the game is the latest in the sports-themed VR experiences developed for the Fury platform, that can also be installed on other VR kiosks. The game incorporates a strong tournament element and competition is supported through VRstudios’ AMP management platform. This is a game that is easy to pick up, and it appeals to a large part of the player-base, with the company working on the eSports element of the game.

The other VR kiosk developer at the show was VAR Live – the Korean developer announced its partnership with Creative Works at the show, who will now be representing the ‘VAR BOX’ upright kiosk through their extensive sales operation. Examples of the latest ‘VAR BOX’ were on the Creative Works booth, with a selection of tournament-based games (supported by a smart app), with the new version of the VR kiosk now employing the PICO Neo 3 VR headset. It was confirmed that the platform’s association with the “VR Collective” (representing Bob Cooney, Trainertainment, Shaffer Distribution and AVS) will continue, although the collective is focusing its efforts on educating operators on the opportunities in deploying VR in their entertainment mix, other than pure product representation, along with other projects in the works. 

The very crowded and popular Creative Works series of booths was overflowing with VR goodness, including their own developed and previously launched ‘SpongBob SquarePants VR: Dynamic Duo’ a two-player experience. Next to this was the HyperDeck VR attraction – represented through a special partnership with Creative Works and MajorMega. The unique four-player motion floor and effects enclosure, has players using the unique weapons system to blast virtual opponents while experiencing an immersive attraction. IAAPA’22 marked the preview of a brand-new game for the system – called ‘Die Zombies!’. Shown in an early production version, the undead blaster had players aboard a futuristic, time travelling, quadcopter, navigating the apocalyptic cityscape looking for the cure. The game was great fun and utilized the unique attraction elements of the ‘Hyperdeck’ platform – and harked back to the feel of the classic arcade shooter. We look forward to seeing the reaction to this new game when released next year.

Creative Works also had on their booth the latest version of the ‘Lucky Putt’ interactive mini-golf platform, with automated courses, and the use of their unique tracking and scoring platform. This was one of several such examples seen across the show floor. Meanwhile, the company also promoted their extensive lasertag arena, escape room, and FEC fabrication. Having moved into a new warehouse and manufacturing hub, 2023 looks to mark a major period of expansion for the corporation. For the sake of transparency, The Stinger Report owners worked with Creative Works as well as VRstudios.

Another of the tethered VR enclosures on display at the show was from Boxblaster VR – the company had their cost-effective platform on display, which can accommodate up-to-four players at a time, with a selection of the latest VR games together. The company has also partnered with Benchmark Games on a single player VR kiosk platform that we have reported on earlier. 

Virtuix – the company was celebrating the 60th installation of the ‘Omni Arena’ platform made during July, located at ‘Xtreme Action Park’, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And at the show they had an example of the arena system running the latest game content, having announced ‘Rhythm Master’ – the Beat Saber-esque VR rhythm game, representing the eighth game on the VR arena platform. The popularity of the machine is cemented by its built-in eSports competition element, supported by a $100,000 prize pool sponsored by Virtuix, seeing strong repeat play from competitors. The company had, last year, raised $19m in online investment (through SeedInvest) towards launching their new ‘Omni One’ VR treadmill for consumer VR and looks to increase its presence in the commercial sector.

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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