#1180 – Compelling Immersion Showing! Part 1

We see a crowded period of international shows and trade events following the holiday hiatus. This latest coverage breaks down these events and the trends that emerged or grew during them, along with the appearances of latest technology which are shaping the market. 

Asian Trade Investment

A packed selection of Asian events saw the holding of the Tokyo Game Show (TGS’23), organized by the CESA and promoting a strong social media element for the pivotal Japanese game festival. There was a major showing from publishers such as Square-ENIX, as well as a conjoined booth for SEGA/Atlus, to name some of the standout highlights. This consumer game show also revealed some of the realities to the last penetration of VR into the consumer scene.

One of the last of the territory’s shows for the year, GTI Asia China Expo celebrated the 15th anniversary of the event. GTI’23 was held at the Guangzhou convention trade center and attracted some 600 exhibitors. It was a mix of amusement, redemption, and attractions, targeted for the Asian scene. We will not go into too much detail regarding some reveals, as they will be reported on in our IAAPA coverage (such as from Ace Amusement and WAHLAP), but there were some unique presentations, along with the new generation of colorful crane and redemption machines that seem to spring eternal from the territory. Some new video along with this mix was seen with ‘Time Space’ from Jiuyou Animation. The innovation in VR was also in evidence. UNSURE presented several interesting amusements that are doubtful to get Western representation – one was their ‘Mini Pinball’ video, combining a prize element. 

Regarding the Chinese VR penetration, Owatch (Steki Amusement) was promoting what they are calling their move into “VR Series 2.0” – having partnered with European content provider Red Raion for VR ride film content on their new platforms, including their upscaled ‘VR Egg 360’, being the new generation of the once popular 9DF VR experiences. Also seen was their ‘VR Birdly Ride’ – a four-rider VR motion attraction. The company also presented ‘VR Beat Star’ – a two-seater “Ride Sim” styler VR amusement piece, entering the crowded market, and including interactive hand tracking within the game.

A new name in the Chinese scene, YHY VR World, showed a selection of new amusement VR variants, with an impressive motor-cross bike motion VR experience. This is a new upright VR shooter, using the visor shooting system, and with a new 360 rotational VR motion seat. Other more familiar names in the VR scene in this territory included the appearance of HERO VR and VART VR. Meanwhile, Movie Power showed their ‘VR Space Ride’ enclosure, along with their ‘VR Space Battle’ ride and their upright VR platforms. FuninVR also had on their crowded booth the new YAW2 motion seat system – a Western crowd funded VR motion seat system, focused initially on consumer deployment, but which is now looking for enterprise opportunities.

All these booths were deploying the Chinese manufacturer DPVR, E3 and new E4C VR headsets. The new E4C is the latest system from the company, hoping to continue their dominance in LBE VR in their territory. DPVR has announced their latest development in this sector with their DPVR P2 VR headset platform, dedicated for enterprise, with a focused LBE rollout schedule. Examples of the system were given in a sneak peek on the LEKE VR booth, being used on the company’s VR ride simulator. LEKE VR has previously partnered with HTC, deploying the VIVE Poro range. 

One of the unique platforms at GTi’23 that might also see Western landfall was from VAR Live – already famous for their ‘VAR Box’ platform that has made it to the West (this is represented through their partnership with Creative Works) and the upright VR kiosk was also seen in a new configuration called ‘NBA Box’ – this is a VR basketball property licensing the association (NBA China) brand and imagery. The kiosk has been modified with a standalone headset (PICO 4) to allow the player to move freely while sinking virtual hoops. 

Having been on test in the sector, at this time VAR Live are still evaluating a possible Western rollout – while initially focused on Asian sales. This will mark the latest attempt to field a VR basketball platform, and the latest to use an NBA license. Many will remember the ambitious VRstudios ‘FURY: Hoops Madness’ release from 2021. VAR Live has high hopes for the release and will be supporting the platform with an extensive tournament league table mode and competition. This is seen as a next-gen alternative to the traditional hoops machine.  

GTi’s importance for the international scene was also represented through the likes of the manufacturing partnership of L&B working with UDC in Europe and the UK. L&B had on their booth the new redemption piece ‘Silver Falls’ (also known as ‘Joyfull Ball’).

American Amusement Trade

A gathering of US events also took place in this window, such as the International Adventure & Trampoline Park Association (IATP) – many active entertainment parks are moving away from sitting on their laurels with just trampoline entertainment and looking at a mix. This included immersion, with exhibitor Valo Motion making an appearance at IATP’23 and finding much interest from operators’ need to widen their entertainment portfolio. It is also expected that the active entertainment revolution sweeping immersive tech currently will be finding its own level within this market (see coming IAAPA-EU’23 coverage).

Days after the China mega event and, in the West, a few pivotal amusement trade events took place. In North America there was the trade “AAMA Annual Metting & Gala” – with the Chicago event supporting the trade association. Acting as a meeting and social networking event, supporting board meetings and the filling of committee positions, under the theme of “celebrating our past, crafting our future”, new Hall of Fame inductees gathered. The hosting Renaissance Chicago hotel ballroom was turned over to key distributor and amusement manufacturers to show guests new releases planned for full rollout in 2024. 

Once again, selected groups visited local factories, and Raw Thrills threw open their R&D operation – secret new releases in development were shown, as well as the company confirming an increased commitment to VR developments, which will be seen in November (expect a special report on the news concept to be revealed at the show). Most of these new releases at Gala will be covered in depth when they are shown to the greater industry in the coming weeks. Speaking of VR, it was revealed that the findings from the association’s VR division’s survey of operators and manufacturers of the technology will be published before IAAPA Orlando in the coming weeks, with some interesting nuggets on VR operation in the trade to be revealed.  

Jump forward a matter of days and Creative Works held the second of their “Amusement360” bootcamps for the year. In attendance as a senior presenter at these gatherings was Stinger Report publisher, and Spider Entertainment co-founder, covering the subject of how best to apply immersive technology into the broadening FEC arena. Giving the senior presentation on the application of immersive technology into the FEC venue, the trade event showcase included demonstrations of the latest VR hardware, with a ‘LimitlessVR’ (Creative Works) VR lasertag arena, and the upright ‘VAR Box’ (VAR Live) VR kiosks.

The highly social and inclusive Amusement360 atmosphere was front and center during the three-day event and, for the first time, the second day venue visit took attendees to ‘Break 9 Golf’. This is a social entertainment golf shooting range venue, celebrating its first year of operation and employing gamification into the social experience. Industry suppliers, speakers and sponsors mingled with the record attendance to this important learning and growing event. Of the host of operator interviews, a unique element of the event’s conference schedule was a special session with Five Star Parks owners, who are in the news regarding an aggressive acquisition program; and they revealed the thinking behind their investment into growth.  

First Part – IAAPA Europe Expo

Beautiful Austrian weather greeted those making the trip to Vienna for the beer at Oktoberfest – vying with the mass of attendees that travelled to the destination for the International Association of Amusement Park and Attractions European Expo (IAAPA-EU’23). This was the major European gathering for the EMEA (Europe Middle East and Africa) sectors – and for many who cannot attend the US event.

This was going to prove a record-breaking event, even before its doors opened. Vienna would see over 600 exhibitors across the three halls of the Messe Wien Exhibition center. We will attempt to cover the key trends and innovation in the immersive scene that were evident at the show.   

Immersive Attractions

Kicking off the action and the main halls saw “Immersive Attractions” making their mark with the leading exhibitors. TRIOTECH announced the opening of an interactive dark coaster at Lagoon Park, named ‘Primordial’. Meanwhile, in collaboration with SEVEN, TRIOTECH announced their involvement in a new immersive dark ride based on the ‘Transformers’ IP – the latest major IP the company has worked on since their ‘PUBG’ work in Korea. The company. partnered with other exhibitors on the show floor, such BoldMove, applying their interactive skill set towards specialist development. During the show, BoldMove also presented their ‘Fusion: Dark Ride’, which is focusing on a 900-“participants”-per-hour (p-p-h) throughput with an interactive element. 

Immersive attractions and dark rides have been driving new investment and the success of these project was seeing results with several significant awards from the trade. Sally Dark Rides was recognized by the trade association and leaders in the scene for their ‘Uncharted: The Enigma of Penitence’ at EuropaPark – winning best new coaster. This followed the success of ‘Sesame Street: Street Mission’ at PortAventura World

4D and immersive theater attractions played a big part of work in development at IAAPA-EU’23. Kraftwerks Technology took an impressive booth premiering their work in immersive flying theaters and traditional large format environments, with new dome screen designs on display. Meanwhile, UK-based Simworx promoted on their booth their new ‘Metro Mayhem’ concept, alongside their new ‘Pegasus’ flying theatre, offering a scalable and dynamic ride seating system. Also present was thejuice at the Vienna show, promoting their extensive content library with some exciting new  – including new flying theatre content. They have also extended their services to offer Creative Designs, enabling a full turnkey package using either existing films or creating custom made content. Regarding flying theater and 4D motion theater experiences, content providers nWave demonstrated their own selection of latest moves. Also exhibiting was Red Raion – the CGi studio came with a slew of new 4D and large format films in the works, along with their extensive library. As we reported previously, we are seeing their films appear in Chinese VR installations, as with their partnership with Owatch (Steki Amusement) and their “VR Series 2.0”. Split Light Studio came to IAAPA-EU’23 demonstrating a selection of their VR 4D ride film properties, including ‘Motoride’, ‘Pirates 3D’, and ‘Solar system’ – on a motion seat with physical effects. 

Defining a year of major attraction work, Brogent Technologies, was showing their ‘i-Ride’ dome flying theater property, along with several successful simulator attraction installations under their belt. The company is also working to deploy their ‘miRide’ racing 6DoF simulator platform, with aspirations to open their own eSports venues. Speaking of “RaceSims” on the IAAPA-Europe’23 show floor, Wave Italy – Immersive Racing presented their monocoque F1 racing sim and their design focused ‘Ghepard Maranello’ GT sim system. This is a system aimed at prosumer and center deployment. The company is active in the eSports national scene, with their own “Wave Italy Racing Team” (WIRT). 

Also on the show floor was ImSim, with a selection of their compact platforms, now not just catering for race sim business but also looking to be applied to flying and even roller-coaster deployment – all with a commercial and prosumer variation. Developer ViPa Evenmodule offered a selection of simple and highly mobile attractions, one such being their motion-base racing platform that also supports virtual reality racing.

Speaking of new investment into RaceSim activity, news was also revealed from the Competitive Socializing scene, with F1 Arcade announcing their fourth site (US second), with a 17,000-sq.ft. facility to be opened in 2024 in Washington DC. The site will comprise some 80 of their sims – the largest installation to date. F1 Arcade has already announced their first US site, scheduled for an early 2024 Boston opening. The changing market and the growth of various trends reflected on the show-floor, are now opening on the high street. 

VR and motion simulator racing was represented on the Virtual Play Zone booth during IAAPA-EU’23, with the company showing their motion-base ‘Virtual Play’ racing platform, supporting VR and flatscreen gaming. The company’s booth also included projection-based experiences such as an AR climbing wall and interactive screen – representing some Chinese products, and VR arcade designs.

Virtual Reality Platforms 

The major trending technology of immersive experiences are represented in the many variants at the Vienna show. First off was “VR” and the application of head-mounted display technology. One of the industry leaders coming to the IAAPA-EU’23 was HOLOGATE – the company presented their ‘HOLOGATE Arena’ and ‘HOLOGATE Blitz’ platforms, running their Ghostbusters licensed content. The company also presented ‘HOLOGATE TowerTag Battlezone’ all part of their new VR 2.0. investment into next-gen experiences. One of the big presentations on their booth, away from the VR products, was the full presentation of the production version of ‘HOLOGATE HyperGolf’ – a full interactive, digital scoring, and futuristic golfing experience. This was one of many social entertainment-based new platforms on the crowded show floor. The company has completed development of their highly stylish, neon infused golfing system – with its nine high-tech courses and illuminated ball.

Several Chinese exhibitors in the VR parks scene made the trip to exhibit at IAAPA-Europe. Developers included Longcheng Electronics (VIRT) with their ‘VR Motion’ 360 dual rider system. Exhibitor Virtual Reality Tech (FuninVR) from China had the usual motorbike VR system, rocking a DPVR headset and single seat VR sim, but also had the unusual personal locomotive ‘Virtual Marine’ system – players strap their feet into the unit that physically turns and steers the player round the virtual environment, via shifting their body weight. This version was using a PICO headset. An interesting personal interface, although the safety hazard seems to negate this for European or any Western consideration. From Thailand, MetaverseXR was promoting their range of VR services and VR arcade concepts. Also exhibiting was Movie Power with their VR 2.0 range of systems, including their own kiosk shooting system, using a PICO visor, while their ‘Space-Time Shuttle’ VR ride continued to use DPVR.  

Motion VR simulators were also seen from exhibitors such as Modimage, showing their inflatable motion-base VR system (‘Rafting Adventure’), and their Jurassic Park inspired motion VR capsule – all using off the shelf Meta Quest 2 headsets. Meanwhile, the ‘Santa Clause Sleigh VR Simulator’ was offering VR-based Christmas experiences from Metaverum/NDK Attractions – also using Quests. One of the early pioneers of VR two-seated ride simulators, Stereolife, came to the IAAPA-Europe event with their latest platform – with a proven track record in VR installation from the first, the company hopes to shake off the impact of the Global Health Crisis on their growth and continue on a new trajectory. The company was showing a suite of VR ride experiences on their two-rider platform.

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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