#1138 – Entertainment’s Pomp & Majesty – Part 2

Continuing our expansive coverage of Europe’s biggest amusement, attractions, and entertainment expo, along with details of developments impacting the international scene. In this second part, we cover the continuing VR impact across the attractions, rides, and even waterpark entertainment aspects of the sector.

IAAPA Expo Europe 2022 (IAAPA-EMEA’22)

VR Attractions

The latest “Virtual Reality” (VR) developments at IAAPA-EMA’22 were front and center and, as we have touched upon before, the current VR LBE sector is split into at least five core sections – these being “VR Attractions”, “VR Rides”, “VR Kiosks”, “VR Arenas”, “VR Free-roam” and even “VR Waterplay”.

The development of compelling “VR Attractions” has gained momentum, as experience is learned from previous iterations. Frontgrid presented the latest version of their technology with ‘ParadropVR – Pod’, with the compact motion paragliding experience offered a unique game, with players able to compete, flying through various alpine courses, able to generate scores from the rings collected, and with the virtual environment viewed using the HP Reverb VR headset. The company had also revealed their latest installation at the ‘RAF Museum Midlands’, in the UK. The visitor attraction is based on the ‘ParadropVR – Rize’ platform, offering visitors the chance to experience a virtual parachute drop based on the experiences of the RAF Falcon’s parachute display team (having celebrated their 60th anniversary last year). The installation is placed in the museum’s ‘Flight Zone’ exhibition. 

Several exhibitors had “VR Ride” experiences on display – using VR headsets on motion platforms to offer VR experiences. The use of this technology as a dedicated attraction was seen on the Mack Rides booth at the show, as the attraction’s developer brought along their ‘AIRIFIC VR’ four-rider motion seat system. This is a VR version of the ‘AIRIFIC’ dome flying theater system (developed through their new division Tacumeon Rides), and the VR experience at the show was presenting the ‘Voletarium’ theater film from the new ‘EuropaPark’ attraction. The dome ride film was rendered for viewing on the PICO G2 VR headset, used by the company, who were alongside their partner division VRCoaster at the show. The company also presented their ‘Swim VR’ (diving theater) attraction, and their partnership on the ‘VR Bumpercar’ platform (all employing the PICO headset technology).

On their booth, TAA Group from Spain showed their ‘VR 360° Adventure’ – a demonstration system, with four riders sitting on a motion platform, while looking at a virtual water ride experience, through PICO G2 VR headsets. Several exhibitors had VR as a seasonal entertainment attraction offering. The Season Group had an example of their VR ride systems, with up-to-six riders sitting on the themed motion platform that includes effects and wearing VR headsets to experience either ‘Magical Sleigh Ride VR’, ‘Jungle Boar VR’, or ‘Halloween Cart Ride VR’. Another exhibitor showing a seasonal VR experience was Metaverum d.o.o., with their ‘Santa Claus Sleigh VR’, again with a motion sleigh and effects, while the riders experience a Christmas ride with Santa Claus, all viewed on the PICO G2 VR headset. 

German exhibitor ViPa Eventmodule GmbH had a demonstration system on their booth, allowing attendees to experience their ‘Motion Thinkness’ motion base and VR system, using a HP Reverb headset, able to be configured to VR racing experiences with steering controls (see our reporting on the Sim Racing scene at this years’ show previously in the report).

VR Self-Service

The “VR Kiosk” aspect of the market has been one area seeing an incredible investment, with numerous new developers entering the fray. But for some reason IAAPA London seemed to only have two examples on display. We have already mentioned the ‘VR Agent’ system from SEGA Amusement International

The other example in the self-service VR kiosk scene was from Cloud4VR. The company comes from an extensive background in operating VR arcades and has taken this experience to launch their self-service VR gaming kiosk, called the ‘Kiosk4VR’, which is connected to the company’s content library, billing software and player interface, to offer a complete package for operation. The system is supported by a QR code based digital wallet payment feature for complete self-service, including support of the Nayax cashless system. The upright kiosk includes a 65’’ LCD screen, and HTC VIVE Pro VR headset. The company was promoting the kiosk as having already been deployed on the Finish ‘TallinkSilja Cruise Lines’ and at the ‘Särkänniemi Amusement Park’, and they have now come to the London show to sell direct into the market.

Expectations that we would have seen other VR kiosk examples were dashed, as the proximity of the IAAPA-EMEA event to the IAAPA Orlando marathon were just too close. Expenses of international shipping and development lead times made sure that we will have to wait until the Florida show to see the new developments in this emerging scene. 

The current conditions were felt across Europe and the UK by some exhibitors at the show. Springboard VR had hoped to demonstrate a range of their latest free-roaming VR content on their booth but was unable to due to transportation issues – although they still came to the event. The company part of Vertigo Arcade represents the largest VR content distributor to VR arcades internationally, but is also part of a larger game development corporation focused heavily on the rollout of new content for the consumer VR platforms.

VR Arenas & Free-Roam

One of the leading deployments of multi-player VR experiences has been with “VR Arenas”, and one of the leading providers of this approach is HOLOGATE. The company has over-400 installations of their leading VR platform, with an example on the show floor, offering four players the change to take part in the latest game experience. The company has developed ‘Ghostbusters VR Academy’, based on the popular property, offering players a chance to train to become a ghost hunter, working as a team to capture the supernatural apparitions. Shown in a demo version for the show, this was a very impressive experience, using HTC VIVE Pro2 headsets and bHaptics ‘TactSuit’ to add to the experience.  HOLOGATE also revealed they have a new multiplayer VR platform which they will be revealing at the IAAPA Orlando show in November (watch this space for more details). Along with their VR offering, HOLOGATE presented, for the first time at the London show, their new mini-golf platform – ‘Hyper-Golf’. Two cases of their digitally enhanced golf system were on display, incorporating illuminated balls, and digital scoring. The system is already installed at the company’s ‘HOLOGATE World’ facility in Germany.

The ability to offer free movement within the VR environment has been driving the latest phase of adoption of immersive technology, with “VR Free-Roam” offered both as PC backpack-based or headset based, depending on the mobile processor performance of the headset. IAAPA London had several examples on display. 

SPREE Interactive have established themselves as a key developer of the family-friendly style of free-roaming, with their own enclosure platform. The ‘SPREE Arena’ was in full operation during the show, with up-to-ten players being able to enjoy immersive family experiences on the PICO Neo 3 headset. The company will have installed the system as a free-roaming experience in 100 locations by the end of the year. SPREE and I.E Park presented at the show the next phase of their investment in the space, with their ‘VR Bumper Car’ attraction, licensed by VR Coaster. On the I.E. Park booth, an electric floor bumper car system was demonstrated, with four vehicles driving around the space, while the drivers used PICO Neo 3 headsets to view the virtual playspace.  While I.E Parks had on their booth the electric floor version, across on the Eurogames booth, an example of the battery powered bumper car version of the system, for smaller venue deployment, was shown. 

VEX Solutions came to IAAPA-EMEA’22 with two examples of their free-roaming arena platforms. The first being the hyper-reality ‘VEX Adventure 2.0’ – a system that comprises all the physical effects, and multi-player features of the previous backpack PC style experiences, but VEX showed a version running from PICO Neo 3 hardware, while still offering high-end features including the use of a bHaptics vest system, as well as the vibration, heat, wind effects, and scent, of the enclosure. All this and the new version also increases usage, moving from four- to six-player simultaneous operation (boosting a throughput from 16 to 36 players an hour). Next to this, the company also had their ‘VEX Arena’ system – a more cost-effective free-roam experience, using the PICO headset and coming in a flexible size and operation platform. The team at VEX revealed that the company has grown their North American partnership with Shaffer Distribution, now being supported by Amusement Products towards fully covering the VEX VR range in the territory.

Presenting their new designed platform for the first time, Hero Zone came to the London show with their VR arena, which now deploys the HTC Focus 3 headsets. The company has been actively working on updating their platform to phase three hardware and offering a great, six-player, turnkey VR platform, building on the experience gathered by the company from their previous releases. Now offering an eye-catching design, full turnkey operation and adopting the latest technology, the company saw several sales off their booth for the new system. And for the sake of transparency, we need to confirm that Hero Zone has been working with Spider Entertainment.

A new exhibitor to the European scene, LooperSpace, is an Italian developer of free-roaming VR arena experiences, and the company brought an example of their six-player VR platform (also offering an eight-player version). It incorporates a turnkey loading system, using QR codes to register the players, and playing one of five different experiences. Along with a haptic vest, the system was using ‘Meta Quest2’ VR headsets and controllers, but the developer confirmed they can support other headsets and were looking at updating to other available systems that operators preferred. 

The attractions industry has been working hard to embrace the latest technology, and this has seen even the lasertag arena scene look at new implementation of VR as a cost-effective addition to the mix. Exhibitor Lasertag.Net came to IAAPA-EMA’22 with the selection of lasertag systems – already operated throughout Europe and internationally, at some 1,200 venues. These included their new ‘Vion VR’ platform – able to support up-to-ten players in one game, the Standalone VR system (using at the show ‘Meta Quest 2’ VR headsets) offers the full freedom of a free-roam experience, through five maps, without the need for a PC backpack or tracking restrictions. The players wield their ‘Falcon VR Blaster’, that incorporates realistic recoil based on the lasertag experience – all managed by an operator on one laptop. 

One of the surprise finds of the show was from 4D motion theater and attraction specialist Moviemex3D. The company had on their booth a demonstration of their ‘VR Dungeon’, a free-walking VR adventure, sitting in a small footprint enclosure. The guest wears the PICO Neo 3 and their controller, and walks around the virtually generated environment, with the company offering ‘Haunted House’, ‘Forest’, and ‘Mayan Adventure’. The experiences offer a unique adventure as you navigate the space and prove compelling. This is a fun experience in a simple package for any operator to consider. This product sits alongside the company’s ‘VR Theaters’ and ‘VR Simulator’ attractions. Having installed their attractions across 40 countries, they are now looking towards expanding their international placement. 

Free-roaming VR experiences have continued to open new locations across the international market. In the wake of the collapse of their relationship with TheVOID, the Walt Disney Corporation signed an agreement (in 2020) with the SoReal development operation, to supply VR experiences based on Disney property. The fruit of this opened at the ‘Shanghai Disneyland Resort’ at the beginning of September, with the ‘Hyperspace SoReal VR’ venue in the resort’s Disneytown area. The venue comprises several experiences ranging from VR motorbike and car racing, VR parachuting, and even a VR unicorn ride. All this and the SoReal free-roaming shooting experience. This first flagship site will be used to evaluate the success of the VR entertainment concept towards rolling out across other of the Chinese Disney venues and beyond. SoReal is owned by Skylimit Entertainment, who have developed their ‘SoReal’ chain of VR venues in the territory.

VR Water Attractions

One of those aspects of the application of immersive gamification to that has come as a surprise is that regarding “VR Waterplay” – special waterproof VR headset deployment. Falling into the Active Entertainment sphere, the water park representation on the show floor at IAAPA London saw the inclusion of these systems. On the Wiegand Waterrides exhibition booth was Ballast Technologies, showing their ‘VRSlide’ and ‘DIVR’ platforms, with examples of their slide and floom headsets, and the new design for the VR snorkel on display. These systems are already seeing deployment at several water parks (most recently announcing their ‘Kalahari Resort installation), proving a compelling utilization of virtual technology. 

While not exhibiting, attending in person was Virtual Reality Slide, the developers of their own ‘Virtual Reality Snorkelling’ platform, offering immersive experiences that can be deployed in swimming pools, supported with their ‘Virtual Reality Slide’, a waterslide and floom ride immersive experience, both using their waterproof VR headset. The company has added to this with ‘VR Watergames’, a four-player team-based VR game, aimed for swimming pool deployment, turning the pool into its own immersive arena. The company has recently launched ‘VR Skyrider’, that allows a VR headset to be used in sync with a Zippcoaster, Zippline, or Skyrider suspended attraction, using a PICO G2 headset. Now applying what we had seen with VR rollercoasters to ziplines. 

Also showing on their own booth, AQUARENA, a manufacturer and developer of waterpark slides and water attractions, also presented the ‘VR-Plunge’ system – another example of a VR snorkel design, which seems to be a growing trend in the waterpark scene, as well as bringing monetization to neglected resort and hotel swimming pools.

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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