#1148 – Immersive Entertainment Shines in Orlando – Part 3

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

What was clearly a major trend on display at IAAPA’22 was the deployment of Immersive Enclosures. We would place them in the MR category, with their immersive screen technology, and there has been a growing trend in immersive display enclosures using projection and flat display technology. The enclosure systems using immersive displays were represented from several developers. One of the familiar exhibitors was Axiom Holographics with their ‘AXIOM’ platform, which we have reported on from IAAPA-EMEA’22 and many years of appearance. This is the holographic immersive display company that has seen its platform deployed in Australia. 

One of the latest developments was the inclusion of “Computer Vision” to the experience, so able to track the player, and even place their representation into the game. Valo Motion had a popular booth on the show floor, showing off for the first time, for many, their ‘ValoArena’. The enclosure system builds on the immersive computer vision experience, with up-to-six players moving their bodies as represented on the two screens, seeing their actual avatars on screen. The games are fun and frantic and make great use of the technology. The company has already installed ten units worldwide and the technology was recognized by the trade association, receiving a Brass Ring award.

INOWIZE – Well known for their VR arena platform, the company had an example of their ‘Arkadia’ six-player tethered VR enclosure, running HTC Vive Pro headsets and weapons. But, alongside this, the company revealed their brand-new product with the ‘QBIX’ – an interactive portal for fun. The turnkey enclosure comprises three interactive projection screens that surround six players within the VR arena, with each player having a controller that is tracked and used to shoot the cartoon alien hoard, in games lasting between five-to-eight-minutes. This new immersive enclosure system marks a new trend in the market for interactive screen-based experiences, that was also seen on other booths.

A demonstration of a projected environment mixing rendered images and interactive elements came from Soft Play, playground and play specialists. The enclosed space used sophisticated projection to create the illusions of the walls and shelves of a sorceress’ workshop, while at the same time players using special interface pucks were able to control the items on the shelves and throw around items using magic – attempting to discover secrets and unlock puzzles. This was a concept of what the company feels could be a new level of immersive engagement.  

Another company that was too busy to exhibit on the show floor but was in the middle of major rollout, was Attraktion! – having launched their ‘PlayNeo’ at IAAPA-EMEA’22, with their immersive enclosure system available in ‘Box’, ‘Trapeze’ and ‘360 Arena’ configurations, supporting from four-to-12 players. The first successful installation was seen at the second, newly opened, Two Bit Circus location in Dallas. 

A company employing a LED giant wide screen was Playmind, with their ‘Playbox’ – as we covered in our IAAPA-EMEA’22 coverage, the system accommodates up-to-six players, with a selection of some 15-games available, with players throwing the balls at the screen. This was the indoor version of the system, and the company also makes large outdoor entertainment versions, which we have reported on from IAAPA’19. 

Moving beyond the show floor of IAAPA’22 and the motivation in the Competitive Gaming space was considerable, with news regarding investments made into several developers. One such was Immersive Gamebox, who announced raising $20m in funding through Harlan Capital Partners, with plans to use this investment to open some 250 locations in the next three years. The operation has moved from a standalone venue model, to being included in other facilities as seen with their ‘Gravity Wandsworth’ installation – with their immersive enclosures supporting up-to-six players. 

Another announcement was from TOCA Football – the tech-based football training operation, using a projection-based, tracked, soccer football skill training platform. The company announced, in October, a ten-year partnership with Major League Soccer (MLS), planning to grow the sport in North American. This builds on the already established 28 training venues in the US and Canada, branded ‘TOCA Soccer’, and is expected to grow considerably. At the same time, the partnership will be involved with the social entertainment and hospitality brand ‘TOCA Social’, with the MLS involvement in growing the penetration of this operation in the States.  

Returning to the Orlando show floor, and at IAAPA’22 another exhibitor showing a sports-based immersive enclosure system was BatFast Sports – the company had an example of their ‘BatFast Baseball’ enclosure, launching balls at the players, through a video projection screen. The automated pitching and ball tracking system offers a modern take on the traditional batter’s cage. This platform has been used in the Social Entertainment scene, most recently in the Sixes Cricket Club chain of competitive socializing venues in the UK.

Funovation – The experts in small footprint attractions for the FEC and entertainment scene used the Orlando show to launch their latest interactive enclosure, with the ‘Laser Maze Challenge 3’, building on the success of the previous laser maze enclosure system. This new platform includes a game style called “Entrapment” – borrowing heavily from the famous laser tripwire scene from the movie of the same name. Also on the booth was the latest version of the ‘Minigolf.io’ platform that uses a moving floor that can be reprogrammed, creating a transforming mini-golf experience, that is also supported by touchscreen. The platform had already been on test at Dave & Buster’s and came to the trade show to promote this opportunity for operators of all sizes.  

The ‘Korean Pavilion’ is a major presence for the technology driven region to represent innovation. Supported by the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korean Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), this year was no exception with examples of the key technology trends present from the companies participating, including DOMO Data presenting an immersive enclosure, with their ‘Hole-in-One’ platform, a turnkey golf simulator enclosure. Smile Square came with another immersive enclosure, ‘Full Count’, using ball and object tracking and showing their XR arcade baseball game experience. The enclosure launches the ball through the projection screen, depicting the action – and the system offers the ability to be reconfigured with a golf, archery, and soccer game experience. The company has installed a store in Indeokwan, Korea, using a number of these enclosures to offer seven different virtual sports experiences, including archery, batting, shooting, and pitching. Fellow pavilion residents included HOLOWORKS and Science Show.

The ability to offer Live Immersive Attractions was once only the preserve of the larger attraction and theme park experience. The deployment of the latest technology and better turnkey solutions allows for big attractions to be placed in a small box. Using live performers, hosts, and DJs to encourage the entertainment has also moved to the forefront, and this was reflected on the show floor at IAAPA.

First-time exhibitor Game of 1000 Boxes came to Orlando with a version of their impressive, interactive, audience-based live gameshow platform. The system is based on the venue operated in New York, that offers 32 players the chance to compete in a selection of 12 minigames. The one-hour experience is supported by a live host, with each player given a button controller, playing in groups of four around a central console, with the action taking place on giant screens. At the show, the company ran games encouraging attendees to take part in the immersive gameplay. The operation came to the IAAPA’22 show to promote the platform’s versatility and look towards rolling it out in other sites.

The creation of digital characters for specialist use in attraction and entertainment venues was represented by AnimaLive. Winner of multiple awards since their inception in 2007 and possessing a sophisticated understanding of how to design and market digital characters for the attractions industry, AnimaLive launched their new venture. ‘Anima Kids Party’ is a live interactive animated show – the world’s first real-time interactive CG character show using Augmented Reality (AR) activities that’s designed specifically for parties and the family entertainment industry. AnimaLive has partnered with FEC specialist Birthday University to offer a platform tailored to the smaller FEC and entertainment venue market, bringing their unique form of digital engagement to this audience and enhancing overall FEC guest experience.

Away from IAAPA’22, and Walt Disney World’s new attraction, the themed, live action, ‘Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser’ experience, featuring live action role-playing (Larp’ing), for high-priced, two-night sleepovers, was reported to be seeing a significant drop off in reservations. Where once the experience had been sold out, most dates were now wide open, including the all-important Christmas holiday slots. Also, the park was seen instigating a major hiring process for new cast members for the attraction, igniting speculation that the sleepover experience may be changing its format to address the lower than expected take up. There is speculation of major restructuring in the works under the new management.  

The deployment of VR across the show floor of this year’s IAAPA’22 was amazing, and it would be hard for any of the most cynical not to realize the importance of this technology for several corporates’ bottom line. The application of VR in the attraction and entertainment mix was split between key areas. The first being VR Attractions – the deployment of big attractions, as well as new experiences using VR headsets. 

Examples included from Frontgrid – although not bringing their ‘ParadropVR – Pod’ VR system to the show, the company had a lot to shout about with a new game element developed for the platform, as the company was celebrating their first US installation at ‘Sprokett’s Fun Factory’, in South Dakota. A new exhibitor on the show floor was MATRIX, who presented their new ‘ORB Game’ – an interesting four-player, eye-catching, pod enclosure. Players sit on motion seats from D-BOX, playing in a virtual reality flying robot combat arena, running on HTC Vive Pro VR headsets. The multiplayer experience has been developed as a facility-based experience that can be deployed in locations with available space, and is hoped to be networked between locations, even considering eSports tournaments. 

Exhibitor Immotion Group took space at the show and presented their ‘Immotion VR Theater’ with two-seat VR 9D motion pods and VR experience on the PICO Neo headset. The company revealed their new plug-and-play solution, with a modular mini-theater enclosure for outdoor venues – retained in a standard shipping container, comprising six 9D motion seats with VR, and attendant kiosks. It was revealed, during the show, that the first installation of the system was taking place at Dallas Zoo. Also on the booth, Immotion sister company who launched their commercial UV cleaning solution of VR headsets, was using their ‘UVISAN’ platform to clean the pod’s headsets. 

The platform is based on that manufactured by Chinese manufacturer and developer LekeVR Technologies – who continues to be the exclusive provider of motion platform technology to Immotion. The company, having established their VR motion theater approach internationally, is seeing many installations including a 24-seat VR attraction at Pittsburgh Zoo, and a 40-seat attraction at Milwaukee Zoo – part of their broad approach for zoological, aquarium and theme park deployment. This along with their more conventional installations in high-foot traffic and entertainment localities (as the previously reported O2 retailtainment installation in London, and the Brighton Pier attraction).  

Talon Simulations – The company exhibited at the show their ‘Talon Vortex’ arcade simulator. A system that we reported on at its launch back in 2018, the system offers a tethered HTC Vive Pro headset, and a configurable motion seat simulator able to include racing steering and peddles configuration, or fighter plane controls. This is a compact and highly configurable VR platform for amusement and attraction deployment. Talon Simulation is one of several specialist exhibitors who not only came to the Orlando area to exhibit at IAAPA’22, but also would be presenting their commercial simulation expertise at I/TSEC the following week at the same convention space.

As we covered in our World Waterpark Association (WWA) trade event the previous month, “VR Waterplay” has been a growing component of the waterpark and cruise line thinking. IAAPA’22 was no stranger to this as, hot from their WWA’22 showing, exhibitor Ballast VR presented their ‘DIVR’ and ‘VRSlide’ platforms, installed at some 45 locations internationally. However, the company used IAAPA’22 to announce their brand-new platform – ‘PLAY’. Described as the next step in immersive waterpark experiences, this update offers a brand-new level of interactivity to the waterslide experience, with guests able to blast targets and collect points in upcoming VR experiences, using a gaze-based target system (head movement tracked in real-time). The new ‘PLAY’ experiences will be available for both ‘VRSlide’ and ‘DIVR’ starting in Spring 2023.

Another exhibitor in the waterplay scene, employing VR during the show, was Wibit Sports GmbH, developers of inflatable water products for over 25-years. The company held on their booth a VR demonstration of their latest products that attendees could experience virtually, using an HTC Vive Pro. The ability to represent experiences and platforms virtually for sales and marketing, is a growing element of many developers’ business.

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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