Virtual Reality’s Second Coming Is Upon Us And It’s Seriously Good
Immerse yourself in cutting-edge tech without the price tag. Virtual reality arcades are popping up all over Australia, offering state-of-the-art experiences. t
When virtual reality first transpired, pop culture examples set the bar pretty high. Just as quickly as it came online, the dreams all but fizzled once we realised technology just wasn’t at that stage where we could create worlds other than lines and vectors, let alone virtual reality arcades.
Down but not out, it’s only been in the last few years that virtual reality came back – and in a big way. Now, virtual reality arcades are in all the major cities and investors are paying interest. The Oculus Rift headset became the talk of the tech town – eventually being bought out by Facebook.
Competitors like HTC’s Vive and Google’s affordable Cardboard – the latter’s original design was literally made of cardboard and a smartphone. Computers became incredibly powerful thanks to Moore’s Law, and those dreams of rendering beautiful worlds in real-time became a possibility.
Jump to today, and around Australia there are arcades dedicated to virtual reality. While investing in all the necessary equipment still feels like quite a pinch – a powerful enough PC, as well as the headset and controllers can reach around $2,000 – we have these physical spaces to throw down some money and be immersed in new worlds.
vArcade in Fitzroy, Melbourne has been in business for a year now. “Most people are genuinely surprised how amazing the VR world has become and how it can look,” co-founder Daniel Duckworth says.
Having waited half an hour for five minutes at video game conference PAX Melbourne, Duckworth and his co-founder Owen Spear set out to build a business around this immersive technology. Later James Ao was brought on as Lead Technical Consultant, and they now offer three different experiences: Thrillseeker, Immersion Variety, and Rick and Morty – the last of those three being based on the cult-status cartoon.
Players are guided throughout the experience so that experienced or first-timers still get a proper go without working about the technical side, Ao says.
“The feedback from all of our team here at vArcade when dealing with customers, is that they show genuine awe, shock, utter enjoyment or a mixture of all three. It is crazy how adults put on these VR headsets and turn back into children right in front of our very eyes.”
The tech is only getting more immersive, as well. “For example, you can get a device called a Vive Tracker and attach the sensor to your foot to play a game of soccer, or attach it to a real goal club and practice your swings,” Duckworth says. “The level of immersion is getting better all the time.”
Taking it a step further, Zero Latency in Melbourne has been building their own technology and games to allow free-roam virtual reality to be played in a physical space – that is instead of the 4-metre square you’re tapered to playing most retail games, this game straps a computer on to your back and sets you loose in a warehouse.
“Our game arenas have no physical internal walls, which enables players to walk, explore, and fight their way through wildly different virtual terrains, changing from level to level within a single game,” Tim Ruse, CEO and co-founder of Zero Latency says.
“This allows us to virtually guide players through new and varied adventures, without the operator making any changes to the physical space. Players feel they’ve travelled hundreds of metres through a space station when the reality is less.”
Founded back in 2013, Zero Latency now has 13 arenas around the world with their tech – a mishmash of existing off-the-shelf equipment with their own patent-pending tech and games.
The first game, sci-fi corridor shooter Singularity, puts players in a battle with robots, drones and gun turrets. There’s two zombie outbreak games, as well as a non-violent title Engineerium for those not wanting to cause a mass load of destruction.
“Our new Brisbane arena will be the second one in the world with our new ‘dual arena’ configuration, similar to the one we opened in Boston in July,” Ruse says.
“This allows two multi-player games to be played side-by-side simultaneously, each with nearly 200 square metres of floor space, or can stretch a single game over the entire cavernous play zone of nearly 400 square metres.”
Fun and games is all…fun and games, but the uses outside of recreational have become more apparent, according to the vArcade team.
“Medical conditions like phantom limb syndrome have traditionally been treated in the past with more rudimentary therapies utilising mirrors to trick the brain into thinking that a limb has returned,” Ao says.
“I work as a Clinical Psychologist, and I’m strongly considering setting up a VR therapy clinic,” says Spears.
“There are a bunch of apps out there for social anxiety and phobias like flying, heights and spiders. One of the most promising is a program used in the US as a treatment for PTSD suffered in the Middle East. It uses mixed media, such a smells (e.g. oil) and other senses, combined with VR. It’s a promising field, but it’s still fairly early days.”
Virtual Reality Arcades in Australia
U6/30 Erindale Rd, Balcatta
X Site Gaming
4a 79 Gawler Street, Mt Barker
Zero Latency (launching in October)
Shop 39, 427 – 441 Victoria Ave, Chatswood
Level 2, 305 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
The VR Arena
Lvl 1 30 Alexandra Pde, Clifton Hill, V
22-32 Steet St, North Melbourne
Reload Bar and Games (runs VR events)
38 Northbourne Avenue, Canberra
Published 21 September, 2017