International Immersive Technology specialist, Kevin Williams of KWP, covers the best practises and issues that shape the operation of VR Escape Gaming – and some of the lessons that need to be learned. In this first part of a three-part report, we look at the issues of operating VR platforms and the elements that need to be considered.
While immersive entertainment is seeing major traction as it is deployed in the Escape Room sector, (as covered in our recent Whitepaper on VR Escape-Gaming) – the needs of correct deployment and operation are sometimes overlooked in the rush to have the best experience for the audience.
Back in 2014, I penned a feature offering “A Guide to Virtual Reality Demonstration” – advising on the information and experience our operation had collected in the running of VR experiences to large audiences. Now jump forward nearly seven years, and we reprise this coverage in order to help those operating VR entertainments in their facility, listing the best code of practise, and hopefully offer some advice to avoid falling into known pitfalls.
Escape Room VR Operation Guide 2019
There have been three key approaches to deploying VR hardware in an entertainment venue.
- The first has been the “home brew” – purchasing consumer hardware and combining this together in a platform that can be used in an entertainment venue.
- The second approach has been to license an installation, following the plans and deployment from a third party.
- The last approach is the purchase of a standalone solution – a plug-n-play platform.
Each of these has their own merits and issues. The first is obviously a no-frills approach, with all the warranty and service headaches when things go wrong, while the second and third come with some level of security and even support packages.
As covered in our extensive Whitepaper the number of hardware solutions has grown vastly – various manufacturers offering dedicated VR platforms – but it is important to understand that it is the game experience as much as the hardware that defines player support, and also acts as a repeat draw to the game. The need to find the right content can be an arduous choice as we need to be aware that there are two types of game. Those created for Location-based entertainment (LBE) application, with the correct loading and unloading elements to the game design. While the other approach is to take content from the consumer game scene and apply them to being used in an entertainment space.To be able to access the best selection of content suited for LBE deployment has seen the establishment of distributors – operations that make available not only the best content, but also offer facility management software, and ensures the correct royalties are paid to developers of the content. The leading parties in this scene being SpringboardVR, SynthesisVR, and Private Label; but there are numerous other providers entering the market and gaining momentum. There is also a third opportunity to install a franchise, so removing all the thought process from the installation – one such example is from ARVI Lab, with their ‘VR Escape Room Franchise’. This comprises a two-day setup, flexibility to different team sizes (two to six), and constant updates to the available five different VR escape-games.
From the operator’s perspective is that VR escape gaming sees multiple players engrossed in frantic experiences, and comfortable and reliable head-mounted displays (HMD) are needed. The factors shaping the usage of hardware available is based on what we have defined as the “Three R’s”:
- Reliability: the ability to be able to be placed in LBE VR venues and keep working
- Resilient: the ability to be maintained (serviced), and cleaned effectively
- Robust: the ability to be dropped and also receive rough handling
These needs have limited the number of available systems that can be considered – not only the need to fulfil the needs of the “Three R’s”, but also to be supported by manufacturers that understand the issues of this process. One of the leading headsets utilized has been the HTC VIVE and its sister VIVE PRO headsets. HTC, one of the first consumer headset manufacturers to embrace the opportunity of LBE VR – based in part from what they witnessed in their home market in Asia. Other manufacturers are now pivoting from their previous consumer VR aspirations towards Enterprise. HP has launched their new Reverb headset, other developers will be eyeing this opportunity, and announcements on an update to this list of options will be run here soon.When considering the immersive nature of the VR experience and along with sight, sound is needed to be defined by the correct headset. As stated, the HTC VIVE PRO has been a popular platform, and this has been supported using a unique head strap that incorporates built-in headphones for audio. While in other situations, off the shelf headphones are recommended. It is important for an operator to ensure they have an effective solution. The need to stay clear of “in-ear” (earbud) systems for deployment in public settings for the obvious hygiene reasons (we cover hygiene later in this report).
The use of current VR technology can see a bewildering number of cables to be managed; the headset itself and its cable, then audio if needed. The operator needs to consider the safety of the player, and especially with multiple groups, the need to ensure that the operator (and attendant) are well trained on how best to deal with blindfold guests involved in frantic game experiences tethered to the experience computer. Many of the latest designs of systems use tethered enclosures with ceiling-mounted cable retention systems. These systems restraining the cables away from becoming trip hazards, but also allow easier loading and unloading of the headset.
When considering this, there are new options that utilize the latest hardware to ease the process. Manufacturer and developer VRstudios have created their ‘VRcade- ATOM’, an LBE Turnkey enclosure system for two-players, using the latest wireless headset technology removing the need for cables from the equation. And a platform that can be networked together so that up to eight networked environments can be operated. The consideration of wireless headsets opens all kinds of possibilities and other manufacturers are launching their own platforms.
One aspect to consider with both approaches is the need to recharge the headsets as well as always, the need to rechange the players interfaces (wands). A reliable means to ensure that the systems are recharged for the next game session. This also includes the deployment of VR experiences that a free-roaming, and using a PC backpack – the ability to ensure the correct operation and appropriate charge of a PC worn on the players back beings a level of expense and logistics that need to be bored in the mind of any operator.
As stated there are a growing number of off the shelf enclosures that offer a plug-n-play solution for deployment in a wide variety of spaces. Along with the VRstudios system we have seen developers such as HOLOGATE, Backlight, ARVI Lab, Exit Reality and WePlayVR – just some of those that provide plug-n-play VR enclosure systems (more detail in our previous coverage). The aspects from an operator’s perspective towards deployment of a completed structure is to ensure that it promotes not only the VR experience but also promotes the unique environment you are offering as an operator. External theming and information, such as signage needs to be considered, along with safe practise information and general information.
From the perspective of an operator that wants to build their own enclosure system, and aim for a DIY approach, there are numerous informative guides of the needs of these enclosures from the distributors of content for LBE. There is no need to be intimidated by this approach, though again, some skills will be needed in setting up the hardware, and appropriately installing the stage trusses needed to form the enclosures – and again appropriate theming of the space, and the consideration of flooring and enclosed space.
Examples of these include LIV and MixCast – platforms that not only capture the player, but through Chromakey, superimposes them into the virtual experience. Both systems include social media streaming to platforms. LIV also supports depth-based background removal, including iPhones through ARkit3. MixCast has partnered to make the mixed reality marketing system available on the SpringboardVR and Synthesis VR platforms. A valuable secondary spend that many operators of these VR systems leave on the table.We now conclude this first part – in the second section we will take a deeper dive into the issues of best practice looking at the selection of game content VR machine operation and the presentation and promotion of the hardware to the guests – before looking at the issues of Hygiene and Safety in the final part.
References & Further Reading
- VR Whitepaper
- EscapeFront’s VR Directory Listings
- The Out-of-home Immersive Frontier
- Attractions Pro
- The Stinger Report
About The Author
Kevin Williams – a leading specialist in the digital Out-of-Home entertainment industry, through his consultancy KWP Limited, specializing in interactive entertainment. Coming from a long career in the theme park, amusement and entertainment software industries, being an ex-Walt Disney Imagineer. Well known for his news service, The Stinger Report that has become a-must-read for those working or investing in the international market. Along with this, he is also a prolific writer with regular columns for the main trade publications in this market, along with presenting numerous conference sessions on the sector and its global impact. He is also the co-author of the only book on this aspect of the market, “The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier” – currently working on the next edition, scheduled for publication soon. Kevin can be reached at [email protected].