The Virtual Arena: The LBE VR Reopening Perspective – Part 2

Covering the immersive Out-of-Home entertainment scene for VRFocus, in his latest Virtual Arena column, industry specialist Kevin Williams continues his visits to re-opening VR and immersive entertainment venues – with exclusive access to the new videogame from Zero Latency. In these features, he reports on the latest experiences and the new conditions that the international LBE business is adapting to. 

There has been a continuing surge in the development of new free-roaming VR experiences in the location-based entertainment (LBE) sector. A unique platform for the commercial entertainment sphere offering all the aspects most dreamed about from the promise of VR; the ability to play in a social group, immersed in a vibrant virtual world that the users can freely navigate. While for consumers, first the tether, then the limitation of performance has hindered the realisation of this aspect on home hardware. Emerging from lockdown and the LBE VR scene has seen an upswing in new experiences being released. 

So, it was obvious that we would be visiting another of these new launches. Located in the Boxpark venue in the shadow of the Wembley Stadium arch in London – one of the latest location-based entertainment venues is nestled on the second floor of this hospitality and entertainment site. Called MeetSpaceVR, the venue is the latest VR experience offering in the capital. The operation includes a dedicated VR arena for free-roam experiences as well as a VR lounge for the playing of VR Escape Room content, and eSports competition (all supported with a private hire bar area) – and this latest game release fits perfectly into this offering. 

Zero Latency has been one of the leading innovators in Free-Roaming (Arena Scale) VR experiences – one of the first to launch the concept onto the market and one of the first to roll out a stable of titles with proven player appeal – installed across 45 venues in some 22 countries. The company choosing its partnership with MeetSpaceVR to launch their latest title – Undead Arena VR. This new Arena Scale experience has between four and eight players wearing the HP powered backpack PC, donning HP Reverb G1 headsets with headphones and mic, and wielding the unique Zero Latency weapon.

The new game offers a unique and compelling take on the zombie-blaster. Undead Arena VR is modelled as if the players are taking part in a reality TV show, set after the zombie apocalypse, blasting through waves of the undead achieving scores that at the end will transport the winners to become instant celebrities. A fast pace zombie-wave-shooter, with unique touches and a compelling narrative that proved an enjoyable workout. The players able to swap between machinegun, shotgun, and crossbow to score headshots and wipe-out the most zombies for that all elusive high score.

The 15-minute game begins only after a professional run down of the features and safety elements of using the Zero Latency hardware – and how the players personal weapon works and the scoring principles. Along with the ability to use fire and explosive barrels to hold back the hoards. And then the players are dropped into the heat of the action, progressing through level after level, and Zero Latency using some of their well-known tricks to immerse the player, including moving walkways and rising elevators all simulated virtually.

The game encourages the players to work as a team in order to survive the zombie infestation, and soon into the game the player is fully immersed in the destruction, surviving (with their score intact) the next wave of the undead. The game is targeted at a 13 and older audience, and the action is fast, frantic, and highly addictive – and it is obvious to see that this title lends itself perfectly to becoming its own eSports sensation. A game that will encourage repeat play to see if the score can be improved, and better proficiency with the different weapons achieved for those crucial headshots. 

The team behind MeetSpaceVR revealed the extensive efforts they had gone through working with their landlord (BOXPARK) and following the local government guidelines to achieve the July 4th re-opening. The facility now offering 30-minute individual play sessions for the registered guests, with appropriate physical distancing from other groups and team members. The venue currently operating at 20% of pre-COVID capacity – constantly evaluating the process. But was able to reveal that they are seeing a steady return of old and new customers. We would like to thank all involved in making our visit possible.  

The explosion in player interest in Arena Scale has not diminished since it appeared on the market. A strong platform that illustrates the separation of what a solitary VR experience can achieve in the home, and the power and immersion of multi-player free-roaming VR experiences in location-based entertainment. 

In the post-pandemic landscape, concern has been made about the speed of resurgence of this play experience – though initially, the figures look positive that players are returning as can be seen at both MeetSpaceVR and the other opening sites in Europe and the West. There are however some signs that a lack of liquidity of some Arena Scale LBE VR businesses will mean difficult times ahead. It was reported that The VOID, one of the high-profile developers in this field have entered difficult straights. It was revealed that their Californian Downtown Disney District site had permanently closed its doors. Later revealed that the lease termination was because of a breach of the Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures license. All but one of the remaining 17-sites of The VOID had not reopened, other than reports of the Malaysian site located in the Genting resort complex – sources revealing that that site had removed all Disney intellectual property and VR experiences. Once more information is available on this situation, we will share this with our readers.

At the time of visiting the Wembley MeetSpaceVR operation, we took the chance to look at another re-opening site offering VR entertainment. Located on the riverside London-county-hall location, NAMCO Funscape is a bowling, hospitality, and amusement venue – one of the capitals leading entertainment centres prominently placed in London’s’ tourist epicentre close to the well-known London Eye attraction. While the attraction may not be operational yet, the Namco amusement site had opened its doors.

Previously covered by VRFocus – the NAMCO Funland had undergone COVID measures, with the bowling and hospitality elements closed off – and the amusement machines enforcing physical distancing. This, however, did not diminish the interest to try the VR entertainment on offer, with the company operating the only two Bandai Namco VR Zone Portal Mario Kart VR installations in the capital. The site also had their Beat Saber Arcade machine and the Extreme Machine VR experiences. And taking pride of place and being well played during this visit the LAI Games Virtual Rabbid’s machine – all these systems sporting new signage regarding the hygiene necessities of using the venue.

We look forward to reporting on the other VR ZONE Portal installation at the O2 location once the Bowling Alley sector (along with hotel, gyms and theaters) are permitted to reopen for business after the expected lifting of Governmental restrictions. And we will be visiting several other new sites in the coming days – watch this space for more information.

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