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The Virtual Arena: VR Ushers in the Next Generation of Laser Tag

The application of virtual reality (VR) into the attraction and amusement landscape is covered by leading industry specialist Kevin Williams. In his latest Virtual Arena column, he reveals the first deployment of the HTC Focus 3 into the Out-of-Home entertainment sector, part of what will mark a revolutionary new application of VR within the proven Laser Tag scene.

One of the biggest elements to the success of VR in the location-based entertainment sphere has been its utilisation of physicality. In the first phases, this was achieved with motion platforms, then with the next phase, we saw the use of free-roaming – the ability to move around a space, and in some cases very limited interaction with physical objects. But with the latest developments, we see the highest yet achieved levels of interactivity that looks to launch the medium into the next phase.

The entertainment scene has had a long love affair with what has become ubiquitously called “Laser Tag”. Since 1984, when the first arena-based laser tag facility (Photon) opened, the ability for guests of all ages to run around an arena, using walls to hide behind, while blasting fellow players with laser weapons, registering hits from their own vests through tactile feedback, has been established as a major hit. The amusement industry has seen Laser Tag arenas become a staple attraction across the entertainment venue business landscape. Even after a failed attempt to make a home entertainment alternative.  

Having carved out a reliable business in the industry, laser tag looks to be at the centre of the next major development in the phase of VR evolution. Free-roaming, backpack PC based VR has been a major phase of investment; but the need for an approach that looked at utilizing the already established arena business for laser tag was needed. An approach that could offer a package that could safely incorporate the physical obstructions found within the space. This was the opportunity that galvanised Creative Works, one of the leading builders of laser tag arenas, as well as a sales force to the industry of VR hardware from HOLOGATE and Major Mega (‘Hyperdeck’).

The fruits of this effort can now be revealed with what has been dubbed the “Next Generation of Laser Tag”. Launching Limitless VR, Creative Works has envisaged a multi-player VR experience, employing the latest Standalone VR hardware, that can be played within actual laser tag locations, without the need for the modification of the space. Offering a seamless means for VR entertainment to sit alongside the already proven physical laser tag experience.

Using the latest laser scanning technology, existing laser tag arenas, including their walls and obstructions are scanned and represented exactly within the game space. The physical items are married to the virtual environment. Creative Works has partnered with a specialist in LiDAR laser imaging to be able to create an exact recreation of the area elements, through 3D laser scanning. This allows players to interact safely with physical barriers within the game space. The majority of other free-roaming virtual arena systems have negated the inclusion of physical props due to the limitations of their VR hardware.

One of the big elements of the Limitless VR experience is the use of the HTC Vive Focus 3 – the first location-based entertainment (LBE) system to field the brand new standalone headset. The Vive Focus 3 offers a powerful platform targeted wholly at the commercial business scene, powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2, which now ventures into commercial entertainment. The platform will offer the ability of up to 16 headsets at launch (with the ability to scale up to 30 in the future), to take part in multi-player experiences, embracing another vital element of laser tag, that of multiple player competition. Creative Works has been in partnership with HTC to be the first to deploy this platform into the entertainment market.

In support of the headset, the players will be using the latest game interface. From StrikerVR, the experience uses the new ‘HD Haptics’, compact gun systems, which incorporates the haptic feedback technology from the range. Deployed for the first time on this attraction. So along with the latest weapon systems and VR headset, the Limitless VR platform can negate the need for cumbersome backpack PC’s. The laser tag arena now turned into a virtual game space, populated with virtual elements changed at the click of a mouse.  

Laser tag offers an important element in many entertainment facilities, offering, not only games and competitions but is also central in many of the private hire (birthday party) business that draws revenue. Being able to target these group bookings with a versatile VR platform incorporating many of the familiar elements of highly physical gameplay, now super-charged with an immersive game experience. Experiences that will be constantly changing without the operator having to totally reconstruct their arena.

The ‘Limitless VR’ is the first Standalone VR experience to incorporate detailed physical object tracking and can be deployed across the numerous already established laser tag arenas in the market. Previous attempts had been made to use VR within limited physical arenas with objects, as seen with the aborted Oculus, ‘Dead & Buried Arena’ prototype teased at the Oculus Connect 5 event in 2018, (and then subsequently dropped). The need to have exact tracking of physical objects and offer multi-player experiences is essential to achieve the full potential of VR in this space. 

With the new Creative Works release, this will mark the first of a new generation of free-roaming systems that are moving away from the encumbrance of backpack PC’s and employing sophisticated standalone VR systems. We will report on the other entrants into this scene and additional technological advancements that hope to bring the high-end PC VR experience to standalone headsets, unachievable at home.

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