Observing the immersive Out-of-Home entertainment scene for VRFocus, in his latest Virtual Arena column, industry specialist Kevin Williams turns his gaze back to the influences that have shaped the modern adoption of VR. Charting a brief history of the first major theme park attraction from veteran developer SEGA, and how one of the first VR pioneers in that emerging technology shaped this overlooked, but ground-breaking experience.
The recognition of VR in this current generation may be mistaken by some as being its first innovation into the mainstream, but VR has had several false dawns in the entertainment arena. Just some twenty years ago a major theme park attraction was developed by a major amusement and game developer, using technology inspired through a license with a promoted start-up VR company. History has a habit of repeating itself.
Jumping back to 1994 and at the time SEGA was the leading video amusement and digital game content developer. The Japanese powerhouse was investing in cutting edge technology, scaling down their phenomenal amusement releases and turning them into consumer gaming experiences, even scaling down the microcomputer technology to be converted into gaming consoles based on their expertise.
The drive for the latest technology saw SEGA investigate the emerging technology of VR. At the time VR had migrated from the simulation industry for flight training and had been applied for video amusement utilization. The company Virtuality had grown from start-up to London stock exchange trade corporation and was the leader of a boom in VR deployment in the amusement industry. SEGA decided to jump their competition and license the Virtuality technology to create their own platform.
Virtuality and SEGA would pen an extensive agreement that would see the UK specialist working closely with the much-vaunted SEGA GM R&D divisions in Japan, sharing patented technology and unique display and optics designs. Initial work based on the advance Visette head-mounted display. Continuous iterations would be developed from this partnership until SEGA perfected their design to create the ‘Mega Visor Display (MVD)’ – one of the most advanced VR headsets of that generation. Not surpassed in performance until only a few years ago.
Mega Visor Display (MVD)
Resolution: 756 x 244 pixels
Field of View: 60°(H) x 46.87°(V)
Display Type: Liquid Crystal
Weight: 640 grams
SEGA had been feverishly working on their Amusement Theme Park (ATP) project in the 1990’s – taking the video arcade into a new age, incorporating the latest digital entertainment technology, and encapsulate it in what was described as a “Theme Park in a Box!” A venue that could be dropped into shopping malls, bringing a unique entertainment fixture to this kind of location. Inside were multiple “Zones” offering unique “Mid-Scale Attractions”. The concept evolving into the JOYPOLIS venues (also branded as SEGAWorld), with some nine sites opening in the ’90s, in locations such as Tokyo, London and Sydney, as well as other cities.
VR played its part, as one of the so-called “Mid-Scale Attractions” that populated these ATP was the innovative ‘VR-1’. Based on the concept of a motion simulator ride attraction – SEGA created an eight-seater ride vehicle, with guests using the new Mega Visor Display headset. In this space-themed experience – the players went on a galactic mission, shooting waves of alien vessels, looking where they wanted to shoot. The VR technology while rudimentary, compared to modern systems, still offered a ground-breaking and compelling experience, one of the higher-rated attractions deployed in the JOYPOLIS parks in 1994.
Eventually, the shine of the JOYPOLIS brand would tarnish, and the business foundation it was based on proved uneconomic. A mixture of poor management, instigating bad business decisions soon took their toll, and the collapse of the ATP business reflected a greater failing in the heart of the corporation. SEGA would contract as a global entertainment leader, eventually acquired and merging with Sammy.
Tenaciously, the SEGA corporation has continued to be an amusement powerhouse, with JOYPOLIS still in operation in Japan and China (under theCA SEGA JOYPOLIS division). And still offering VR – though the VR-1 has long since been retired – the venue offers the latest LBE VR with VR Nerds’ ‘Tower Tag’ and the Zero Latency experiences. SEGA’s recent success with the motion picture based on their iconic mascot Sonic revitalizing the brand for a modern generation.
Many have mistaken the fictitious SEGA VR headset for the Genesis, as the only true virtual reality project from the corporation – forgetting this original successful foray in immersive entertainment that was the VR-1 and Mega Visor Display. The lessons that can be learned in design and development from this early first flush of excitement in VR from the 1990s are a history lesson that should not be forgotten; unless the industry wants to repeat its past mistakes again.
It’s coming up to the season of giving and what better way to start the celebrations early than with a competition where you can win some videogames. Today’s giveaway is a double bill, with Resolution Games’ Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigsand Acron: Attack of the Squirrels! up for grabs.
Rovio’s iconic Angry Birds franchise came to VR in 2019 with a selection of core levels which have been expanded upon over time. One of the major updates to the bird flinging experience was the addition of a level builder late last year, followed by online sharing to massively enhance the gameplay possibilities.
Acron: Attack of the Squirrels! on the other hand, is a purely multiplayer experience. One person is in VR controlling a tree trying to protect its golden acorns from a bunch of thieving squirrels. All the squirrels are controlled by players on mobile devices – via a free app – who are able to select characters with particular traits such as burrowing short distances underground. All making for a fast and entertaining party game.
So onto the competition. VRFocus has got six codes to give away, three for Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs and three for Acron: Attack of the Squirrels, both for the Oculus Quest platform. There are multiple ways to enter the giveaway with the standard prize draw entry rules applying: Follow us (or already be following us) on Twitter or alternatively, visit our Facebook page or YouTube channel to get an entry for each. Winners will receive a single randomly drawn code. The competition will be open until 11.59 pm GMT on Monday 26th October 2020. The draw will be made shortly thereafter.
Senior Staff Writer at VRFocus who has reported on the VR industry for the last 5 years. A keen gamer since the days of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Peter enjoys covering all aspects of the technology; from the latest consumer hardware to enterprise use cases.
Last week to coincide with the launch of Oculus Quest 2, Beat Games launched the long-awaited multiplayer mode for Beat Saber across PC VR and the Quest platform. There was one notable absence, PlayStation VR support. Today, the studio has confirmed a delay until next year.
Taking to Twitter the team said: “Dear PS VR players, we’re so sorry that multiplayer is still not available for PS4. Bringing MP to PS4 is a priority for us, but development is taking much longer than we’d expected. We’re trying to deliver multiplayer in January if everything goes to plan.”
Even with Beat Games’ acquisition by Facebook towards the end of 2019 the studio has continued to support all the platforms Beat Saber is available on. As can be quite often the case, porting content to PlayStation VR isn’t a simple or quick process hence why it launched so many months after the PC version.
The studio went onto say in subsequent tweets: “We will keep working on multiplayer for PS4 as fast as possible, along with exciting new music content on the way!,” responding to one disgruntled player: “We’re really sorry and totally understand your feelings, we want to release multiplayer asap, but the development is taking us longer than we expected. Please bear with us, we are doing our best.”
Beat Saber has garnered a legion of fans thanks to its easily picked up gameplay and continually updated selection of tracks; the latest coming from rock band Linkin Park a couple of months back with a BTS music pack arriving in November.
The multiplayer mode allows up to five people to compete against one another, either in a private party with friends or taking part in a random match. The feature doesn’t support cross-platform gameplay – although the studio is looking into it – and there isn’t any built-in voice chat but the mode does support all the official base songs as well as those in DLC.
For further updates to Beat Saber including that PlayStation VR multiplayer date, keep reading VRFocus.
October hasn’t disappointed when it comes to virtual reality (VR) titles for most of the major headsets and with one week left to go there are more to look forward to. Naturally, with Halloween coming up, there are a couple of spooky titles as well as non-seasonal entries.
Flavortown – Last Hope of the Internet
The first of a six-episode series arrives next week in the form of comedic title Flavortown, where you become a meatball cop in a world entirely populated by living food. Your job is to infiltrate Flavortown’s underworld and clean up the streets, as well as enjoying all the other tasty treats the town has to offer.
AGOS: A Game of Space – Ubisoft
Ubisoft has made a few VR titles and continues to support the technology with interstellar simulator AGOS: A Game of Space. Mankind has abandoned Earth heading out among the stars to find a new home. Split between thousands of ships, you play the AI onboard one, tasked with keeping your cargo safe and well.
Groove Gunner – BitCutter Studios
VR fans love a good rhythm-action videogame and Groove Gunner will be the latest to join this energetic genre. With a demo already available, the gameplay is split between shooting targets as well as blocking incoming projectiles with arm-mounted light shields.
Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition – Bloober Team
Time for the big horror title of the week. Bloober Team is bringing its Blair Witch videogame to VR, with Oculus Quest being the first platform. Redesigned around VR interaction, you have your lovable companion Bullet by your side as you venture into the cheery forest…and, well you know the rest.
Horror Bar VR – VR Factory
Time for some light-hearted Halloween fun, from the team which brought you Bartender VR Simulator, comes Horror Bar VR. Released as an Early Access title, you’re the bartender in a zombie bar serving all-sorts of ghoulish drinks for the undead patrons, even rustling up the odd snack or two.