Wednesday, 8 August 2018

VR Here - Virtual Reality Gaming

Last weekend me, Jade and my friend Reef got up early and jumped on the M62 to Liverpool. We had the opportunity to go to VR Here to experience their virtual reality arcade. Now, I am a gamer, ever since I got my very first SNES in the 90's, I have constantly had a passion for seeking out new games and technology. When Jade told me we were going VR gaming for the day I was excited but also nervous. I have never really had a fully immersive VR experience so I wasn't entirely sure how I would find it, if I would enjoy it or if it would just make me want to throw up. When we arrived we pulled up and parked right outside, VR Here are based in a small unit just outside Liverpool city centre so the ability to park outside the place for free is great.

Walking into the building we were greeted by a staff member who gave us a quick talk about what we were going to be getting up to in the virtual world we were about to enter. The unit was stacked with custom built PC's to make the gaming experience as smooth and immersive as possible. We learnt that VR Here was one the first gaming arcade to open in the country and also learnt a bit about the research that goes into making sure the game runs as smooth as possible in terms for FPS (frames per second) rate. The set up here uses 90FPS which is a lot higher than any of your home set ups.

The room had 4 separate booths in it, all with a VR kit ready and waiting, we all took up a booth while the guy strapped the headset on tight and gave us our controllers. As soon as the headset was attached the magic began to happen, looking around you could see the moon, the earth, stars, sky. It felt as though someone had just plucked you from planet earth and put you in a whole new world.

The first experience we had was an underwater scene, this gave us an insight into the detail that can be used in the VR gaming world, the colours were phenomenally breathtaking. You could interact with everything you saw in front of you. If you wanted to try and touch the fish all you had to do was reach out in front of you while holding the controller. We chased fish, stood in the middle of millions of jelly fish and looked a blue whale clear in the eye while standing on a ship wreck. They say "you only get one chance to make a first impression, so make it count" VR Here definitely made it count.

We then went into a classic game of Space Invaders, but with a twist. Rather than it being the old 64bit classic, your hands became laser pistols and you were thrown into a space utopia where you were tasked with shooting oncoming alien space craft. This game really highlighted how well the motion sensors work. When the enemies fired back you physically had to move your body out of the way to avoid losing health.

After this, we were thrown into a magical medieval world. In this game we had to work as a team of archers to stop oncoming waves of enemies from destroying the gate we were protecting. It was your classic tower defence type game. A new game, meant a new set of hands, this time we had a bow in one had and the other had was used to draw your arrows. The graphics again were outstanding and really add to the immersive experience. At one point my arrows were on fire and it looked as though real fire was only a few feet in front of me.

The next game was the first real game that made me feel a little unsteady for the first minute or so. This time we all faced off against each other in a futuristic death match. In one hand we had a gun and in the other you had what can only be described as a rocket that was used to fly around the world. The sensation of flying despite standing still was bizarre. For the first minute of so I felt like I was going to fall over several times but once you get used to it the feeling is crazy. You could land on building which was odd because naturally you bend your knees when landing despite you physical body not even leaving the ground.

We were then transported to a metropolis, a huge city and we had to get in a lift to the top floor of a skyscraper. The floor was called "The Plank" and guess what? We were asked to walk it. This was bizarre, I am not someone who is scared of heights but all of a sudden being 100ft in the air in a reality world seemed daunting. As much as I tried to convince myself that I was on solid ground in Liverpool my brain would not shift a sense of caution and danger. The game did not just make you fall when you got to the end of the plank, if you were not careful with your footing you could fall off the side of the plank, this again just showed how intelligent this form of gaming is when a sensor can recognise where you would step in a virtual world. Eventually I fell off the plank and fell to the floor, for the first few seconds of the fall I had that feeling you sometimes get when you are just falling asleep and you get the sense of falling. After this we could go back  in the lift and visit different floors, I went to the fireman floor, I had a Jet Pack and a Hose Pipe and I had to fly all over the city putting out fires. There was a painting floor which Jade tried out where she also had a Jet Pack and a Hose Pipe only rather than putting out fires she could choose a colour and leave a paint trail.

We then played a game that has become popular on social media of late. We had a red laser sword in one hand and a blue laser sword in the other. Oncoming were red or blue blocks with an arrow on them, we had to slice the block in the correct direction with the right coloured sword while dodging oncoming obstacles in time to music. Think of it as if Star Wars did a cross over with Guitar hero. Every game we played before I spent a lot of time exploring, and appreciating the brilliance of the concept but this was the first game I played as if I were at home in my living room, I found myself really concentrating and taking it quite seriously, I wanted to beat the game. At one point an obstacle hit me, I actually flinched as I was that convinced that I was actually in the game.  This was a great game, simple, yet so effective.

What is a VR gaming session without a a survival horror game. We were thrown in as a team into a desert, surrounded by Zombies and we had to kill them all to survive. I didn't find this scary, more jumpy. You would be focused on killing the enemies in front of you and then turn around to find a Zombie stood right in front of you about to tear your face off. There were many different weapons to choose from and all you had to do was reach for them with you hands and click a button on your controller. Some Zombies would be slow, some fact, some would have protection. You really had to work as a team to make sure you all survived.

This was the last game we got to play but the impression I had at the end was that VR gaming if the future, the opportunities are endless and it opens people up to a whole new world of gaming. There is truly something for everybody. I feel like this technology can be used in all forms of life, medical training, military training, overcoming phobias etc. This pretend world that feels so real can benefit people so much. I asked the staff member, how much is it usually for a session, due to the tech involved I expected it to be a small fortune but I was massively wrong. The prices ranged from £5 for 15 minuted up to £20 for an hour. I am already trying to organise a group of us to go back and have a play around with some other games.

If your still undecided and want to know more about my experience before giving it ago yourself just tweet me @LiamBurton92

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