It's not uncommon to find a cake at a birthday party or special event, but how often are guests treated to an underwater experience interacting with marine wildlife, a trip back in time to a famous place, or an ultra-realistic 3D shootout with zombies? A local company is offering just that.
VR Arcade NOLA co-founders Devin Regan and David Denny, friends since high school, made their way from Maryland to New Orleans seven years ago to assist with efforts relating to the BP oil spill cleanup. They became intoxicated with the city's unique charm and decided to stay, working in a variety of areas until they founded their most recent venture, an event entertainment company focused on showcasing the up-and-coming world of immersive, full-motion, virtual reality (VR).
"I tried virtual reality for the first time at the end of 2016 and fell in love with it. I knew we had to find a way to make that happen here in New Orleans," said Devin. David added, "What excited us is that while VR can definitely be used for cool games, it also has the potential to shape lots of different industries. I think that is one of the most exciting aspects."
Last week, they set up their systems at the National WWII Museum. One of their features was a "Remembering Pearl Harbor" virtual reality experience, where visitors could virtually visit Pearl Harbor as it was the day of the attack, while hearing the radio transmissions from the time. The attention to detail is impressive. You can see a magazine on the table from that date and examine it. "That's beyond gaming. That's kind of immersing yourself in a different world," exclaimed David.
Devin pointed out that each event is different. "We curate games and experiences for our clients. They hire us to provide virtual reality games and experiences, so we have a mobile virtual reality booth that we set up," she explained. Depending upon the size of the group, they set up more or less booths. Not only does each person get to immerse themselves in the technology, but monitors are set up to allow bystanders to also view what they are seeing. Part of the fun seems to be vicariously watching friends and associates experience these scenarios for the first time.
With thousands of software titles compatible with the HTC Vive, their VR system of choice, they can craft an experience for any occasion, from children's parties using Minecraft and Fruit Ninja, to corporate events with branded content and virtual tours.
It seems obvious that someone should offer this service in the city, but as far as they know, they're the only ones currently doing it. Prices for custom events are around $600 and up for a few hours with attendants and the systems, scalable from small birthday parties to large corporate events. They've chosen the Vive over the more well-known Occulus Rift due to the Vive's innovative new features. It has the ability to better map player/controller movement in 3D space, and also allows people not only to view things in virtual space, but to be able to actually physically move around in that space as well. The Vive has the ability to sense where you are in an actual room and give you warnings when you may be moving too much in the real space via grid walls in the virtual world you should not move past. It's a very interesting setup, and it seems that every few months there are more and more software systems coming out that continue to redefine the excitement and realism people experience.
While virtual reality simulations have been around for decades, with their clunky headgear and pixelated graphics, historically they've been troublesome. However, technology has continued to evolve, and modern VR systems are far superior to their predecessors. Nowadays, games and simulations boast photo-realistic views, but that has not been the biggest issue to overcome. The main problem has been something called "latency," or the delay between physical movement of the person and the updating of the visuals they see. Our brains are used to instantaneous correlation, so when we move our heads in a VR setup, and there's a slight lag with what we see in the headset, it tends to make people feel nauseated and uncomfortable. Newer systems have almost no noticeable latency, which makes using the technology easier without the unpleasant side effects. Unfortunately, the higher performance requires more significant computing resources, with particularly expensive graphics cards and high-end PCs, making the technology impractical for most people to own just yet. But this is where local companies like VR Arcade NOLA come in. They can allow people to experience this new technology without investing in a ton of gear.
As VR continues to be welcomed by the mainstream, each month brings more and more interesting simulations. Recently, a few new titles have surfaced offering totally immersive space flight adventure and combat. There are also ultra-realistic racing simulations where you can experience a completely immersive feeling of racing some of the world's greatest supercars. Many simulations use real-world props that you manipulate to make things seem even more real. There's a deceptively straightforward simulation called "Ritchie's Plank Experience" that simulates crossing a beam at the top of a skyscraper. With the addition of a few wooden planks beneath your feet, the experience becomes even scarier as your real feet can feel the virtual beam atop a tall building. Heart monitor and blood pressure medication not included!