During my first visit to Japan this spring, I took the chance of visiting Bandai Namco’s “VR Zone – Project i can” Virtual Reality test arcade. This a prototype arcade featuring six VR experiences.
Note: Some of the images and videos are 360, just click and drag to look around.
The arcade is right inside a shopping mall in Tokyo’s Odaiba area, a leisure and shopping area featuring huge malls and regular arcades. The VR arcade is located prominently next to other shops. When we got there, a large line of people was already waiting, and access was only granted if you had reserved a spot via internet previously. The visitors when we were there were mostly Japanese, with one other group of Westerners entering along with us. For each slot, which is about 1h 30m, about 30 people were allowed inside.
Each experience cost around 1000 Yen, which is about 8 Euro. Payment was done via Bandai Namco’s own prepaid arcade card, which is called Banapassport. At each station, one or more assistants explained the way to play (most only in Japanese, but thankfully each station had a one-page manual in English on how to play) and put the gear on you. When entering the arcade, you were given a not-so-stylish black piece of cloth intended to make wearing of the headset more hygienic, but which got in the way when trying to wear the headset. The assistants also allowed players to not wear these.
An overview of the six experiences follows:
1) Ski Rodeo (スキーロデオ)
This one has you standing on two platforms for your feet that move along with the skis you see in VR. There is a handhold on each side to help you stabilize. As a bonus, during the ride, a fan is blowing cold air into your face depending on the speed.
The experience itself starts on the top of the mountain, and you ski downhill freestyle without any goals. Depending on how much you lean forward (if I remember correctly), the speed increases or decreases.
All in all this experience, especially the speed, felt very real. I think it might have been due to the instablity of the ground beneath (the simulated skis), the fan blowing the wind and the force feedback by the skis. I was actually leaning into turns like I would with real skis and got a good sense of vertigo when driving off a cliff.
2) Fear of Heights Show (高所恐怖SHOW)
Probably the most fun of the experiences. For this one, a small separated room was created. Upon entering, an attendand helps you put on shoes and gloves with a custom tracking solution along with the Vive. In the experience, you are told you have to go up an elevator to a high floor of a skyscraper and rescue a kitten.
So, you first start with calling the elevator and getting inside. The experience visualizes your feet and your hands based on the gloves and shoes. Once the door opens, you see a wooden board stretching out from the skyscraper with the poor kitty sitting at the end.
You then balance on the board, which in reality is realized with a platform of the same size that shakes a bit while you walk on it. It actually feels a bit unstable while walking.
Reaching the end of the board, you have to grab the kitten, which in reality is a toy kitten. I was trying to note the overlap between the virtual hand, kitten and the real hand and kitten, and it felt very close, so the moment my eyes were telling me I should connect, my fingers actually did so.
On the way back, the experience simulates the board breaking up, which is accompanied by the real board shaking a bit as well.
Even though I didn’t think it would be much fun, this experience turned out to be pretty interesting and realistic.
3) Escape Ward Omega (脱出病棟Ω（オメガ))
This is a horror experience which players experience sitting, as far as I could tell. I didn’t get around to playing it, but it must have been pretty terrifying for some, since some players were screaming at the top of their lungs.
4) Train Meister (トレインマイスター)
This one is “Train Simulator VR”. You get to sit down in the conductor’s place of the famous Yamanote line and have to drive a train around. It features two controls and force feedback on your seat. You get extra points for accelarating and braking smoothly and hitting the marks at the train stations. All in all, it wasn’t that interesting and few people played it.
5) Argyle Shift (アーガイルシフト)
This experience was played sitting down in a force-feedback chair. You control a flying Mech with two joysticks for steering and targeting/shooting. The graphics are more manga-style than the other experiences.
The game starts out with a non-interactive intro where you are briefed by the AI of the Mech (a scantily clad manga-style girl). It then continues onto your base being surprise attacked by enemy mechs, which you have to defend against in a Rebel Assault/Rails Shooter style.
6) Real Drive
A car simulation. I didn’t play it, and very few people did. I got the feeling that, since pretty much any arcade in Japan will have something similar with force feedback but without VR, people weren’t perceiving it as much of a novelty.
Some general remarks:
- The simulators were mostly disregarded by the visitors, and looking at the website recently, I think they even canned the driving experience.
- Every experience is done in Unreal Engine 4
- None of the experiences except the “Escape Ward” used the touch controllers of the Vive. However, I think all experiences used custom controllers, including the custom tracking in the “fear of heights” experience. I think that Bandai is trying to minimize the possibility for theft or vandalism for future use in non-attended arcades. Instead, they rely on fixed controllers attached to the experiences.
- Each experience was about 5 minutes of play time. Contrary to usual arcades, there was no possiblity to continue playing by paying more.
- A “Purikura” machine was offered which allowed taking pictures overlayed with characters or assets from the experiences. This is probably also a test for later use in real arcades.