Location Based Entertainment (LBE) is the talk of the town, from big-budget immersive experiences such as Ghostbusters: Dimension, to game-changing arcade experiences like Mario Kart VR. These experiences physically locate the players in a custom-built room, equipped with high-end VR devices that are either installed locally or worn as a backpack. LBE is lauded as the future of Virtual Reality: so when Start VR co-founders, Nathan Anderson and Martin Taylor, headed to LA, we were excited to sit down with them and hear all about their experiences with the newest developments in VR.
"LBE experiences use props, wind and heat to help you connect what you’re seeing in virtual space to the real world."
Hey guys, thanks for taking the time to talk about your time in LA. Let’s get straight into it - what was your main takeaway from your experiences with Location Based Entertainment in LA?
NATHAN: I think the LBE market is finally evolving. It’s been talked about for maybe six months or so, but prior to now all we’ve really seen is IMAX VR, which is not a significant improvement on what you could be doing at home. It’s a nice setup, they’ve got great stuff in there. But I think what we saw last week is the promise of what LBE can really be for VR. It’s different from any home user experience: it’s something that’s really social, something that has low barrier to entry for audiences - it doesn’t really require you to know anything about VR or how to play games.
MARTIN: We’ve heard a lot about Location Based Entertainment, so we decided to get out there and try it for ourselves so we’d know exactly what we’re talking about.
What about LBE is revolutionary for VR
MARTIN: You can do the kind of things you really want to do in VR in these experiences. It’s a free roam experience, you can see your body to varying degrees, you can go in it with another person, there’s 4D tactile elements to it, so you’re doing things.
"You have a haptic feedback vest, so you can get shot - and it’s incredible, it makes you squeal."
With room-scale - and that’s the best version we’ve seen so far - you’re still in a pen, you’ve got to kind of design everything to fit within the limitations of what that offers. But with this, it’s unexpected and it’s surprising. As a VR maker, I felt two things: there was me, the 10 year old boy, that's wanted this since I was a kid and was really excited, and then there’s the other part - the content maker, but that's a whole other thing.
So really consumer-friendly VR?
NATHAN: Yes! And that’s the thing that’s different as well. You look at who you would’ve sent to IMAX, or existing LBEs, it was very much a hobbyist or enthusiast kind of thing. But the stuff that we tried last week, you’d be quite happy putting mum into. LBE is very accessible, it’s easy to experience. It was completing catering to non-techies. I think that anyone I know would get some fun and some value out of it. What we also saw last week with the new experiences is that the physical world is part of the experience now. Previously it was completely virtual, such as in an HTC Vive where you would just have a 3x3m space. But almost all the new experiences we’ve tried have props in them, you can connect what you’re seeing in virtual space to the real world. There’s even things like railings, doorways, handles you can feel.
So getting to specifics, you guys were just in LA promoting Awake, but managed to squeeze in two LBE experiences: Secrets of the Empire and Alien Zoo. Can you give us a rundown?
NATHAN: So in Alien Zoo, six people at a time will go into the Alien Zoo. They have an on-boarding section where you put your computer backpack on, and the reflectors for your hands and feet. There’s a curtain in front of you, but you can’t see the rest of the space. As soon as you have your VR headset on they remove the curtain and you walk through. Alien Zoo runs for about 15 minutes and you’re with five other people you can see, based on avatars you’ve chosen.
MARTIN: It’s just like touring a zoo, but it’s impossible creatures in an impossible place. There’s a point where one of the dinosaurs reaches over the railing, and you reach over and there’s actually something to touch when you reach out. It’s very powerful.
NATHAN: I remember I saw you touch it, and as soon as you reached out - we’re so used to no feedback in VR, so as soon as you touched it I saw you pull your hand back.
MARTIN: You’re used to dealing with thin air.
NATHAN: So I think for first-time VR users it would be a lot more engaging and compelling than you’d get from a traditional VR experience. I think the other thing we noticed with new VR, not just LBE, is that it’s very social. In both Star Wars and Alien Zoo, you’re actually there with other people. A key part to you going through the story-lines, but also to your enjoyment, is going through the experience with other people. You can see them, talk to them.
MARTIN: In Secrets of the Empire you couldn’t see your body, but you could still see the other people. The thing about The Void is that their equipment is incredibly polished. They’ve got a kit room that feels like an aircraft hanger, visors you can pull up and put down. It’s a very different kind of action experience, you’re shuffling through corridors and being chased by Storm Troopers. You also have a haptic feedback vest, so you can get shot - and it’s incredible, it makes you squeal. You also don’t get given the gun on the way in, you go into this room and there’s this moment where you’re like “Can I grab this?” and you can! That’s the biggest thing, I found myself doing this a few times, saying “Can I do that?” and you can, and it’s really satisfying.
There’s a lot of hype around LBE as the “future of VR”, is that where you see VR going?
MARTIN: It’s certainly the near future. It’s going to be, in be the next couple of years, the big way to access some of the experiences that you really want in VR. I can imagine it will just get better and better.
NATHAN: We had been thinking that Location Based Entertainment as just another window for the content that we create, but there will be specific types of experiences that you make for LBE. It’s not just another distribution for content we’re developing.
With millions of dollars in investment raised, Location Based Entertainment is fast becoming one of the most accessible, social and financially-viable forms of VR. While most experiences are currently in the United States and Japan, we’re excited to see LBE experiences land in Australia in 2018. As for Martin and Nathan, their next project, Awake, is due to premiere at SXSW on March 13.