The Virtual Arena: Immersive Entertainment Gets Social
The application of XR into the attraction and amusement landscape is covered by industry specialist Kevin Williams. In his latest Virtual Arena column, the sudden explosion in new entertainment venues internationally is revealed, with a visit to one of the latest promoting the inclusion of immersive entertainment.
Following on from our recent coverage of AREA15, and its deployment of immersive technology in an entertainment venue. And many readers will be familiar with the Gravity Active Entertainment facilities in the UK, some 18 venues dotted across the country offering a mix of trampoline and climbing wall activities. Active entertainment has been a popular offering for younger audiences, but the corporation has decided to pivot towards offering an entertainment mix for an older clientele. With this business decision, the company launched a flagship location in a London suburb to experiment with their new concept.
Called ‘Gravity Wandsworth’ – the concept has ditched the trampolines and gone for a modern mixed-use leisure entertainment aesthetic. The 100,000-sq.ft, facility inhabits what had previously been a Debenhams department store – leading to some calling the new Gravity a “department store of fun!”. While for many the venue is dominated by the indoor multi-level e-karting track, (built by 360 Karting), the venue is underpinned by the largest deployment of immersive entertainment technology in a single site in the UK.
Immersive entertainment is defined by the key applications of digital technology, and “Gamification”. Meaning the application of simple but fun game mechanics into the experience, including progression, scoring and collectables. This is seen with the facility’s deployment of ‘AR Bowling’. The traditional bowling lanes are now enhanced with projection mapping, projected images that are tracked with the ball’s movements and add a new level of engagement for the players. Taking a tired format and supercharging it for the new audience.
An aspect of supporting the new audience and the entertainment mix of the venue has been dubbed “Competitive Socializing” – offering entertainment that can be played by groups of friends, while also enjoying cocktails and food. Pub games accelerated into the 21st Century. The bowling experience at the site, as with other games, is supported by touchscreen kiosks for game selection, scoring and ordering.
Another familiar entertainment given the gamified approach is the ‘AR Darts’. Again, projection mapping is employed to paint the whole of the space with a unique interactive experience. The game of darts transformed into a socially inclusive competition, not focused on score counting, but fun games that can be played with groups of varying skills. Taking away the cumbersome aspects of some games and focusing on the fun elements defines gamification.
Projection mapped AR systems such as this are not new to the social entertainment scene, several venues have deployed AR darts, along with the appearance of AR ping pong, and even AR Axe Throwing experiences. The gamification of these activities, like the bowling, offers a new level of social inclusion, augmenting the number counting and tedious scoring metrics for a much more inclusive experience.
We see at Gravity the deployment of more immersive entertainment approaches, the facility including the installation of an Electric Gamebox setup. These unique pods house players in a fully immersive (MR) environment, with projection on all walls. Their whole body is tracked and able to control their character within the game experience. The developer of the platform has just launched a brand new game based on Angry Birds, offering a compelling and active approach for a wide audience.
For Gravity it is about a constant process of application to attract a new audience, the facility includes its own eSports lounge, and has its own amusement space dedicated to the latest video arcade, redemption, and prize machines. This space also sees the deployment of several of the latest VR amusement platforms. With the motorcycle game Ultra Moto VR, and the two VR motion ride experiences, Virtual Rabbids and King Kong.
The venue will see opened in the summer a brand new VR attraction installation of a HOLOGATE VR experience – with the four-player tethered VR ‘Arena’, and their ‘Hyper GP’ VR motion simulator system, which will be run on the ground floor in their own dedicated attraction. HOLOGATE recently announced that it will be releasing a Ghostbusters-based VR experience on these systems.
Of the more conventional entertainment the space also includes urban street golf and is supported on the ground and third floor with food and beverage service. The top floor also includes ‘Newtons Cocktail Bar’ offering a relaxing hospitality scene. All this is supported by futuristic robot servers. The space reflects the move to a new level of entertainment for an audience hungry for the latest immersion, but also wanting that social media buzz with “Instagram-able” moments.
The success of Gravity Wandsworth experiment has seen the owners make the announcement of the plans to open a second facility based on the model. This will see a £10m investment to once again repopulate a 180,000-sq.ft, Debenhams department store, in Liverpool. To be named ‘Gravity Liverpool ONE’, it will represent the flagship location of the brand, opening in 2023 – with plans to roll out 30 sites in the next two years.
This will prove very crowded waters as immersive entertainment technology establishes itself as a leading force in the scene, and already other facility developers wait in the wings to launch their interpretation of the new immersive frontier. More developments using the latest technology will be covered soon.