Zero Latency’s Latest Free-Roam Experience Made Me A Believer In VR Esports
‘Sol Raiders’ lays the groundwork for a global competitive VR platform.
In a city bursting at the seams with every conceivable vice one could crave, entertainment is king. Stand-up comedy, live music, lavish nightclubs, high-stakes gambling, it’s all there in spades. At the MGM Grand however, location-based VR specialists Zero Latency are offering an entirely new experience that may just bring a competitive edge to the Vegas strip.
The company has been offering a variety of cooperative free-roam VR experiences at the massive hotel & casino for a while now, allowing passersby the rare opportunity to clear waves of zombies while waiting for the next David Copperfield performance.
With Zero Latency’s sixth and latest release, the team sets their sights on an ambitious multiplayer VR experience they hope will kick-start a growing VR esports platform that fosters a community-driven competitive scene. Set in a post-Earth universe where bad-ass robot mercenaries in search of a rare new power source, Sol Raiders combines the fast-paced action of an FPS shooter with the intimacy of VR to create a unique, team-based competitive experience that will turn even the best of friends into mortal enemies.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Sol Raiders is the advanced chaperone system. By utilizing a dual protection solution, Zero Latency has greatly minimized the risk of player-on-player or player-on-wall collisions. Each player has access to an on-screen indicator which appears whenever they venture too close to a physical barrier or fellow player. A top-down view similar to that of a video game minimap shows when an obstruction enters a players vicinity from any direction in-real time. Each player model has also been exaggerated in size as a further safety precaution, giving players a bit more leeway when maneuvering close to one another.
These tools proved essential throughout the experience as Sol Raiders features a large amount of close quarters combat. Equipped with a PC backpack, Zero Latency’s personalized OSVR HMD’s, and weapon peripherals featuring haptic feedback, my three teammates and I (the game can also be played 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3) went to work harvesting the valuable power source across three futuristic maps, each of which featuring their own unique objective to complete. If the round ends in a tie, the winner is decided based on their total kill count.
It was a refreshing experience being able to fight alongside real people against real enemies in a fast-paced, tactical environment. Communication was key as we went about our objectives, cautiously clearing each room of enemy players. The overall vibe wasn’t too far off from that of a game like Rainbow Six Seige; the focus on objective-based gameplay in tight environments adding plenty of opportunities for tense, unpredictable moments.
Thanks to the advanced chaperone system, Sol Raiders was also the first location-based free-roam VR experience I felt comfortable running in. With the proximity notifier, I was able to casually jog past teammates, confident I had enough space to avoid a painful collision. At certain points I was sure I was going to make contact with another player, but the oversized player models added just enough breathing room to ensure no one took a plastic gun to the face.
“With more than half a million game plays in our global locations, and the global popularity of eSports on the rise, we’ve seen a lot of demand from players who want to compete against each other in head-to-head action. With Sol Raiders, now they can,” said Tim Ruse, CEO of Zero Latency. “If you thought that shooting zombies in our VR locations was fun, just wait until you have a chance to pit your gaming skills against your family and friends!”
“It was kind of critical from Zero Latency’s perspective to make sure that people got to maximize the fun of competitive free-roam virtual reality, but also in a safe manner,” adds Phil Martin, Zero latency Sales Executive for West Coast North America, South America, and Asia. “So introducing a couple of those software tricks to make sure that people gave each other sufficient enough space, we thought that was the most constructive way of doing it.”
“One of the other tricks we used was if you’re shot (killed) you go into the ‘Nether World’ where you’re just a disembodied white avatar, but you also see the avatars of everyone else at that point and time as well. That means you can move back safely, but quickly without running into somebody.”
In terms of esports readiness, Sol Raiders satisfies a considerable number of requirements. The objective-based PvP elements are fun, but require a fair amount of communication and planning to effectively complete. This means working together to plan attacks, organize a defence, and assign various roles.
To help combat cheating, the team implemented several features to ensure a level playing field throughout each match. Walking through walls, for instance, results in a player being instantly killed. Blind firing has also been addressed thanks to a system that tracks when a player raises their weapon above the standard shoulder position, warning them to return to normal play before suffering an embaressing death.
Through various in-game tricks and some clever design planning, I felt a genuine sense of exploration while traversing the three maps. Once killed, I had to return to my original starting point by physically running back to the end of the arena and standing in a glowing spawn area; an excellent method of reorganizing the battlefield in real-time.
Of course Sol Raiders is just the tip of the iceberg for Zero Latency’s competitive VR scene. Phil goes on to express the teams goals and ambitions for their budding VR esports platform over the 12 to 80 months.
“It takes a long time to produce a game like this. It’s very complicated technology; the creative process and the development process take a significant length of time. What we’ve said is that this is now our starting point for the competitive player-versus-player free-roam virtual reality gaming experience. We’re expecting to work with the community of gamers, esports experts, and tournament organizers, and others on how we can make this ideal for what the esports community wants to have.’
“We’ve built this architecture so that it is expandable, so that we can iterate on it based on what the community needs. We’ve already seen concepts like tournament modes, ladders, and all these different ideas that we would like to include. Right now, it’s a great product for people who want to come in and blow the heck out of each other, but hopefully going forward, we’ll see teams all over the place. We’d love to have Zero Latency Tokyo coming over with Zero Latency Madrid to take on Zero Latency Vegas in a Sol Raiders tournament at the MGM for example.”
Although Sol Raiders does feature its fair share of limitations, including some less-than-perfect tracking, the competitive free-roam experience is an impressive first step towards what the company hopes to be a global esports phenomenon. As ZL continues to refine their platform over the next couple of years, it’ll be exciting to see just how effective immersive gaming can be on a competitive level. I don’t know about you, but I could definitely see myself grabbing a drink at the bar while I lay down a few dollars on a match between ZL Tokyo and ZL Vegas.
With Zero latency establishments bringing in a total of 419,767 game plays in 2018 alone, i’d say they have a fair shot at making competitive free-roam VR a respectable esport.
Tickets for Sol Raider are available now at Zero Latency’s 25 global locations, but doors won’t officially open to the public until February 9th. In the meantime, ZL offers a handsome variety of other kick-ass cooperative free-roam experience as well, such as the uber creepy Zombie Outbreak, to the colorful Engineerium.