Virtual reality gaming so often seems to offer the world – or perhaps several brand new, supernatural versions of it – but in the end, leave you with nothing more than a bad case of nausea and a sense of crushing disappointment.
Sandbox VR, an immersive VR experience that has just launched in London and which promises to “take group VR gameplay and competitive socialising to the next level”, could so easily have been one more let-down. However, thanks to some smart technology and equally smart world-building, this is one VR experience that’s more epic than epic fail.
As we reported in Experience Radar 33:
“The 300-capacity, VR-fuelled social space is aimed squarely at adults and boasts a robot bartender able to mix and muddle up to 80 cocktails an hour. Visitors will be able to take part in free-roam team games in haptic suits that allow you to feel all the sensations experienced within the game, from dramatic changes in body temperature to – slightly ominously – the sensation of being shot.
Using new-gen Hollywood motion capture cameras, 3D precision full-body trackers and feedback suits, Sandbox creates an experience of touch, vibration and motion for the wearer, helping joystick junkies to feel like they’re living inside a game, where you’ll be able to physically interact with other players and explore an array of different virtual worlds. After a heavy gaming session, players can kick back in the space’s futuristic lounge area and re-watch their gaming highlights over a Star Trek-inspired Samarian Sunset cocktail shaken up by the UK’s first in-house robotic bartender, IG-1, aka the Makr Shakr.”
The WXO’s Editor, Olivia Squire, dutifully donned her headset, haptic vest and tracking sensors and got stuck into a zombie apocalypse in Deadwood Mansion and an alien invasion in Amber Sky 2088. Here’s what she made of it.
What’s good about the experience?
- It’s one of the first VR experiences I’ve done where the tech really lived up to the promise. The Pico Neo 3 headsets, haptic feedback vests and “weapons” felt very natural very quickly, and it was easy to lose yourself in the space without any of the nausea or glitchiness that I’ve experienced in past events. The visuals were also really impressive – a scene during which we rose through outer space on a floating platform was genuinely awe-inducing, eliciting gasps as well as nervousness about peering over the “edge”!
- It used touch as well as sight to immerse us in the world of the game. The varying levels of vibration from the vests every time we were shot/trampled by a gigantic zombie overlord added an extra frisson without going too far. Having physical “weapons” to fire and recharge also helped to get us into flow – I had no idea how long each game actually lasted while I was in it.
- There was a clear narrative in each of the two games we played, with a setup, peak moments where the adrenalin flowed, and a crescendo/payoff at the end. It was also just the right amount of challenging – enough to keep us totally engaged, but not so much that we lost enthusiasm.
- It’s a brilliant group activity, whether you’re going with friends, family or colleagues. We got paired with some strangers and bonded incredibly quickly, so it could also be a great team-building or icebreaker exercise (once you know how someone acts in a zombie apocalypse, getting through a strategy meeting is a doddle). You can also choose between the intensity level depending on the story you opt for, from a family-friendly pirate adventure to surviving a mansion of the undead. The range of games also fuelled my curiosity and made me want to come back to try them all.
- The staff were encouraging, knowledgeable and did a good job of amping up the excitement, asking us for our game monikers and dealing with any tech issues quickly.
- The robot bar beforehand was a fun touch that offered a talking point – although the robot’s measures were a little heavy-handed. I’m not sure how wise it is to give someone a pint of nine-shot negroni before handing them a gun…
- One of the most impressive features was the customised film-style trailers they put together on site showcasing top scores, players and skills, using real footage from our game as well as our chosen names and photos taken before we started. They were high quality, had a real sense of story and were totally shareable – I’ve shown mine to lots of people, who now all want to come and try it for themselves.
What could be improved?
- The “crossing the threshold” part of the experience could perhaps be more engaging and related to the game. At the moment it consists of a waiting room with the robot bartender, which although fun, doesn’t tell you much about the actual game experience – this is limited to five posters on the wall which staff talk you through. What if they had special areas dedicated to each story, where you could watch trailers or interact with other elements from the game world? Maybe you could watch live feeds from the games in action – seeing how excited/scared/pumped other people were when we got to the game floor helped to get us amped up.
- Although the experience played with the senses of sight, sound and touch, if it had managed to also evoke smell – smoke from weapons, or damp air rushing in, for example – that could have made it even more immersive. There were some wall-mounted fans that weren’t working that I assume would have been used to both suggest movement at certain points in the experience and also cool us down, as it does get sweaty!
What elements do you like so much you’d like to use them in your work?
- The personalised, shareable content with a quick turnaround was really nifty, both for the person who’d had the experience and those who might be thinking about it. I’d like to see how this could be adopted for more game experiences and beyond, where audience participation has taken place.
Sandbox VR is now available to book, with games costing between £30-45 per person using dynamic pricing. To book your experience, click here.