Racing Simulators Now Available

Our blog post is a bit early this week because we're so excited to launch our racing simulators! Bookings are live RIGHT NOW for our special Memorial Day hours beginning at noon and all normal hours after. The best part? You can get a 20% discount when booking any station or package that includes racing with the code RACEVIRTUAL (valid on spots through June 30).  

We'll try to answer all your questions below, but if you have more, don't hesitate to get in touch at info@augmentalitylabs.com.

What is included?

We have 2 stations with adjustable seats, force feedback wheels, and pedals. Both stations run Project Cars 2, from Slightly Mad Studios. This game has an incredible number of customization options, including tracks, vehicles, weather conditions, types of race styles, and more. 

Do I have to understand racing rules and types to play?

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No, of course not! If you do have specific requests, then we can work with you to customize what you'd like. But if you just want to hop in and race, then we have pre-set options ready. As long as you can turn the wheel and push the pedals, you'll be good to go.

Can I share the station?

You sure can. We usually set up the stations to take 5-10 minutes per race, so there are natural break points for you to switch. However, if you want to race each other rather than computerized opponents, you will need to book both stations since you both will need a headset. As usual, each station is hooked to a TV so that everyone outside can enjoy seeing both the person playing and the in-headset view.

Will this make me sick?

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There is a slightly higher risk of VR sickness with these stations than with some of our other options. However, if you let us know, we can make adjustments that are likely to help you enjoy the session, such as camera position and increasing audio volume. Our policy is that if you have no one to swap in and if you let us know within 5 minutes of beginning that you don't want to finish the session, then we will give you a voucher for a regular station.

How do I book?

These stations are listed as "racing stations" on our bookings page. You can also choose to book them as part of a party package: a 4 pack w/racing will get you 2 standard and 2 racing stations, a 6 pack w/racing is 4 standard and 2 racing, and an 8 pack is our full venue of 6 standard and 2 racing. For more recommendations based on group size, head here.

 

Game Highlight: Pixel Arcade

Game overview

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Pixel Arcade, from Corrie Green, is a platformer with deceptively simple mechanics. Maneuver your way through a course of neon blocks as you climb, toss, and slide your way through each level. Even though it’s single player, it lends itself well to competition (with others or with yourself) with its built-in time trial mode. Attempting to bypass the whole level by throwing yourself directly to the end block is definitely worth a few (dozen) tries, but the heart of Pixel Arcade is in quick movements, spins, and hops from checkpoint to checkpoint.

Difficulty

This game scales difficulty very well. Level 1 has a built in tutorial that explains what each of the block styles do, and there aren’t so many that it’s overwhelming. The challenge in Pixel Arcade is not at all with understanding the game, but in actually beating the levels - which is exactly how an arcade game like this should work.

Most fun moment

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The satisfaction of beating a difficult level - especially if you’ve had to give it several tries - is definitely the peak here. If you enjoy challenging yourself through several replays to get the steps exactly right, then you’ll want to jump into the later levels after the tutorial. We’d love to see a multiplayer mode added, because beating your friend in a race would be a great moment as well.

Ideal audience

While this game is simple enough for anyone to step into and start swinging around, it’s really intended for those who want something that’s fast moving. Though you control the speed, climbing through the neon blocks can feel disorienting if you get moving faster than you intend to. For some players, that will be a thrill of the experience, while some won’t enjoy that challenge as much. Regardless, the movement is smooth and doesn’t cause sickness in the way that other similar games with "self-throwing" movement can with some players.

Bottom line

Pixel Arcade puts you inside the game and uses room scale VR in a way that many other games don’t quite accomplish. Many players describe feeling “just like Spiderman” once they get the hang of scaling tall obstacles and sending themselves soaring off to the next one. This is a game that can easily be enjoyed as a quick experience or for a long session (which is bound to turn into quite a workout).

Unlimited Play Pass: How Does It Work?

We’ve had several questions on how our unlimited play passes work. Here, we’ll clarify some details.

When is this deal available?

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This is available on Thursday, May 31 for $30, and on every Tuesday following for $35.  It's during our weekday hours of 3pm-10pm.

Do I have to book it in advance?

Because we limit them to a specific number in order to ensure lots of playtime for everyone, we do highly recommend booking in advance (head here and click on “All-day pass”). The pass can only be booked in advance up to 2:59 that day. If you're still interested, you'll to call ahead to check availability before just walking in.

What do I actually get with this deal?

With one pass, you can come in anytime between 3-10pm the day of the deal and hop onto a station. You can leave and come back if you'd like, as long as you let us know that's your plan. You can choose any or all games on our list to play, and we’ll be there to help you out with recommendations and controls. We’ve even been known to hop into the multiplayer games and help players beat that level they’re stuck on.

Can I share?

While you can share stations when you book time-based slots, you cannot share the unlimited play pass. It’s for individual use only. If a group of players all book it together, then we can align your play times in order for you to play multiplayer games together, if you’re interested in that. Learn more about multiplayer games.  

Will I have to rotate with others who’ve bought the pass?

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Possibly. However, after testing in previous months, we’ve decided to cap the passes at 2 available per station. This means that if the passes fully sell out and we cycle through 15 minute rotations, you’ll play at least 30 minutes out of each hour. If you show up before others do for the day, then you’re welcome to play for as long as you want until there’s a line or until closing. If you show up at 3 and plan to stay until 10, then you are guaranteed to get somewhere between 3.5-7 hours of play.

Can I apply membership credits towards the pass?

If you’re a member and interested in this, please contact us at info@augmentalitylabs.com for details.

Multiplayer Gaming in VR

One of our best features is the ability for players to enjoy a multiplayer experience, like Trickster VR or Loco Dojo. However, it can be a little complex for players to understand how exactly this works, especially if they’re not used to playing console or PC multiplayer games at home. Here, we’ll answer a few of the most common questions about multiplayer VR gaming with us.

Setup

 The Vive's Deluxe Audio Strap is comfortable, easily adjustable, and has quality headphones built-in.

The Vive's Deluxe Audio Strap is comfortable, easily adjustable, and has quality headphones built-in.

The HTC Vive (with Deluxe Audio Strap attachment), which is the virtual reality system that we use, comes with a built-in microphone and easily adjustable headphones. This means that as soon as you are linked together in a multiplayer lobby, you will be able to hear each other and see each other’s in-game avatars. Of course, our staff are there to assist you with that multiplayer setup.

Most multiplayer games do run online, meaning that you could connect with a player anywhere else in the world. However, we specifically select only games that allow for private multiplayer lobbies, meaning that you won’t have a random person jump into your game unless you choose to open it up. We understand that if you’re out having a date night or a family outing, you might not want anyone external to the group to join in.

Co-op vs. Competitive Gaming

 BAAM Squad is our newest co-op multiplayer game: a 1-4 player zombie defense scenario.

BAAM Squad is our newest co-op multiplayer game: a 1-4 player zombie defense scenario.

When it comes to selecting a game, one of the best places to start is by deciding if you’d like to compete or cooperate against a common enemy. We maintain a list that includes both options, because this really is a personal preference. However, we tend to recommend the cooperative games to groups who are mixed between self-identified gamers and non-gamers. This helps to ensure that everyone has a chance to participate without getting frustrated, because everyone can work together as they learn the controls and adjust to VR at their own pace.

Game Choices

 These players are enjoying multiplayer gaming in Rec Room, which is for 2-6 players.

These players are enjoying multiplayer gaming in Rec Room, which is for 2-6 players.

In order to play multiplayer games with us, players do need to reserve at least 2 simultaneous stations. Only 1 person can use a station at any given time, though players are welcome to swap in and out of a station during their reserved time. Multiplayer games support different numbers of players: for example, Hell Dimension holds 1-2 players, while Loco Dojo is 1-4 players. Some games, like Protonwar, can hold more than 6 players. However, we note it as 1-6 players because we only have 6 stations in our venue, so you'll only be able to have 6 players from your group play at once.

On our games page, we break our list down by multiplayer and single player, so you’ll always be able to tell what your options are. We’re happy to make recommendations when you arrive, but many players like to decide ahead of time.

Game Highlight: 2MD VR Football

Game overview

2MD VR Football, from Truant Pixel, is a game that, like Space Pirate Trainer, has a great old-school arcade feel while updating the gameplay, graphics, and responsiveness for VR’s capabilities. The concept is simple: you’re the quarterback of your team, and each game is a 2 minute drill. Throw the ball downfield to your receivers and advance along the field to score, and then take on a bonus round to perfect your accuracy and speed. A 3rd person spectator view is included for those watching on TV.

 Spectator mode, which shows on the TV out of headset, allows for a nice viewing experience.

Spectator mode, which shows on the TV out of headset, allows for a nice viewing experience.

Difficulty

This game scales difficulty pretty well. If you just want to hop in and test out how throwing a VR football feels (the answer is: very realistic), then you can do that easily. However, the game also allows you to shift your receivers and draw your own plays on a whiteboard if you’re interested in the details of passing plays. You can also choose to audible once you’re on the field.

Most fun moment

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As you might expect, the most fun moments for players tend to be scoring those touchdowns, or completing long passes on 4th down. If it’s a good football moment in real life, then it will feel great in VR. Getting in a rhythm in the bonus round and hitting those hoops one after another is also satisfying.

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Ideal audience

Those who are into football or sports in general are the most likely to hop in and enjoy this. Because of the scaling difficulty, we’ve seen both kids and adults love this game. And yes, it works for both left-handed and right-handed players: this picture shows a left-handed player surveying the field and preparing to launch a pass.

 

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Bottom line

2MD VR Football is a good example of VR allowing people access to a real-life situation that is hard for most people to get into in real life. Not everyone is built to play football or has the skill of a quarterback. But, in this game, anyone can feel the thrill of throwing that perfect spiraling pass into the end zone.

Game Selection, Part 3: Arcade-ready

Part 1 and Part 2 of our game selection posts discussed how VR games can help you access a world beyond reality and then can fully immerse you into that world. This part is a bit more practical: how we decide if a game is arcade-ready.

Will it make anyone sick?

 Teleporting is the most reliable movement option for players to avoid VR sickness. It's usually indicated by a marker like this one in The Lab.

Teleporting is the most reliable movement option for players to avoid VR sickness. It's usually indicated by a marker like this one in The Lab.

First, we have multiple staff members test each new possibility to ensure that it’s unlikely to cause VR sickness (which is similar to simulation or motion sickness). Though some players are more prone to it than others, we do watch out for specific characteristics. In particular, movement within a virtual space can cause sickness when implemented as “walking,” an option where you press a button and the world slides by. We won’t feature a game in our arcade that only has this option available, and we watch out for other possible causes of VR sickness as well.

Easy to set up & learn

For us to select a game, it doesn’t need to be simplistic, but it does need to be simple to learn and set up. We want our players to fully enjoy and immerse themselves in the experience, not to spend half their session trying to set up multiplayer lobbies and struggling with complex controls. Though some players book out and play for 2 hours at a time, most are only playing for 30-70 minutes. This is hardly enough time to get fully engaged with a game like Skyrim VR or Fallout VR - while these options are fun, they're really best for home play, which is part of why we have other choices instead.

 In Google Earth VR, the controllers always show you what the buttons do. It's easy to remember that way!

In Google Earth VR, the controllers always show you what the buttons do. It's easy to remember that way!

Of course, some people will pick up game mechanics more quickly than others, and we do maintain a list with a range of complexities. Staff will always be available to talk you through multiplayer setup and to assist with controls, but it’s best if a game is intuitive and/or has an engaging tutorial to teach players the basics before scaling up difficulty. Per Bushnell’s Law, the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master.

Commercial licensing

Finally, for us to offer a game, the developer and/or publisher must be willing to license it commercially. Because we don’t develop our own content on site, we must have permission to offer it to the public. This agreement can take a variety of forms. Most commonly, we pay a fee to license each offering per station per month. We do get a lot of questions about why we can’t offer certain content, or why we have to rotate our game offerings: generally, commercial licensing restrictions and costs are the answer.

Event Highlight: VR at You Are Here

Last weekend, we were invited to be a part of the opening party and all-nighter for the North Carolina Museum of Art's You Are Here exhibition. We had an amazing time immersing ourselves into the exhibits: first, we helped artists Britt Flood, Scott Renk, and Adam Peele perform in Google's Tilt Brush, and then we demoed Space Pirate Trainer to lots of attendees. Check out some highlights below! 

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Don't forget, we're happy to bring VR to you if you have an event that we could augment. We're pretty flexible - get in touch and let us know what you're looking for.

Game Highlight: Ocean Rift

Game overview

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Ocean Rift, from Llyr ap Cenydd, is more of an experience than a game, and it is a very engaging one. Choose from ocean animals such as dolphins, orcas, or giant prehistoric reptiles, and you’ll be transported to an underwater exploration site with them. Propel yourself around to swim and interact with the variety of ocean life in the soothing underwater sounds. Turn on text or audio facts to learn more about the animals, or just enjoy the swim through the deepest parts of the ocean.

Difficulty 

This game is extremely easy to get into. Because it is an open world, you simply select an animal by reaching your controller through it, and you’re instantly swimming with the eels, sharks, or turtles. An easy to access menu will let you switch environments or turn the facts on and off at any time.

Most fun moment

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People like to swim with dolphins in real life, and it makes for an incredible moment in Ocean Rift as well. Pushing the touchpad while swimming with them will drop a hoop for them to do tricks with, which is fun to watch, and propelling yourself along with them is quite relaxing. If that doesn't sound quite exciting enough to you, then you’ll probably prefer hanging out in an underwater cage with a great white shark rattling the bars from only inches away.

Ideal audience

 You can choose to read or listen to educational facts, or you can turn them off and just swim around

You can choose to read or listen to educational facts, or you can turn them off and just swim around

Due to its ease of use, Ocean Rift is a good choice for anyone looking for a introductory VR experience. Young kids who might have trouble manipulating controls or adults who aren’t into swinging around swords or shooting guns will enjoy the exploratory nature of Ocean Rift.

Bottom line

Ocean Rift is not going to have you spinning around wildly and getting physically involved with the game in the way that some of our options will. However, it is an excellent choice for someone who wants to see the potential of VR for exploration and education, or who is looking for a relaxing escape from reality.

Game Selection, Part 2: Immersion

For part 1 of how we choose games, head here. This is a continued discussion of our game selection process.

Use the hardware

 The HTC Vive

The HTC Vive

Our 6 stations all use the HTC Vive. This hardware has the ability to be tracked with 6 degrees of freedom (6DOF). Without getting too technical, this means that you can move in the 3 dimensions (left-right, backwards-forwards, up-down) and that you can rotate around each of those directions. For a more thorough explanation of this, head here. In our space, we have 10’x10’ spaces set up that take advantage of the Vive’s room-scale capability. While the Vive can be used in a seated or standing mode if a player requires that, room-scale VR allows free movement within the designated space, and helps players forget where they are as they get fully immersed into the game.

 This "dog" greets many of our players in The Lab.

This "dog" greets many of our players in The Lab.

Essentially, the Vive allows for a lot of detail to be placed within a small space along all dimensions.  A game or experience that takes advantage of this capability will generally be more immersive than one that doesn’t. We want to get people fully engaged within their space, whether they’re playing fetch with a robot dog on a mountaintop or spinning around wildly to blast monsters.

 

Interactivity

 In Space Pirate Trainer, you use your guns to interact with the menu.

In Space Pirate Trainer, you use your guns to interact with the menu.

A game that provides a distinctly-VR experience, beyond that of PC and console gaming, will rank more highly for us. Something as simple as a welcome menu screen where you actually have to reach out and grab levers or push buttons to select options rather than “clicking” on them really makes a VR experience unique from the beginning.

Picture a cutscene in your average PC or console game. It may have tried to implement interactivity using a quick time event: something like “press A to take the sword” or “press X to dodge the punch” pops up on screen partway through the scene. In VR, that can be taken to the next level. We don’t want to see games that say “press trigger to take the scroll.” We want to actually reach out and take the scroll. Or, a game can combine the full use of space and tracking with this - dodge the incoming punch by literally ducking down to dodge it.

 A player casts this spell in The Wizards by thrusting their hands forward with the triggers held.

A player casts this spell in The Wizards by thrusting their hands forward with the triggers held.

Another great way to make a game interactive is to include the use of actual hand gestures to trigger certain events. The Wizards is our best example of this: to cast certain spells, it requires you to move your hands in a particular way in relation to each other, and it feels incredible the first time you find yourself holding a fireball or launching frost arrows just from moving your body and hands. This is a particularly powerful VR-specific mechanism.

Full immersion

 Having that plank under your feet makes you feel like you're actually there.

Having that plank under your feet makes you feel like you're actually there.

Small ties to reality really do make a huge difference in VR. Plank not Included is one of our most popular experiences because it is extremely immersive. When we put out that actual wooden plank, and you can both feel it under your toes and see it in-game supporting you over the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s very hard to convince your brain that you’re not actually there.

Or take a first-person shooter game. If a developer integrates a realistic ability to crouch behind cover to protect yourself from incoming fire, that’s going to make the game stronger. Or perhaps certain weapons have scopes that you can actually hold up to your eye to use, rather than hitting a button to zoom into scope view. These small touches really serve to increase the immersion of the game.

Finally, one thing that we find occasionally breaking immersion for players is an inability to match the in-game character to race and gender. Games may have users play characters that are genderless, like robots, or they may not show hands and arms in-game. However, if you look down from a first-person view in a game and see hands that don't match yours, this can cause a disconnect in the immersion. Games that offer even the slightest of customization options that are easy to modify are likely to allow greater immersion for a wider audience.

Part 3 of game selection: how we decide if games are arcade-ready.

Event Highlight: Seeing is Believing

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Last Friday, we co-hosted Seeing is Believing: An Immersive Media Festival with Department of Creativity. It was a lot of fun to feature something different from our usual games: these were artistic expressions, historical explorations, immersive educational experiences, and unique film narratives, all created specifically for VR. Most were created locally, so we were able to invite in creators and artists to share their work personally on the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Gear VR, and Google Cardboard.

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For this post, we're sharing a few photos of the crowd enjoying the unique content. It was a great turnout, and we'd love to feature more content at a future event! Are you a VR/AR creator of games, art, film or anything else? Let us know what you're working on - feel free to get in touch at info@augmentalitylabs.com

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