VR fun: Two arcades immerse people in virtual-reality games

Two arcades immerse people in virtual-reality games

At V-Room, a virtual-reality experience centre in Jurong East mall JCube, one can experience being a space pirate battling for survival against an attacking army of droids.

To onlookers, though, one is just a person wearing what looks like a pair of giant ski goggles and frantically flailing one's arms in the air.

V-Room, set up earlier this month, is the second dedicated virtual-reality arcade in Singapore. The first is Ignite VR Arcade at Marina Square, which opened last December.

V-Room is a 2,000 sq ft space with 12 gaming rooms. Each room is simply designed, with the centrepiece being an HTC Vive virtual reality set that comes with a headset, wireless controllers and two base stations that beam infrared signals to the aforementioned gadgets. A large TV screen broadcasts what the player is doing during a game.

HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are the main brands in the virtual-reality gaming scene at the moment.

  • VR arcades

  • IGNITE VR ARCADE

    WHERE: 01-223/224 Marina Square, 6 Raffles Boulevard

    OPEN: Daily, 11am to 10pm

    ADMISSION: $3 to play one game (selected titles) or $30 an hour to book a station

    INFO: ignite-vr.com


    V-ROOM

    WHERE: 02-11 JCube, 2 Jurong East Central 1

    OPEN: Daily, 11am to 10pm

    ADMISSION: First-time customers have to pay $5 for a 10-minute tutorial; $30 an hour on weekdays and $36 an hour on weekends to book a room (maximum three people)

    INFO: v-room.sg

 

At Ignite VR Arcade, there are four gaming stations, three equipped with an HTC Vive each and one with an Oculus Rift.

An hour of play at both arcades starts at $30 a room, for a maximum of three players at V-Room and four to five recommended at Ignite VR Arcade.

Both centres encourage customers to make playing at the arcades a social gathering and book a room with friends or family.

"Playing virtual-reality games can be tiring as you are physically exerting yourself, so we recommend customers come in groups and no more than three people to give everyone a decent block of playtime," says V-Room director Jonathan Ye.

Ignite VR founder Roy Koo adds that there are multiplayer games, where only one player wears a headset, but others can still participate in other ways, such as by giving the player instructions on defusing a bomb.

Upon strapping on a virtual-reality headset and holding on to motion-sensing wireless controllers in each hand, a gamer is immersed in a 360-degree fantasy realm of the game where he becomes the character.

Mr Yu Tian Yi, 20, has strapped on virtual-reality headsets at least six times at Ignite VR Arcade. The recent polytechnic graduate says: "The games look so realistic that I am totally sucked into the virtual world. It's extremely addictive."

Yoga instructor Roxanne Gan, 28, says she never enjoyed playing video games until she encountered VR at V-Room.

"It felt so real that when I played a zombie shooter game and saw the zombies approaching me, I literally felt I was in a horror flick," she says with a laugh.

Mr Ye, 32, travelled to China last October to try out the HTC Vive before it launched in Singapore in late November. "I was hooked as this was like nothing I had ever tried before. The technology is at a stage where people can interact in this virtual world instead of just looking into it," he says.

While he thinks enthusiastic Singaporeans can afford the $1,349 price tag of an HTC Vive set, he believes space constraints could deter people from playing VR games at home. Ideally, users should play in a 4 sq m space without any furniture.

He seized the opportunity to expose more people here to VR gaming by opening V-Room. He invested $60,000 in the equipment alone.

Similarly, Mr Koo, 27, realised that the awareness of virtual-reality technology in Singapore is "still very low" and that games make for an "easy entry point to virtual reality". He and his two partners first started a blog on virtual reality before investing less than $50,000 to launch Ignite VR Arcade.

Both arcades get their games from online marketplace Steam, which has hundreds of VR titles. Players can choose from shooter, puzzle and escape games, or various sports, including boxing and tennis.

Mr Ye says business at V-Room has been slow but is improving. "The challenge with VR is that people are not able to really visualise or understand it, similar to our escape-game business at the beginning," says Mr Ye, who also runs Lockdown Singapore, an escape-game parlour.

This is why he has set up a green screen at V-Room's entrance for passers-by to view what the player sees during a game.

At Ignite VR Arcade, business has been picking up, says operation manager Mohamed Muhaimin; some weekends are so busy, he says, that he "can't find time to eat".

"We still have to handhold and guide the customers for now as the technology is very new to them," he explains.

Mr Ye says the emergence of virtual-reality games is timely in the gaming scene: "There was a time arcade chains were being overtaken by home-video game consoles, such as PlayStation and Xbox.

"Soon they will be replaced by these virtual-reality arcades."

The existing arcades have plenty of catching up to do.

Video-gaming cafe Saint Games introduced a PlayStation VR at its The Cathay outlet last October and has plans to get the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive in the coming months.

Of Timezone Singapore's six outlets, only the one at VivoCity has a virtual-reality game, the Rilix Coaster, a roller-coaster ride. The game will be moved to Timezone Singapore's new Westgate outlet next month.

Timezone Singapore's marketing manager, Mr Alex Liang, says that while the company has "no immediate plans to bring in new VR games", it is "in talks with industry experts to see how we can launch a commercial and not a home-based VR product.

"There is still some time to go before more attractive VR products will be launched."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2017, with the headline 'Living in a fantasy world'. Print Edition | Subscribe