Virtual reality arcade a reality here

Virtual reality arcade a reality here
Ignite VR founder Roy Koo (left) and Mr Mohd Muhaimin, who runs the arcade's operations.
PHOTO: The New Paper

I stood in front of a packed stadium with the floodlights intermittently blinding me as a row of footballers prepared to rain shots at my goal post.

I saved two, but the next three flew past my flailing hands, and I was out.

Then I was transported atop a space station and tasked to defend myself with a laser shield from a horde of enemy drones.

Next, I found myself in a boxing ring facing off against an opponent with a nasty scar.

It took a herculean effort before I knocked him out.

I also put my non-existent artistic skills to the test with 3D painting game Tilt Brush, trying to recreate a 3D version of The New Paper logo.

It all happened to me in a Marine Square shop on Friday, made possible because of virtual reality technology, which local firm Ignite VR tapped on to open Singapore's first virtual reality arcade.

The Ignite VR Arcade, which opened on Dec 2, is a modest-looking shop featuring just four stations.

Looking in from the outside, I thought the virtual reality gamers looked silly and clumsy as they attempted to shoot down robots or slice fruits.

My view changed once I put on the HTC Vive headset - paired with its controllers and a pair of noise-cancelling Razer headphones - as the crisp graphics and surround sound immediately fooled my brain into thinking I was somewhere else.

Most games were a challenge, requiring players to perform quick actions or fail.

While the concept of virtual reality arcades is not new - it has been around in the US and Europe since the 1990s - it was only in the past year or so that big tech companies jumped onto the bandwagon.

Taiwan-based HTC announced at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month that it was preparing initiatives aimed at convincing developers to create more virtual reality experiences and revealed plans for arcades in public venues, reported The Business Times.

There are already thousands of virtual reality arcades in China, according to Polygon.

GROWING TREND

The growing trend was what prompted Ignite VR founder Roy Koo, 28, to set up the arcade.

"We initially started Ignite VR as a blog to spread awareness about virtual reality.

"But once I tried out the HTC Vive last April, I was hooked," said Mr Koo.

"We wanted more people to realise how amazing and immersive this technology was, and last month, we moved to set up this arcade for people to try."

Most of the arcade's games are from Steam. Ignite VR paid Steam for licences to use the titles commercially, and it updates its line-up every month.

Customers - either individually or in a group - can choose to play a game for $3 or pay $30 for an hour.

Since the arcade opened, response has been heartening, according to Mr Mohd Muhaimin, who runs the operations.

"The crowd usually hits a peak on weekday nights and on weekends.

"Often, we have no time for a break even," he said.

Most of the customers are families with children aged 12 and below or players aged between 25 and 35, along with a steady stream of tourists.

One customer, Mr Ikhsan Suri, 28, a civil servant, told TNP he visits the arcade at least once a week with friends.

"At first I thought it would be a bit gimmicky, but once you put on the headset, wow, it is like you are in another world. I was hooked," he said.

"I got so immersed I even knocked into walls or lost my balance."

To keep customers coming back, Mr Koo said the arcade will keep improving its hardware with the latest gadgets.

"Most of our gadgets now are wired. I believe in future, most will become wireless and we will look to get them.

"The way I see it, virtual reality is becoming such a big part of entertainment - from games to shows to everything.

"So we should embrace it," he said.

rloh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 23, 2017.
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