For the global entertainment scene, 2020 was a tough year. Now we are starting to see the return of some normality and of course, Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world, is leading the way.
Whilst Las Vegas has always been a hub for traditional entertainment, the city is starting to build a reputation for immersive entertainment with a number of recent announcements strengthening its offering in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR).
Sandbox VR, the out-of-home virtual reality destination, was one of the businesses that suffered under coronavirus restrictions. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last summer, but it has recently been announced that it has now emerged from this following debt restructure. The company plans to open its first Las Vegas experience early this summer in the Grand Canal Shoppes in the Venetian Resort.
Sandbox is a futuristic VR experience for groups of up to six. Inspired by Star Trek’s Holodeck, Sandbox leverages Hollywood motion capture cameras, 3D precision body trackers, custom hardware, and haptic suits to enable users to feel like they are living inside a game or movie.
In comparison to the now-defunct LBE company The Void, which required a lot of 4D kit, Sandbox is a fairly lean set up and so, with the roll-out of vaccines, the company is showing optimism for its future with plans to operate in 15 locations worldwide by the end of the year. This optimism may well be based on a reported 30% increase in demand from before the pandemic at current locations.
AREA15, which is located at the heart of Las Vegas, is a groundbreaking, purpose-built immersive entertainment complex. It opened on 17th September 2020 and boasts 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space. It has plenty of room for multi-dimensional and interactive entertainment, but due to COVID, it has yet to fully establish its offering. The vision, however, is huge. Real estate development firm Fisher Brothers and creative agency Beneville Studios, who have collaborated on the venue, hope to offer a new ecosystem for retail, entertainment, and hospitality. Whilst Vegas is the debut, the plan is to find other suitable locations in major cities for this “immersive destination.”
“By creating and curating best-in-class experiences and partnering with immersive artists and makers at the vanguard of this movement, we have witnessed our vision come to life. This project embodies unbound innovation and creativity, and this opening will be the first step towards something truly magical. Come curious and leave different!”, said Michael Beneville, Founding Partner and Chief Creative Officer of AREA15.
One of the first immersive installations to open at AREA15 was Birdly. Created by Swiss company, Somniacs AG, the simulator lets users experience what it’s like to fly like a bird. Flyers command the full-body VR flight experience with arms and hands. Each input is reflected in the virtual flight processor and returned as physical feedback through nick, roll, and heave movements. The high-resolution virtual landscape, 3D audio, and haptic wind sensations combine with the motion table to create an extremely realistic experience.https://cdn.embedly.com/widgets/media.html?src=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fembed%2FusafTK-_R0Q&display_name=YouTube&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DusafTK-_R0Q&image=http%3A%2F%2Fi.ytimg.com%2Fvi%2FusafTK-_R0Q%2Fhqdefault.jpg&key=a19fcc184b9711e1b4764040d3dc5c07&type=text%2Fhtml&schema=youtube
A second VR installation, OZ Experience by France-based VR developer BackLight, is also located at AREA15. This is a dedicated 1,800-square-foot unit, created within the space to house a multiplayer VR backpack experience. It is the first of its kind for BackLight and will serve as a test for the studio that is already planning other openings in Europe (pandemic dependent) towards the end of the year.
OZ Experience is based on the HTC Vive hardware and visitors can try “Eclipse”, a 35-minute free roam experience set in space that can accommodate up to four players. In addition to Eclipse, there are two motion seated rides called “Far Reach” and “Birdy King Land” with sensory enhancing seats, 3D effects, and high fidelity rendering.https://cdn.embedly.com/widgets/media.html?src=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fembed%2F6ScaU8xyLqk&display_name=YouTube&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D6ScaU8xyLqk&image=http%3A%2F%2Fi.ytimg.com%2Fvi%2F6ScaU8xyLqk%2Fhqdefault.jpg&key=a19fcc184b9711e1b4764040d3dc5c07&type=text%2Fhtml&schema=youtube
For something a little more serene, AREA15 is host to “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience”. When it opens on 6th April, Visitors to the digital art exhibition will feel as if they have stepped into Vincent Van Gogh’s famous paintings, through 360° digital projections, a one-of-a-kind VR experience, and an atmospheric light and sound show.
The exhibition’s arrival at AREA15 marks the first time a virtual reality experience of this magnitude and complexity featuring the art of Vincent Van Gogh will be seen in the United States. In advance of its wider North American release to at least eight cities this year, Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience will debut an exclusive preview inside The PORTAL — AREA15’s 360° projection-mapped room designed for events, performances, and digital art installations.https://cdn.embedly.com/widgets/media.html?src=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fembed%2FBG9gZVdAzO8%3Ffeature%3Doembed&display_name=YouTube&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DBG9gZVdAzO8&image=https%3A%2F%2Fi.ytimg.com%2Fvi%2FBG9gZVdAzO8%2Fhqdefault.jpg&key=a19fcc184b9711e1b4764040d3dc5c07&type=text%2Fhtml&schema=youtube
AREA15 is not just about VR, the venue is also home to an interactive augmented reality walking experience, “Particle Quest” which holds the secret backstory of AREA15. Guests will be outfitted with a Particle Quest mask (an MR headset) to discover a world of surreal nano-particles triggered by the surrounding art and architecture.
These latest openings in Las Vegas add to a whole host of immersive entertainment installations including VR Adventures, FlixBus Undersea, Explorer VR Experience at Shark Reef in Mandalay Bay, and Madame Tussauds VR Room, to name a few.
As audiences demand more novel and engaging experiences that transcend what is possible in the real world, the need to evolve entertainment offerings is essential to remain relevant and competitive. Vegas has been embracing immersive technology for years, with MGM Grand Casino being an early adopter back in 2017 when it opened a free-roam VR arena, and it is clearly continuing to build a reputation as a next-gen entertainment playground.
Comment: Las Vegas is quickly becoming an area for immersion activities to flourish. This takes shape in the form of Mixed Reality, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Experiences. Area15 a large format VR experience that uses entire rooms and objects is of particular interest. This represents the future of possible developments and changes for mixed reality experiences, particularly when combined with something like large scale AM technology. I can picture large-scale AM technology in unison with VR technology to rapidly change environments users can explore by creating physical objects that correspond with certain in-game features such as walls, doors, and chairs. This entire system could become modular and rapidly change allowing for production of new adventures or even the ability of users to choose a scenario from an extensive list leading to increased customer retention. Although I remain vigilant that Disney’s approach to experiential design is superior, I still see the potential that AM technology could provide to VR worlds, especially rapidly changing ones.