Entertainment Immersed in the Game! #1086

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Main Report

With regards to London, another major project nearing completion is the proclaimed “World’s Largest LED Canvas”. The ‘Outernet London’, in the heart of the capital, offers both live performance space and a massive 2,000-sq.m., 8k LED display enclosure. Along with showing specially commissioned experiences, the building will be used as a licensed music venue and exhibition space, able to accommodate over 2,000 guests. The space has been designed to accommodate music, film, art, gaming, and retail experiences, and will be opening later in the year.

In summarizing this approach to IDE, we need to also include the investment in what has been dubbed the “Artainment” (museum and gallery) sector, utilizing this immersive environment approach to create a narrative engagement with audiences. The ability to create an exhibition, based on a digital representation of the subject or artist, can be easily installed in a suitable space and offers the wonders of IDE. These benefits have boosted the concept’s popularity.

We have already reported on the popularity of the ‘Van Gogh – The Immersive Experience’ travelling exhibition, currently wowing crowds in a return to London. Most recently, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard has seen the opening of the ‘Immersive Mary Rose Exhibition’ – a projection-based portrait of the historic sinking of the Tudor warship in the Battle of the Solent in 1545. Developed in partnership with the National Museum of the Royal Navy, and the Mary Rose Trust, the exhibition is supported also by interactive touchscreens along with multimedia displays.

Many of the developments in immersive digital experiences have been seen as evolving from the development of what some have dubbed “Cinema 2.0” – an attempt to develop a successor to the movie theater experience. And recently, there was an announcement of a brand-new approach to this concept.

During August it was announced that a new interactive audience screen platform was to be released, that allows real-time interaction with on-screen live characters. Developed in a joint venture between Alevy Productions and Super 78 Studios, the system is named ‘Magic Screen’ and employs, as claimed by the partnership, the world’s first interactive platform for audience-based, animated, and live content. The system is proposed to be deployed in cinemas and other Out-of-Home Entertainment attractions. The joint venture has also partnered with MetaMedia to develop and deploy the platform and content named ‘Magic Screen – Interactives’.

The platform has been supported by Microsoft, NVIDIA, Unity, and several other technology providers, towards the rollout of the first installations of the system. The venture is also working closely with Super 78 Studios and their extensive background in providing live-character animation based around their ‘Geppetto’ system – seen in park attractions such as ‘Smurf’s Village Playhouse’ at MOTIONGATE. The new ‘Magic Screen’ platform will build on this experience to create a cloud-based content delivery platform for interactive live-character audience experiences, distributed by the MetaMedia Entertainment Network, with live-streaming experiences. While the details of the “interactives” element of the experience were yet to be revealed, the operation was undertaking private demonstrations of the system during the CinemaCon’21 convention, and reports on the first venues to adopt the platform are to be announced soon.

– The Interactive Approach
Regarding the interactive approach to IDE, we have also seen a host of new investment in this direction – viewed by many as a more flexible deployment approach to immersive entertainment, away from the encumbrance of headsets.

The immersive wonder of a fully-projected environment can be seen with Illuminarium and “Artainment” in a passive approach; it can also be seen in the deployment of highly-interactive and active applications. One such example is from technology and development house Hello.io, with its chain of ‘Hello Park’ venues, with some 30 interactive digital parks internationally. The company, working in partnership with indoor adventure playground company Kidspace, has launched its new ‘Oceanarium’ – an immersive, interactive, 3D adventure at the bottom of the ocean. It uses projection and motion tracking elements to create an experience for multiple guests to play and explore within the space, along with being able to interact with the sea creatures moving on the walls and floor within the virtual aquarium. It is the first of this kind of experience to open in Europe, offering a compelling and interactive take on the IDE approach.

We have also seen an explosion in development of game spaces, or enclosures, for tracked sports game deployment. This is best illustrated by X-Golf, with 25 locations in North America, offering a social entertainment venue with golf simulation enclosures, using the latest digital screens and ball tracking – offering a host of courses and mini games. This concept was recently joined by Topgolf Swing Suite, offering their own interpretation of the virtual golf simulator and hospitality model. Although the operation also offers other sports games to play on its display platform, across 70 partner stores, not all offer the same hospitality and game experiences.

In addition to shooting golf balls, virtual shooting simulator experiences using IDE technology have been rolled into the Social Entertainment landscape, such as the launch of the ‘Point Blank’ venues. Building on the same approach seen with the social darts and mini-golf emporiums, the three ‘Point Blank’ sites offer cocktails and sharing meals for groups, with the entertainment provided by a state-of-the-art shooting range. Minimum one-hour sessions, using a selection of realistic laser-shooting weapons, at a large projected screens in each booth, offer a unique entertainment experience. Owner Point Blank Shooting is currently operating three sites in the UK, at Manchester, Liverpool, and Newcastle.

Another example of venues embracing separate attractions employing IDE has been seen with BANDAI NAMCO Amusement’s rollout of their ‘VS Park’ facility operation. Called “variety sports facilities”, these are spaces that offer highly physical game experiences based on sporting activities, using large digital screens and player and object tracking. BANDIA NAMCO announced the opening of a fifth location, a 3,000-sq.m. facility at the Seven Park Amami, Matsubara City, Osaka. This is a highly eclectic environment, which emulates the players taking part in a zany Japanese variety TV show. Of the 24 activities, IDE experiences include ‘Atetare! Football’, ‘VS Handball’, ‘VS Archery’ and ‘Nigekiru’ – having the guest attempt to run faster over a given distance against digitally represented characters.

Readers of The Stinger Report will be familiar with the other projected screens and tracked object attraction ranges as seen in Japan at the JAEPO show of 2019. Coming from Korean company, Legend Heroes Sports, we saw several projection screens and tracked sports games, such as their soccer, archery, hockey, baseball, and skeet shooting projected screen experiences. Many of these attractions were developed from systems installed previously at the Korean ‘Legend Heroes Sports’ indoor entertainment facility chain in Seoul. First opened in 2017, the operation went on to open several branches, including one in the Lotte World Mall, seeing 3,000 visitors in its first week. This approach has proven to be a strong inspiration to the appearance of other IDE venues with a sporting theme. Many elements of this are see with BANDIA NAMCO ‘VS’ range of sports activities at ‘VS Park’, showing they have clearly been heavily inspired by this approach.

Sports experiences which employ IDE have been in development for some time, and the fruits of these developments are starting to appear internationally. Most recently came the news of ‘TOCA Social’, a soccer-themed entertainment space which brings social entertainment to a 30,000-sq.ft. location. The first of these are opening in The O2 venue in London this year. The space will see 17 virtual soccer simulator enclosures, allowing groups of guests to improve their skills in a few soccer-based game experiences. The ball is tracked as it is kicked at the targets on screen. This is also all supported by an extensive food and drink offering, in a concept developed byTOCA Football, a sports training and fitness operation, who has now taken this concept into the social entertainment sphere, with plans to roll out more sites based on initial reactions.
The sporting and highly-active element of this approach is reminiscent of what has been achieved by Valo Motion with their projected augmented reality climbing wall (ValoClimb), along with trampoline experiences (ValoJump). We have seen other sports-based interactive experiences enter the market, such as the ‘Neo-One’ from NeoXperieces – the company has developed an immersive projection enclosure that tracks the players’ movements to create a combination of sports and entertainment. The system offers a versatility that can be deployed in shopping malls, school environments, sports and leisure centers, and at live events. The system is developed as a permanent or temporary installation, with a suite of games which offer a highly-active experience within the immersive playground.
One of the new Social Entertainment entrants that has also heavily embraced the concept of IDE, is Electric Gamebox. The company has developed its multi-player, projected, immersive gaming pods concept, with a selection of games and a unique tracking system (via players’ hats), first opening in London in 2019. The company recently announced the raising of $11m in funding, with the round supported by Brookfield Asset Management, Index Ventures, and ActivumSG. This makes a total of $25m raised so far. This funding will go towards a plan to open some 100 new locations in the next two years, in the UK and US. The operation opened its first US facility (Dallas) in 2020 and has plans for Chicago and Los Angeles sites. In addition, the company is expanding beyond opening its own standalone venues, and recently partnered with entertainment facility brand Gravity Active Entertainment, to open a “Gamebox” within existing locations as an additional attraction. The first saw three pods at the ‘Gravity Wandsworth’ location, converting a former Debenham’s department store into an entertainment destination (report following soon on the opening of the site). Electric Gamebox is looking at a rollout of some 1,000 locations by 2026.
The market is also now seeing the entry of specific IP being created to offer a unique platform for entertainment. In a recent announcement, technology developer YDreams Global announced a partnership with leading global play and entertainment company Hasbro. YDreams is licensing the rights for brands ‘Peppa Pig’, ‘PJ Masks’, and ‘Play-Doh’, to create immersive playgrounds based on the properties, initially for the Brazilian market. The partnership will develop “Immersive Spaces” for children and families, to be rolled out in shopping malls throughout Brazil, utilizing these beloved brands. This is a project directed at the new generation of shoppers, feeding of the demand for “Retailtainment” by the mall sector. The initial renderings of the intended IDE in development for the partnership include large screens and tracked players movements. More details on the rollout of this project in the coming weeks.

The concept of an enclosure or pod, where all the operators’ peripheral vision is saturated with imagery, can trace its evolution back to the 1990s and the development of the Computer Automated Virtual Environment (CAVE). This was technology which was felt to revolutionize the CAD and visual-simulation sector. Building on a pedigree in commercial and military simulation, the ability to build a projector environment that could throw imagery onto the walls, floor and, in some cases, ceiling of the space proved challenging. Meanwhile, several universities and tech corporations created their own pseudo-CAVE installations for research and development work. The deployment of this approach for entertainment grows, with technological advancements as seen with the deployment of MicroLED in special digital effects work, from ILM, using their ‘Stagecraft’ on the ‘The Mandalorian’ TV series.

But the ultimate example of an immersive entertainment environment, employing projection systems to superimpose a synthetic digital game experience into a game space, received a London premiere for the latest incarnation. Called ‘Chaos Karts’, and opened near Brick Lane, the concept is a Mixed Reality go-kart adventure – what the developers, Ents Inc., have called the “ultimate Go-Karting experience”, seeing up-to-eight electric go-karts racing within a digitally created raceway. This places the players into an interactive game-space, as if living the ‘Mario Kart’ video game. It is engineered in partnership with Little Lion Entertainment, known for their work on creating the ‘Crystal Maze Live Experience’, creating a compelling event space.

The concept employs two vital element, with the first being the projection mapped racecourse, employing some 32 high-resolution projection systems to map the space. The second component is the inclusion of special electric-go-karts (so negating the need for helmets and coveralls), comprising tracking that helps to place the vehicle in the virtual environment, as well as the collection of virtual items to add to players’ scores, or to deploy as ‘Power Ups’ to hinder the progress of fellow competitors. The venue has created three game-spaces, and up-to-16 players can take part per hour. This is the true “gamification” of the go-kart experience and opens the door to other employments.

Many of our readers will be familiar with the coverage we have given previously to other developers of this kind of approach. Most recently reporting on ‘BattleKart’, now with nine locations of the augmented projection go-kart attraction in Europe. Developed by BattleKart Euope and represented by KCC Entertainment Design, the experience offers five unique game modes to support the go-kart and projected environment experience (such as ‘BattleSnake’, or ‘BattleRace’), within the 16,000sq.ft. play-space. Also, we have seen manufacturers such asZamperla and their new business division Z+, which recently demonstrated the ‘BumpArcade’ product which mixed physical bumper cars with a projected environment experience.

In Conclusion – the ability to place the guest into the heart of the game experience will see other forms of entertainment attractions and amusement given the “Immersive Display” treatment. Along with the deployment of projection systems in ‘Projection Mapped’ applications, the use of MicroLEDs will allow for more compelling enclosures to be completely wrapped in the display medium. The only real limitation to this application is the imagination of the graphic design studios employed to create the immersive experiences displayed on these versatile screens. As with the OOH industry looking at forced perspective 3D digital advertising, the entertainment scene will hope to enthral a new audience with a brand-new way to be part of the game!

This ends the latest Stinger Report, we thank all our subscribers and advertisers for their support, and the next report will follow shortly.

Erol Huseyin

Erol Huseyin

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About Me

Kevin’s consultancy KWP Ltd specialises in helping international clients develop immersive and interactive entertainment. Kevin has recently become Co-Founder and Technology Director for Spider Entertainment, a Global leader in Out of Home Entertainment for retail destinations.

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