Immersion’s Next Phase | Part 5

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Immersion’s Next Phase 
Part 5  |  # 1004

Report Skinny

Continuing the extensive six-part coverage of the 101st anniversary of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), and in this fifth part we continue to cover the latest “Video Amusement” on the show floor and follow the trends, then look at faltering steps from “Augmented Reality” at the show. 

Main Report
Continuing with the impact that IAAPA 2019 has had on the amusement aspect of the trade event.

The veteran American distributor Betson Enterprises represented their ever-growing range of prize, Redemption, and amusement. The big launch across the booths was Raw Thrills’ Nitro Trucks‘ – an off-road racing game, with a cabinet comprising a stylized racing roll-cage. Developed by Play Mechanix, the racing game employs real-world driving physics to enhance the action and destructible vehicles. Along with the usual driving elements, the game includes a camera to capture the player’s image to be incorporated into the racing and offers up-to-eight player networking – all in a vibrantly realistic HD graphics presentation. The systems displayed at the show were production prototypes, with the final release schedule for the end of February.
Raw Thrills continued to shape up the amusement scene through their conventional amusement pieces. The company was also displaying the new ‘Big Buck Hunter: Reloaded‘ – next to the actual NASCAR emblazoned with the brand. This eagerly anticipated 2020 sequel of the wildlife shooter marks its 20th anniversary next year. The game is now boasting enhanced graphics, along with a new-design cabinet and redefined gameplay. Players now also use a bow, blasting zombie deer (‘Doe of the Dead‘!) in monster island story stages, all supported with a streamlined interface. But the big features for the operator was the inclusion of the ‘Terminator Salvation: Delta Mission‘, a new game-play level from the same game world as  Raw Thrills 2009 blaster – extending the range of shooting genres available on a single cabinet and sporting the Reloaded update (backwards compatible with all in the Big Buck HD series).
A big development for operators who have not taken the plunge was the news that the online signup for machines never previously connected is now free. The hope is to grow the online tournament element of the platform – having seen a successful 12th ‘Big Buck Hunter World Championship‘ at the HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas during October, with the winners seeing a total prize pot of $100,000, with some $20,000 for first place. Underlining how amusement has championed the eSports engagement long before eSports established itself in the West, developers Play Mechanix (part of Raw Thrills), proclaimed at the event that the game was “the world’s #1 arcade eSport“. Other amusements that were also given presentation included ‘Super Bikes 3‘ in its final lines, the popular ‘HALO Fireteam Raven‘, and the IAAPA debut of Raw ThrillsNERF Arcade video, based upon the well-known Hasbro toy brand.
A tantalizing hint was given of one of the secret projects Raw Thrills has been rumoured to be involved with. Signage on the booth revealed coming soon – ‘King Kong of Skull Island‘, revealed as a new VR game, the first from the company. The title is produced under license of DeVito Artworks, LLC. It was revealed that the game will use all new bespoke assets by Raw Thrills’ dev team members, who created the previous smash release ‘Jurassic Park Arcade‘, and the new title is aimed for an Amusement Expo 2020 presentation in New Orleans. Further information was limited, but well-placed sources confirmed that the new VR experience will be a two-player “attendant free” motion machine – with some suggesting that hardware will be like systems seen from LAI and now TRIOTECH. One source even suggested that the game was planned to be shown at IAAPA’19, but the appearance of the new TRIOTECH release may have focused on moving to Amusement Expo.
The other major amusement distributor presence on the IAAPA’19 show floor was from Player One Amusement Group, who presented their partnership with VRstudios, showing the ‘Dual ATOM‘ – a wireless, full-motion attraction which includes two pods networked together, using wireless HTC VIVE Pros. The platform itself is a modular attraction, with each pod having a 10’x10′ footprint, and which can be connected and operated in one-to-four sections (supporting from one-to-12 players). The attraction comes with a content bundle and the attraction management platform (AMP). During the show, the company ran the new children’s content licensed from Cartoon Network – ‘We Bare Bears – Food Truck Rush‘. This had previously been a title for the WePlayVR platform,but was now available from the VRstudios platform and being promoted as such, adding to the number of prominent IPs appearing across the platform.

VRstudios has established a long-time partnership with Dave & Buster’s and, most recently, announced the latest VR attraction they produced for them: Terminator: Guardian of Fate, yet another strong IP used to leverage LBE VR technology. Dave & Buster’s has also currently installed two of the company’s free-roaming ‘ARENA FLEX’ attractions in their Tampa and Orlando stores, in which the Orlando location on International Drive served as a showcase during the IAAPA’19 show. The ‘ARENA FLEX’ utilizes one of their function rooms and illustrates how simple it is to turn a room into a VR arena – essentially turning under-utilized space into a revenue engine. VRstudios has also announced that they will be included in the new ‘Junxion’ entertainment destination concept being launched next year by investor Cineplex, who is already rolling out VRstudios’systems in their ‘Rec Room’, ‘Playdium’ and cinema facilities. The first ‘Junxion’ location will open in 2020 at the Erin Mills Town Centre in Mississauga, Ontario (an announcement regarding Cineplex acquisition follows at the end of this report).

Just as we went to the wire, the news broke of yet another partnership amongst the leading developers as the market consolidates. It was announced thatVRstudios had joined forces with SpringboardVR – content marketplace and distribution platform for VR arcade operators. The partnership is intended to augment the portfolio of the VRstudios attraction management platform (AMP), with SpringboardVR having amassed a leading library of VR content (both games and educational), licensed from over 270 content creators for commercial use, that will now be available, also on the ‘ATOM’ VR attraction.

Regarding another amusement veteran taking the plunge into VR, Barron Gamesrevealed they had partnered with Kynoa, representing their ‘Koliseum Soccer VR‘ – a virtual reality foosball experience for four players, that we have reported on in the past, including most recently with their appearance at IEE’19 on the e-Virtuality booth. In the new partnership with the Swiss Kynoa, Barron Gameswill now become the exclusive North America distributor of the VR foosball experience, seen as a complement to their physical foosball and air hockey product line.
Regarding one of the companies who was absent from the IAAPA’19 show floor from the amusement trade, Incredible Technologies decided not to attend, having already had a hectic show with the G2E’19 gaming event earlier – but this did not mean they were not still supporting the amusement scene. It was announced that the launch of ‘Golden Tee 2020‘ would be seeing some 17,000 locations installing this latest in the series. Some 10 years since the ‘Golden Tee LIVE‘ platform was activated, this new game celebrates the 30th anniversary of the series. Continuing their investment in tournament play, Incredible Technologies held, in June, their ‘Golden Tee World Championship‘ at the New Orleans Casino in Las Vegas, with prizes of $130,000 for the winners. The event attracted a big audience, and again saw the championship streamed on ESPN 8. This tournament represented the other “arcade eSport“! As with our previous report on Play Mechnix and their successful ‘Big Buck Hunter World Championship‘, these games have become the only successful eSports-style ventures from the amusement trade that originated much of what represents eSports.
Returning to companies who did exhibit at IAAPA’19, and Adrenaline Amusement brought their new game license to the Orlando show – developed by Coin Crew Games and now renamed ‘Hot Wheels – King of the Road‘. Having been caught on loc-test at Two Bit Circus, when visited earlier in the year, the eight-player version was created by the developers for the entertainment facility. Now, after that exclusive, it was presented as a six-player version, developed by Adrenaline for general amusement consumption. The booth was sporting a real-life speedster car to promote the new release of the latest big license Videmption play. The company also gave space on their booth to ‘Tomb Raider‘ and ‘Rabbid’s Hollywood‘ – big screen shooters. As well as the new Videmption title, again building on the Ubisoft property ‘Rabbids & Laders‘.
Regarding the developer Coin Crew Games, the company has also been involved in a new title called ‘Battle Bowling‘ – the two-player version of the cabinet had been seen on loc-test at the Two Bit Circus venue. For The Stinger Report representative, the game style brought back memories of the Sony METREON and the ‘HyperBowl‘ system in 1999. Though not shown at IAAPA, there was no word when this would be seen in the trade, but is expected to be released in the New Year.
The retro-inspired scene made an appearance at IAAPA’19, following on from what we had reported on during Amusement Expo 2019. The developersPolycade demonstrated their wall-mounted, retro-game and indie casual game content for their systems (the ‘Polycade Pay-to-Play‘), now incorporating card swipe payment options – the company’s marketing stated them to be “on a mission to make gaming social”. Another retro-inspired offering was represented on the PrimeTime Amusement booth with, along with some video, the new ‘Cosmotrons‘ four-player cabinet (developed by Arcadeaholics) – inspired by Asteroids and Luna Lander, the game offers a frantic team battle experience which is perfect for the bar and club scene.
Universal Space (UNIS) had an incredibly active booth this year, constantly growing on the presence they bring to this aspect of the business. Of the new releases on show, and in ATARI area of the booth, the company had the new four-player ‘ATARI PONG: Knockout‘ system. The system takes the table-top version of the game and adds four-player cross competition, in a fun interpretation of the original which is reminiscent of the actual 1974 classic retro ATARI video game, ‘Quadra Pong‘. This was along with the company’s brand new and innovative video screen supported basketball game, ‘To Tha Net‘, which received praise from buyers. The company also presented a new video in the shape of ‘Crazy Ride‘ – a street racer where the player takes the role of a Uber-style driver, picking up passengers and racing to their destination, in a game that resembles a mash-up of ‘Crazy Taxy‘. UNIS also gave premium space to their brand new VR offering – the bike racing game, ‘Ultra Moto VR‘, was previously seen at IEE’19 (and previewed at Gala), but this was the first chance for most America buyers to see this latest attempt at a VR amusement piece, with the motion based bike system employing the 3Glasses headset. This is a system which has been promoted as “Easy to Manage“, underling the self-service VR focus of many developments.
One of the big developments on the UNIS booth was the partnership with TAITO, which enables the company to be able to present their new releases. TAITO, last year, had surprised the industry by returning to exhibit in the West. However, after initial feedback the company has eased back on its eclectic mix of VR and amusement, and this year was focusing on promoting three titles. These included ‘Space Invaders: Counter Attack‘ – a Videmption machine which shoots balls at the invaders; ‘FestivalHero‘ – the three-player mini-game title using the unique lever interface that we reported on at JAEPO’19; and ‘GunArena‘ – a game using a pneumatic Airsoft pistol, shooting at a large screen with actual pellets. The game was launched in Japan and many thought it would never see the light of day in the West, but TAITO presented the system on the booth and it proved a very popular piece. We look forward to seeing how the UNIS / TAITOpartnership blossoms in the West with the shipping of these machines.
The other Asian contingent of amusement hardware distributors and manufacturers
was WALAP Technologies. Along with the conventional Redemption, prize and videos, the company had last year’s ‘Overtake VR‘ on display – also developed by partners IGS, who developed the motorbike VR experience on UNIS‘ booth in a similar vein. There was also the already-seen ‘Speed Driver 5: New Generation‘ street racer, and themed enclosure ‘Monster Eye 2‘ video cabinets made up the mix. Meanwhile, examples of the motion capture ‘Hero Robots‘ young player video was also on show, hoping to attract operator attention.
The American amusement game manufacturer TouchMagix had one of the largest showings of their recent history, with a packed booth during IAAPA 19. Leading the charge of new releases, the company showed ‘Carnival Cups‘, ‘Drift ‘N’ Thrift‘, and ‘SpaceWarp 66‘. The company stated that ‘SpaceWarp 66‘ was being rated as one of the best games on the show floor by several large operators and press. The company has also been involved in the projection mapping aspects for the bowling industry, with ‘Spark · Light it Up!‘, developed in partnership with Brunswick Bowling who were also on the show floor.
Coming from a strong 2019, LAI Games presented their traditional amusement offering, and were also basking in the success of their own “VR Self-Service” platform – ‘Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride‘. Following the launch of new software experiences last month, the company was calling this the final stop of their “world tour” of the new content. Regarding what was also on display, the company had their new three-player Videmption mounted shooter, ‘Toy Frenzy‘, along with the presentation of the production prototype of the AR version of Skeeball, called ‘Amazing Alley‘. But the big reveal was the video shooter ‘Outnumbered‘. The game is much more than its sum of parts, as LAI Gameshas worked incredibly hard in creating what has to be seen as the first social media empowered amusement piece; and could be the start of the Western amusement trade waking up to the opportunity they have allowed to wither on the vine.
Outnumbered‘ is a game that allows the player to use their social media and smartphone to collect gun and ammunition parts, and build their own gun combinations to offer differing elements to improve their accuracy and, hopefully, their score, as they take part in competitions with other players. The gun building element is on the front-end, while the back-end of the game is equipped to support operator instigated tournaments, alerting players via their social media app to these events, and the promotion of the high-score and leader boards in their area. During the four days of the show, LAI ran their own tournament with prizes, promoting the level of engagement that this connected game can achieve. Connected social media equipped videos have been deployed in Japan, but found it difficult in the West, competing against the resentment to connected hardware from some trade members.
All these elements of the gun game, and an in-game currency feature that can be linked to real money and prizes, have been tailored over the months by the LAIR&D team working in concert with the TimeZone operation team, operating detailed loc-testing of the game. Modification of the game mechanics and the cabinet design are ongoing – with a smaller profile version of the system in development. It was even revealed that a version of the machine for consideration in the hospitality and bar scene has been proposed and will be tested in the UK bar scene soon (hoping to return fun tournament video play to this neglected market). Easily overlooked, we hope many of the attendees to IAAPA had a chance to see this game and had their eyes open to its opportunity, as The Stinger Report was by the sales team – which we would like to thank them for.
Another unusual and interesting shooting game which would have been missed if it were not for our friends at Arcade Heroes, was from Chinese developer Luck Amusement Machine. Along with a selection of prize and Redemption games, the company had the brand new video shooter, ‘Super Firing‘ – a game that used foot controls to steer the player’s character, while blasting away at opponents on screen. The game was configured to be able to be networked, and used high-quality PC graphics. The play may sound reminiscent of the 2007 SEGA shooting game ‘2 Spicy‘, but this latest interpretation seemed to be a title that, if given a Western outing, may find favor with the players.
The music game scene was still going strong, no matter the animosity by some in the trade. Andamiro promoted the 20th anniversary version of their dancing stage game ‘Pump It Up‘, along with showing their new prize and Redemption titles. While across on the iPlay Technology booth, the manufacturer Step Revolution showed off to the American trade with their brand new entry into the market, ‘Step Mania‘ – building on extensive knowledge of the dance stage gaming scene, the manufacturers have created a durable platform crafted for the immense home playing scene and the amusement trade. The robust dedicated design incorporates a 42” screen with stage and cabinet lighting and speakers. Step Revolution also revealed a fitness version of the system – the dancing stage premise has been deployed in education and fitness in the past (as covered by The Stinger Report), and the company has built an “All-in-One Fitness Machine” which utilizes their game system (the latest exhibit offers a fitness dimension to their hardware).
Along with a plethora of conventional pinball tables on the show floor from the usual suspects, there was one surprise appearance with the latest attempt to establish a video pin-table in the market. Exhibitor Zen Studios presented the latest versions of their ‘Pinball FX‘ platform, with both a conventional screen version and a deluxe version. The video game pinball table comes with a wide selection of titles that have been converted for commercial usage from the company’s core business of the PC pinball emulator (which has a strong community). The system was recently seen on test at a Dave & Buster’s location, and seems to be the latest attempt to establish this format into the market.
One of the amazing aspects of IAAPA is the amount of innovation and new technology the seeps onto the show floor. No other trade convention covered by The Stinger Report offers such a snapshot of new technologies. But compared to previous years, IAAPA’19 seemed to be bereft of dedicated “Augmented Reality” (AR) developments, with only one exhibitor openly showing a system that used AR glasses – and in a most surprising way. Italian veteran ride manufacture, Sartori Rides, had on their booth a very early prototype of a new concept using this technology. Called ‘Holo Adventure‘, two players enter an enclosure and sit in a ride vehicle, putting on unique AR headsets developed by Sartori, and grabbing tracked controllers. The ride vehicle then moves into the dome display that represents the virtual world, while the effects and shots from the players’ pistols are represented via the AR glasses. Obviously, this system is at a very early stage of development and was incredibly temperamental, but the system was an amazing innovation, and showed how close we are to seeing true Mixed Reality (MR) attractions.
Other than Sartori, the only other dedicated presence of AR that could be seen on the IAAPA’19 show floor was its use in photo capture platforms – such as seen from LA Photo Party with their AR filter capability, as well as their advanced social media tracking, in an extension of what has already become popular on smartphones. But other than a few such examples, AR applications were not as prevalent as previously. It is hoped this is the beginning of a new era in media-based attractions, and that AR if not MR will play its part.
On the final straight – the last part of the coverage of IAAPA 2019 follows shortly.