When all-electronic colour televisions were first marketed to the public in 1954, people were amazed and terrified in equal measure. For the first time, ordinary citizens could see events happening thousands of miles away in clear detail, giving individuals a new understanding of their world.
Now the next leap forward in digital technology has arrived.
Immersive virtual reality has been in the works for over a decade. A non-starter in the 90s, recent years have seen developers advance the technology by epic proportions. Tracking users’ head movements as they look around their virtual world, VR offers wearers the chance to explore three-dimensional digital landscapes in mind-blowing detail.
Virtual reality headsets have finally hit the point where everything is very, very real—so it’s no surprise that the market is set to be flooded in the coming months by VR gaming. Sounds like a dream come true? Maybe not. Prohibitively expensive, those headsets are—if you’re looking for a top-quality experience—currently the toys of the wealthy.
One Vancouver company has found a way around that problem. Offering users the chance to experience the highest grade of virtual reality without having to shell out the requisite $4500, DWOR rents out a number of its “virtual reality booths” to the public at very affordable prices.
The company has four HTC Vive headsets available. Widely considered to be the best VR technology on the market today, the Vive comes with a range of capabilities, and DWOR has made full use of its assets. Plugging into one of the company’s custom-built supercomputers, users experience very little latency—which means no trace of motion sickness—and DWOR’s ability to mount the HTC Vive’s “Lighthouse” room-tracking sensors gives individuals the chance to move around the space for a next-level immersive experience.
“This technology has been available to consumers since June, and I got my first one then,” DWOR event organizer Cedric Yu tells the Straight. “I didn’t realize just how amazing the Vive headset was going to be. When I brought some friends over and we played a few games together, they were all just blown away too. We started to do more and more demos, and we began joking around saying, ‘Hey, HTC should pay us for showing off all their technology.’ And now what started out as a hobby has become a business.”
DWOR’s current gaming catalogue includes The Walking Dead-esque encounter the Brookhaven Experiment, an individual or multiplayer game that tasks users with killing frighteningly realistic zombies; the high-octane shoot-‘em-up Space Pirate Trainer, giving players the chance to fire lasers at enemy spacecraft; and the multi-player Rec Room—a platform containing a number of family-friendly mini-games like dodgeball and tennis pong.
“Because it’s the Halloween season, the zombie games have been really popular,” Yu says. “We have two types of zombie encounters—the realistic one, and a cartoonish game called Zombie Training Simulator, which is quite like Plants vs. Zombies in its art style. Both of those platforms show off how great the technology is at picking up what you’re doing with your body and your controllers.”
While gaming is a key draw of the VR experience, however, it’s far from the limit of DWOR’s Vive offerings. The company has a number of immersion experiences on file, offering ultra-realistic three-dimensional mini-movies like those included in Blu: Encounter. Transported into a stunning underwater world, individuals can watch as an 80-foot blue whale glides past, hanging eyeball-to-eyeball with users, before powering itself away. Other scenarios show illuminated jellyfish pulsing past a participant’s body, pushing drifting particles of plankton aside to reveal caves filled with grotesque and beautifully-textured anglerfish.
DWOR’s four booths are available to book in hour time slots, allowing participants to experience a full range of VR capabilities. In order to maximize each person’s comfort and help navigate the headset's controls, each booth has an individual assistant available to escort users through the game or all-encompassing three-dimensional world.
“You can book one or more of the booths for as long as you’d like,” Yu says. “For newcomers, though, we recommend that you don’t spend more than two hours, especially if it’s your first time. The experience can sometimes be a bit disorientating—because it’s more real than you think.
“Virtual reality has developed into a really exciting piece of technology,” Yu continues. “You just can’t understand how immersive it is until you try for yourself.”
DWOR’s virtual reality booth pop-up is at the Westin Grand hotel (433 Robson Street) until Sunday (November 6). Booths can be booked online at www.dwor.ca. Check out DWOR’s Facebook and Instagram for more information and online deals.