As you know I’m a big believer in taking time out. I really think that it’s good for the soul, and something that so many of us don’t do. I would say especially when we become parents, but in honesty careers can shoulder the blame for a lack of downtime as well. Recently I came across VR Here based in Liverpool. I was kindly invited along to test the wonderful facilities available, but I knew that on this occasion my super geek, computer loving husband was the perfect fit to trial the games and enjoy a break in the process. Introducing, Jacob…
It’s no secret that my misspent youth was mainly frittered away playing computer games. Before the Internet existed, gaming with my friends meant lugging my PC round to my mate’s house in the back of my Mum’s car and staying up until 4am playing Quake. At the time, games seemed deeply engaging with amazing graphics and it makes me feel very old to look at back at those pixelated images that gave me nightmares.
Last weekend I was given the opportunity to enjoy the latest in immersive gaming experiences, courtesy of VR Here in Liverpool. Founded 2 years ago by Leszek, with Bryan joining the team shortly afterwards, they offer the latest in Virtual Reality (VR) technology to cater for families, group events and more hardcore gamers. You may have experienced VR in other places, but VR Here offer something special with four room scale VR booths allowing multi-player games. This means you get the choice of experiencing their library of over 50 games with freedom of movement inside a carefully put together room.
Bryan met us on the day and started getting us used to playing in the VR environment by taking us through a series of different experiences. You can choose what you’d like to play, or be guided through games with increasing complexity with Bryan getting you used to the controls and environments you’re in. The HTC Vive headset when popped on is fairly heavy and therefore recommended for children aged 8 and above. Once on, it sits comfortably with you able to adjust the focus by moving the headset slightly.
We started with some of the experiential games, being immersed under the ocean with Blue Whales, jellyfish and stingray flying past us allowing us to poke coral and bat fish away in The Blu. After our saltwater travels we came up on land to the Jurassic period, exploring marshes while planting trees and watching triceratops up close as part of the Nature Treks series.
I’ve played with VR before, however the full room experience really keeps you in the game by allowing you to walk around within your room. The games keep you from bumping into the wall by showing a light red grid when you approach the edges of the room. You hold a controller in each hand which you can then see in the game as your hands or device for the game. The controller movement in your hands eerily match your movement in the game and you’ll naturally get used to it very quickly even if you don’t normally play games.
After the experiences, Bryan materialised the two of us in our first proper game. This was a single-player game called Space Pirate Trainer. You play from a platform with robots flying in above you trying to shoot you – VR space invaders. The VR becomes much more than 360 video as you start ducking, diving and leaping from lasers! The intensity was just right, getting you familiar with a fast paced game without feeling disorientated. This game would be a good one for people with limited mobility or in wheelchairs as you didn’t have to move about lots.
It was now time for some multiplayer action, taking a quick stop at Holoball, a fast-paced VR Tron inspired version of Wii-Tennis we then dropped into one of the most popular games, Rec Room for a spot of paintball. This was a really good family game, reminding me of the fun I’ve had in laser quest. In a lot of VR games, rather than sliding around from place to place, which can cause you to feel sick, you use teleportation instead. VR Here take a lot of care to ensure their games are configured to make you feel as comfortable as possible. You point one of your controllers at where you want to go in the game with a flashing line highlighting where you’re going to land and tap a button to teleport. It didn’t take much practise before we were crouching down behind tyres and taking sniper shots at each other while laughing like loons.
The last game of the day was a more traditional shoot-em-up, Raw Data, reminiscent of scrolling shooters of old, waves of android robots and gyrocopters came flying in with increasing difficulty. This time your controllers are guns with you having to reload and the difficulty ratcheting up with each wave you get through. This was definitely more intense with the same teleport mechanic allowing you to shift around the room, ducking and shooting. Great fun!
Before we went home, Bryan gave us a tech demonstration of something not readily available to visitors yet called Leap Motion. I was left in the headset while Bryan took the controllers out of my hand. While waiting he attached an extra sensor to my head and then dropped me into a game demo called Particles. Here little dots of colour like diagrams of the atomic nucleus floated about in front of me. Not particularly impressive, until I was prompted to lift my hands with no controllers. My blue hand lifted up in front of me with each finger carefully tracking my movements as I wiggled them and pulled and manipulated the particles in front of me. The lack of controllers and accuracy of my hand movements added a whole new level to the immersive feeling.
Finally, Bryan put me into a second demonstration, Paint, which allowed me to paint in 3D using only my fingers. I could have stayed in this mode for a long time, pinching my fingers together to switch to painting mode and swooping shapes and lines around me. I rotated my left wrist and brush controls appeared for me to select size and colours. Although not yet incorporated into their offering, VR Here are working to add this technology to give an added dimension to the VR experience.
VR Here have over 50 games and will tailor your experience on a bespoke basis to whatever you’re interested in. They’ve hosted children’s parties, stag dos or just groups of friends looking for something unusual to do. Undoubtedly the multiplayer games are the most fun thing and are something you can’t do at home. For a first visit the experiences were great. There is a chance that the novelty might wear off with repeat viewing, however there are lots to choose from, with more in the pipeline.
Open from 5pm Tuesday to Friday or by special request from 12pm to 5pm during the week. At weekends they’re open between 1pm and 8pm or can also open to 9pm if you agree in advance. They recommend groups of no more than 16 with hot and cold drinks and toilet facilities. They do have a wheelchair ramp, but not a disabled toilet. For parties you can take your own food, order in pizza and bring some drinks. Obviously alcohol in a big way is not a great idea but you can take a few beers!
If you’re not near Liverpool or just wanted to bring VR to your work or educational establishment, VR Here will happily come to you, bringing all the equipment and up to two headsets. They’ve previously partnered with museums in Liverpool and created exciting work social experiences.
So, would I go back again? Yes, definitely. I know my sons would enjoy the experiences, particularly the animal ones that you just can’t replicate in real life. It would also be great to flatten a few mates in paintball games…!
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For up to date information, please visit the VR Here website. Thank you for the invitation Bryan – I’m sure we’ll be back!
N.B. Jacob was invited to trial the facilities in return for this review. All opinions are his own. For more information please refer to my disclosure policy.