ZOMBIES are coming to Brisbane and they’ll be welcomed with gleeful grins and machineguns.
Both the walking dead and the bullets in this situation are intangible, however, and part of a growing number of virtual-reality entertainment centres popping up around Australia.
Brisbane’s first dedicated VR entertainment venue, due to launch in inner-city Newstead in October, will be the second Australian offering from local firm Zero Latency, and chief executive Tim Ruse says it will feature fresh zombies, as much as that is possible.
The company will use Brisbane’s new VR hub to debut a new version of its popular Zombie Outbreak game, but Ruse says there’ll be plenty of opportunities to virtually explore new worlds without horror, too.
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“In one game you and a group of space marines land on a space station and find out what happened to the crew,” he explains.
“Or there’s more of a co-operative title where you can be transported to an ethereal world that is quite beautiful and you have to work together to explore it.”
Zero Latency develops the virtual-reality titles in-house, just as the team created their own free-roaming VR kits.
Players suit up with an Alienware computer in a backpack, an OSVR HDK2 headset and a Razer headset. Despite the masks, players talk directly to their friends, who appear as characters within the games.
The Brisbane-based VR adventures take place in an open space — a 400m warehouse split in two — and players have been known to “walk over 1.5km during a 45-minute experience”.
Ruse says the pick-up-and-play nature of the free-roaming virtual reality games mean players don’t need gaming experience, opening the technology to new audiences.
“What was initially for virtual-reality enthusiasts or gamers has crossed over into the mainstream,” he says.
“You walk into a tracked space like it’s real life, have these epic adventures with your friends, and then you go to the pub and talk about it.
“Our actual demographics are mainly 25 to 40 years old … but we have more people coming from all walks of life who want to try something different.”
One 50-something mother took her child to the North Melbourne venue for a birthday party recently, he says, and booked her friends in for a future visit the same day.
Brisbane’s venue will also allow eight people to play a game simultaneously across the entire 400m area.
But Zero Latency’s virtual-reality ambitions stretch further than only Australia.
The Melbourne-based company, founded in 2013, has its technology in nine locations today — including Tokyo, Madrid and Boston — but plans to expand to 20 venues by the end of the year, and into 100 by 2020.
The company has growing competition, of course, with games bars in other states also offering public virtual-reality adventures, including Spawn Point Bar in Sydney, Bar VR in Perth and Canberra’s Reload Bar & Games.
Ruse says he hopes the virtual-reality hangouts help the technology find a wider audience that may have otherwise been put off by the high-cost of advanced home systems.
“Awareness is growing,” he says, “(but virtual reality) still has to find a killer app in the home space. Spending thousands of dollars and clearing your lounge room to experience it is too hard. This is a really important step in achieving its potential.”