Virtual reality's next big leap is real-world Pong and Pac-Man

Munich-based HolodeckVR is using optical and radio tracking to create giant VR gaming arenas

Jonathan Nowak Delgado is turning empty public spaces into virtual reality playgrounds by strapping headsets on people to let them roam freely.

“You’re not playing Pac-Man, you are Pac-Man,” says the co-founder of Munich-based HolodeckVR. Once a player puts on a headset they’re surrounded by virtual walls and can see collectible items and monsters.

“It’s very different to what gaming has looked like before,” Delgado says. “This location-based VR and setup encourages you to move around.”

At present, the 12-person company has developed a number of different testing scenarios built around classic games. As well as Pac-Man-a-like HoloPac, there’s also HoloPong (that’s Pong in VR) and a version of Bomberman.

For the tech to work, HolodeckVR needs space. Delgado explains the company is creating two different arenas for people to play within: 20 x 20 metres and an “extra large” 200 x 200 metres. “There can be up to 20 other people in the large Holodeck and up to 100 in the extra large size,” he says.

The company is currently using Samsung Gear mobile VR headsets and a combination of tracking technology it has developed in-house. Delgado, who has recently recruited Electronic Arts founding member Jeff Burton, says a combination of radio and optical tracking is used to spot where people are within the gaming space.

“We combine two signals at any given time – optical signal and radio frequency signal,” he says. This is achieved by attaching a radio sensor onto the VR headsets and positioning cameras around the room. “We could also track other things like the hands and the physical props like guns or moving objects physical objects like doors you would open.”

HolodeckVR isn’t the only firm trying to create virtual gaming spaces in the real world. In the US, The Void is creating virtual theme parks, where groups of people can visit and play games together. The Utah-based firm has partnered with Disney to create a Star Wars gaming experience. And to do this, The Void has built its own headsets.

HolodeckVR has similar ambitions and is working to introduce its technology into theme parks. Delgado says the company has been in discussions with six of the ten biggest theme park companies in the world. While he isn’t able to name them, he says three have already placed orders for HoloDeck spaces.

Theme parks have already shown they’re interested in VR technology, with several creating their own experiences. In March 2016, Alton Towers, launched the world’s first VR rollercoaster. The rides have since been copied elsewhere.

For content in the virtual games, HolodeckVR isn’t planning to create its own. Instead, it wants to partner with existing designers and owners of intellectual property to build games and events. Some games could last just a couple of minutes, others up to ten.

Away from theme parks, Delgado says, there are a few other places where virtual gaming spaces can exist in the real world. Shopping malls, sports halls and casinos are all targets for his firm’s arenas.

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