Gravity defying virtual reality

I’m walking along a pathway of tiles that stretches out to the sea. Suddenly, like a corkscrew, the tiles rise up vertically and I’m suspended horizontally walking on them. They shift another 90 degrees and I am walking upside down, defying gravity.

These tile pathways over the sea bob up and down and I skip from one group to another. There’s a huge blue planet in the sky above.

No, I’m not on an unspecified substance. No, I’m not having a dream or nightmare. I’m actually enjoying a gravity defying virtual reality experience called Engineerium courtesy of the masters of this art, Zero Latency VR.

Zero Latency VR first opened its doors in North Melbourne in 2015, and in the ensuing five years, has made a huge success of offering free roam VR experiences internationally, with 46 venues in 22 countries.

However this Melbourne mob never opened a venue in Sydney until December 1. The company finally has one close to Mascot airport, so Sydneysiders can enjoy a similar experience to what Melburnians have for half a decade.

Zero Latency VR lets you roam around a large area with a VR headset on, without being tethered to cables. The company was well ahead of the market in offering this.

Instead, your VR headset is connected to a lightweight laptop on your back, and the laptop in turn wirelessly interacts with Zero Latency VR’s communications system. It’s this bespoke communications system that sets Zero Latency VR apart.

In North Melbourne, the roaming area is a massive 400 square metres, in Sydney it is about half that, but in our trial, it worked well. I tested the system a week ago in a group with six others. When you don a headset, the scene around you changes from an empty space to a fantasy environment that you walk around in. You see your mates as characters in that environment.

A gravity defying walkway in Engineerium

Zero Latency VR has eight games overall, two of which (Undead Arena and Singularity) are available in Sydney with the rest coming next year. You pay $59 for 30 minutes’ game play – instruction time doesn’t count in that limit.

Our group first played Engineerium, the experience I described above. It is a co-operative virtual reality walking journey where you end up up-ended, walking vertically and upside down, while immersed in a world of rolling sea, blue skies, greenery and terracotta coloured structures.

It is a tussle between what you know to be reality, and what your body senses from sight. You have to push your body to let you execute those tortuous sideways and upside down walks, even though you know you are totally safe walking a smooth path in the real world.

Engineerium is for up to eight players and the games lasts around 15 minutes.

The other game we played, Undead Arena, is in a post-apocalyptic world where The Hunger Games meets a classic zombie shootout. You’re in an arena on TV with zombies closing in around you from all directions. Your virtual gun fires as a shotgun but can morph into a crossbow for long range shots.

At first it’s possible to keep the zombies at bay but they are relentless. Once a zombie gets you, you’re dead and out of the game for 20 seconds. Dying is expensive, you drop 500 points. Teamwork is the only way to survive long term.

A video of this experience looks like a standard shooter game, in virtual reality, you really are in this environment.

I found taking down zombies to be satisfying and guilt free. After all, how can you kill something that is already dead? My only wish is that the zombies could instead be coronavirus that at last were visible and we could shoot the bejesus out of it. That would be very satisfying. Alas, Zero Latency VR isn’t planning a coronavirus shooter extravaganza.

For the geeks: Zero Latency VR says customers wear an HP head mounted display with 9.3 million pixels per eye, a 114 degree field of view, and with a 90Hz refresh rate. The set-up integrates six degrees of freedom tracking using the Windows Mixed Reality platform. Audio is Dolby 7.1 surround sound and your backpack HP laptop weighs 6kg.

If you haven’t tried free roam virtual reality, you should, provided you believe your body will cope with the stress of these virtual worlds. I survived the zombies to write this. Players need to be 13 years or older. You only live once.

In Australia, Zero Latency VR is also at North Melbourne and Dandenong South in Victoria, Newstead in Brisbane, Southport on the Gold Coast and at Perth city.

Published by The Australian newspaper.

Posted in Reviews.

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