When I was about 13 years old, Laser Quest in Oxford was the place to go for birthday parties and special occasions. We had some cracking times there, back in my youth and if we weren’t shooting each other in frantic games of Laser Tag, we were working out how to pull off the grossest finishing moves on the newly released arcade machine, Mortal Kombat.
It’s a cheap and cheerful youth hostel now but whenever I wander past that old building it always triggers a wave of nostalgic memories and, as I was ushered into a small room for my pre-game briefing at Nottingham’s MeetSpaceVR centre, those same memories came flooding back to me.
I was there to play two different Zero Latency free-roam VR experiences, Singularity and Zombie Survival but, while the games may have been new, the build up to them was peak 90s Laser Quest. The wall in front of us was lined with futuristic looking backpacks, a safety video explained the rules of each game and a comically stern steward informed us that we would definitely be told off for running. All it needed was a smoke machine and a couple of UV lamps and it would have been just like the old days!
In this week’s episode of Ian’s VR Corner you can watch me play through a full game of Zombie Survival, a free-roam, team-based wave shooter set amidst the rubble of a building site in the heart of a dingy, inner city area. The action plays out on two levels as hordes of the undead swarm you from all angles. It’s a very physical experience and, as you’ll be able to tell from the screams in the video, it’s one that can be quite intense for some players.
Zombie Survival is one of three Zero Latency games that have just launched at Nottingam’s MeetSpaceVR centre. These games may be new to Nottingham, but as John Lilley, CEO of MeetSpaceVR explained to me, Zero Latency games have been around for a while and they are growing in popularity.
“Zero Latency started in Melbourne Australia and they developed the world’s first free-roam VR experience which really resonated with my thoughts on gaming being better when you play it together.
“I found traditional VR as being a little insular and anti-social. But when I first played this I suddenly realised that since back in the 80s since Tron was out that this actually delivered on my being able to be inside of a video game.
“At the moment you can play Zero Latency games in Japan, they’re spreading across Asia and there’s about 10 sites in America right now with one in the MGM Grand in Vegas. They’ve also got two sites in Melbourne but we’re the first in the UK and our plan is to put 10 sites across the UK by 2020.”
While you can watch my Zombie Survival exploits in the video above, the first free-roam VR game I actually played was a sci-fi based story mission called Singularity. It’s a much more linear experience that had us navigating corridors on an alien spaceship, riding elevators, walking up curved walls in zero-gravity (think the original Prey) and crossing over huge chasms on thin bridges.
It was a lot of fun but despite the Zero Latency branding, the experience did suffer from extreme lag issues that stopped it from being as immersive as it could have been. It felt like the game was struggling to keep up with my walking speed at times and so I had to resort to shuffling my way through the levels in order to match what I was seeing with what my body was doing.
But here’s the interesting thing. Because the games are played out in digital spaces, rather than physical ones like Laser Tag, you don’t need to renovate the whole space to change the game to another genre or fix some error in level design. Thanks to the internet, Zero Latency games can constantly be evolved, upgraded and bug fixed. That means it’s entirely possible for these imperfections to be ironed out over time.
In fact, I was told on arrival that Singularity players the day before had fallen foul of a collision detection error that had been subsequently patched out within 24 hours.
The benefits of each game being digital doesn’t stop there though – according to John it won’t be long before Zero Latency games go online.
“We don’t know the exact dates yet, but we will very soon be releasing a player versus player version of the games also. There are plans in the pipeline also for centre versus centre matches, so Zero Latency players in Nottingham could potentially play against players in Zero Latency Vegas and so on.”
It’s an exciting thought, being able to have free-roam, full body shootouts with other players on the other side of the world and with the speed that VR technology is evolving, John’s dream of a real-life Tron doesn’t seem that far off at all.
As for now? Well, I’ve played a lot of VR and to me both games I tried were fun, but it was clear that they were rather scrappy. The graphics, while nice and sharp, were basic and prone to glitches and there were moments of lag in each experience; although Zombie Survival handled things much better than Singularity.
Nevertheless, both games were highly enjoyable and I could imagine that, if this was someones first time in virtual reality, it would be a mind-blowing experience. I mean, if 13 year old Ian could have experienced something like Zero Latency back in the day, there would have been no going back to Laser Quest, that’s for sure. Well OK, there probably would have been, but only so he could learn how to make Kano rip people’s hearts out of their chests.
If you want to try out Zero Latency games for yourself, you’ll find MeetSpaceVR at Nottingham’s intu Victoria Centre. Each game lasts about 15 minutes, but the safety briefings and setup push the experience to about 30-40 minutes depending on each game. Single games are 19.95, but if you fancy a double session you’ll only have to fork out 34.95.
If you enjoyed this episode of Ian’s VR Corner, you can catch up with my previous adventures over on YouTube in our VR playlist, where I get silly with Kona VR, Salary Man Escape, The Exorcist: Legion VR, Killing Floor: Incursion, The Persistence, Detached, Pixel Ripped 1989, Rec Royale, Arizona Sunshine, Transference , Zone of The Enders 2, Downward Spiral: Horus Station, Astro Bot Rescue Mission and Evasion.