Spaces has opened its virtual reality entertainment center in a Cinemark movie theater in San Jose, California. It’s all about getting people off their couches so they can be entertained in theaters instead of staying home and watching Netflix.
I got off my couch to head over to the VR experience on February 8 at its Century 20 Oakridge and XD theatre in San Jose, California, at the Westfield Oakridge Shopping Center. Tickets are on sale now at Spaces. More than a million people go up the escalators into the theater every year. I was able to try out the Terminator: Savaltion themed “Fight for the Future” VR experience at the theater yesterday.
It opens today. It costs $20 during the week and $30 on Friday and Saturday evenings. 32 people can go through in an hour. The VR experience lasts about 15 minutes, while suiting up and debriefing takes about 15 minutes as well.
“This is the first immersive VR experience in the Bay Area,” said James Meredith, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Cinemark, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We chose this theater because it is one of the top-grossing theaters in all of San Jose. We have a lobby that is big enough. The thinking behind it is we are constantly looking for new ways to innovate and introduce technology that will enhance the experience for our guests.”
In August 2018, Spaces opened its first VR center in Irvine, California, with its Terminator: Salvation-themed VR experience, Terminator Salvation: Fight for the Future. That experience, which I tried out at Spaces headquarters in Burbank, California, adds more sensors and tactile feedback than you typically find with a home VR headset. As such, Spaces is getting players at its location-based entertainment centers to feel more immersed in the experience. And it has physical features like ramps and motion platforms that shake and add to the realism. And now I finally got to trial the real thing in San Jose along with the wacky Perrin Kaplan and Alice Martinez of Zebra Partners.
“Our plan is to open up in the biggest locations we can, and scale it up,” said Shiraz Akmal, cofounder of Spaces, in an interview with GamesBeat.
Meeting Captain Pasta
We scanned in our badges and took some goofy pictures so that the game could impose our faces on the animated avatars inside the VR experience. That way, we could tell who was shooting who. Kaplan told them our team name, and it was a little off color. So we renamed ourselves the Beaches.
We walked through the doors, greeted by Captain Pasta. He marched us in front of a big display, where we got the briefing on joining the resistance in the fight against Skynet, which is the AI that wants to wipe humanity out. In the next room, Captain Pasta escorted us to some seats where we geared up. The attendants strapped on sensors to our shoes and wrapped another set of sensors around our wrists. Then they put backpacks (the HP Omen X VR Backpack with a laptop in it) on our backs that were wired to Oculus Rift VR headsets.
Kaplan, who, believe it or not, will be a speaker at GamesBeat Summit 2019, thought very highly of my Immortals shoes. The attendants stuck in some hefty batteries that felt like ammo clips. We took some pictures of each other in the loading area.
Up to four people can play together in a group, but as a trio, we were plenty noisy. Once we were suited up, they had us stand up and walk down a ramp to another room. We put on our VR headsets and were now transported into VR in our sci-fi outfits. They gave us some heavy guns. I mean they were heavy. Martinez complained. We had to stay far enough away from each other so we didn’t clock each other with our wooden guns.
Then we had to walk to a metal platform with rails. Once we were inside, we were transported into a shooting gallery, where we practiced shooting each other. I, of course, got shot in the crotch. And I returned the fire. Martinez noted you could shoot the rotors of the nearby helicopter and make them spin around. I found I could shoot the barrels and make them explode.
Next, we were loaded up into a big dropship, which took us to a ruined industrial building. We were disguised as mechanical Terminator robots, but we had our goofy face masks to distinguish each other. We were supposed to set some kind of device to take out the Skynet satellite network.
But the Terminators got wind of us pretty quickly and started attacking from all sides. We fired the guns, which had satisfying tactile feedback. When I got shot by the enemy, I could feel the haptic feedback. So I had to dodge and shoot. It was fun, but it wasn’t extremely immersive because Kaplan and Martinez were screaming happy screams the whole time. They were not very professional soldiers. I was much more suitable for the role of pretending to be a robot Terminator.
When it came time to perform the mission, I had to walk around the platform, grab a fuel cell and put it into a satellite machine. But it wouldn’t work, so then I had to find a fuse and put it into a slot to make the fuel cell operational. Then I went back to shooting. But we weren’t accomplishing what we needed to do, so I had to go back and position the satellite dish so it took out the Skynet satellite dish. The swarm of Terminator robots tried to stop us the whole time, and we kept firing. Finally, all the Terminators were blown up.
It was pretty intense, and I left the experience sweating. We then return to the dropship and got out of our VR headsets. Then we got out of the outfits and walked out the door. The attendants cheered our return and thanked us for saving humanity. We got our cinematic videos of the experience, which you can see embedded in this story.
I thought I was doing an excellent job of shooting everything. But Martinez actually shot twice as many Terminators as what Kaplan and I did together. Go figure. I guess it pays not to do all that satellite work. Since the game keeps score, you can go back and try to do better, said Meredith.
“We find a lot of interest from birthday parties or companies holding events,” said Akmal.
The road ahead
The Spaces team, headed by Akmal, spun out of DreamWorks to focus on VR. Akmal said in an interview with GamesBeat that more locations will come on in places like China as the company scales up its efforts.
The Spaces team has backgrounds in film, television, video games, and theme parks. The company has raised over $10 million from Comcast Ventures; Songcheng Performance Co.; Match VC; Boost VC; Canyon Creek Capital; Colopl VR Fund; GREE Inc.; Kai Huang; Sinovation Fund; The Venture Reality Fund; and Youku Global Media Fund, and CRCM VC.
It also has a $30 million partnership with Songcheng Performance Co. to build next-generation attractions for parks and retail locations.
As for Cinemark, it’s doing what it can to juice movie attendance. It has improved its food and beverage options, installed nicer seats, added surround sound 72-feet screen, and brought in gaming events.
“With immersive VR, movie theaters have become an overall entertainment destination that has something for everyone, Meredith said.