LAI Goes BIG with Attendant-Free VR
Teams With Ubisoft to Bring Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride to the Trade
When it comes to the development of innovative, cutting-edge games for coin-op, one of the first names that may come to mind is LAI Games.
Last spring, the company became the first ever to win two AMOA Innovator Awards in the same year with its Let’s Bounce and HYPERshoot redemption games. Now, the company is poised to bring virtual reality to the masses with a new VR ride: Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride. The game is designed to take VR from being an exclusive, labor-intensive and cost-prohibitive attraction, and make it accessible to a wide range of venues and players by removing the necessity of a dedicated attendant.
This game is the result of a collaboration between LAI Games and home game publisher Ubisoft, which has led to a pioneering development in VR platforms. Although this is far from the first attendant-less VR game (remember Beach Head), LAI’s dedication to maximizing the potential of VR’s latest iteration of technologies, as well as their insight in utilizing a massively popular license like Rabbids, could lead to a success story.
Back in 2015, Ubisoft developed a virtual rollercoaster based on their popular Rabbids franchise, and were looking for a partner capable of transforming their concept into a turnkey product for the location-based entertainment market. They approached LAI Games, who brought in their own expertise to design an attraction that would be as qualitative and innovative on the outside as it was on the inside.
Rabbids are a global powerhouse, with over 15 million Rabbids video games sold worldwide, two million viewers of Rabbids Invasion on Nickelodeon every Sunday, a movie in development and a successful Mario and Rabbids Kingdom Battle video game launched in September in partnership with Nintendo. It’s a franchise that appeals to a broad audience of all ages, and adds a sharper edge to the nonsensical cuteness of the Minions franchise that has taken the world by storm.
Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride is an experience that immerses players in a 360-degree reality, with action in every direction. LAI says the potential for repeat play is high due to the fact that players can essentially get a whole new game each time they play, depending on the direction they’re looking.
As LAI Games progressed on the solid design of the two-seat pod, Ubisoft produced two more Rabbids adventures that take players from Alpine heights to Caribbean canyons, offering a whole range of thrilling sensations, from jumping to flying to gliding and falling at full-speed, that are emulated by the motion seat provided by D-Box.
For Ubisoft, developing rides in VR has brought plenty of challenges, such as the 360-degree perspective that reinvents traditional norms of of narration. The company also closely considered the synchronization of motion and visual effects to create convincing sensations while avoiding discomfort.
Location-based experiences will play a key part in the development of VR entertainment for Ubisoft, company officials say. The equipment is still expensive and complex for the home, and has yet to see wide-ranging adoption from the consumer market. As the intuitiveness of the medium makes it enjoyable by all people –– not just gamers –– Ubisoft and LAI believe out of home is the perfect place for the new technology to break in to mainstream.
“Bringing our iconic brands like Rabbids to the location-based VR market is part of Ubisoft’s strategy to open new doors to the worlds we create and to offer exciting ways for fans and varied audiences to experience them,” said Deborah Papiernik, VP of new business at Ubisoft. “As a renowned producer of AAA content, we look for the best in the different industries. Due to their strong focus on quality and innovative mindset, LAI Games quickly imposed themselves as the partner of choice to make our ‘virtual ride’ become a reality.”
A truly successful VR experience depends on player motion synching accurately with the video content. LAI Games partnered with the visionaries at D-Box to create an immersive and realistic experience for players. Using a multi-axis motion platform, seat movement is timed precisely with the visual imagery, making the audience feel like they are slipping and sliding on the ice, soaring through canyons and sledding down steep terrain.
“Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride features innovations that make it not only great for those operating the game, but are a big step forward for the VR industry in general,” says LAI. The game is attendant-free, making VR accessible to operators who don’t have the budget for a dedicated staff member to attend to the game. “Top quality VR is now an option for every entertainment venue,” according to LAI.
In addition, each seat is monetized independently thanks to a clever cabinet design and user interface. This ensures maximum earning capability and rider safety when one of the positions is not in use. The game is designed for all ages with content and convenient cabinet ergonomics making for a safe and comfortable ride.
Other features of the cabinet that help generate higher play rates is the orientation of the seats and video screen: they face the audience. This “advertises” the fun the current riders are having and their hilarious reactions should do well in enticing others to give it a try. (As long as customers aren’t shy and don’t mind everyone seeing them lose it with a pair of bulky goggles on, says LAI.)
LAI also boasts that the game includes industry-leading components with hardware and technology from leaders in VR. In addition to the D-Box motion platform, the game features HTC Vive VR headsets, synchronized wind effects, hi-fi audio and commercial grade computers.
An attraction like The Big Ride couldn’t have come about without a few creatives behind it, and one of those is LAI Games’ head of R&D, Shannon Perell. He was also behind some of the company’s most iconic games, including Speed of Light, Color Match, the Snapshot 2 photo booth, Let’s Bounce and HYPERshoot.
When tackling something as challenging as an attendant-free arcade VR game, Perell and his team left nothing to chance. Each iteration in the design was carefully tested and calculated for maximum entertainment value and operator convenience.
Perell said, “VR is an amazing technology, but the cost of not only the headset, but the hardware required to run it, means that there is a high barrier of entry for most consumers. Additionally, the VR headsets themselves are only part of what makes a great experience. Great VR content combined with highly accurate motion and 4D effects can’t be replicated at home by even the most avid VR enthusiast. This makes the arcade environment a fantastic place for VR, and as an experience, Virtual Rabbids is a high-quality and immersive ride that’s up there with the best content available in virtual reality.”
Perell and his team spent weeks polishing the motion and wind effects, synchronizing them with the flow and ground textures of the environment to make each stage an immersive journey through a fun and physical world. As an arcade attraction, The Big Ride is future-forward, he says.
However, one of the issues with VR in the coin-op industry is that even though it’s a new and exciting offering for players. LAI claims that only a small portion of locations can afford an attended attraction. Perrell and his team decided early on that the collaboration would have to result in a game that could be left unattended. However, this decision introduced a lot of challenges.
“VR is still in it’s infancy as a product, which makes it a high value proposition to customers, but it also means that 95% of customers are going to be unfamiliar with the format,” Perell said. “This meant designing everything, from the menu UI (user interace) and initializing a game, to getting seated and fitting the headset, had to be as simple and intuitive as possible.
“The experience itself had to be balanced in a way that was comfortable for first-time users, while thrilling enough for VR enthusiasts,” he continued. “Virtual Rabbids treads this line closely –– the ride is fun, funny, and thrilling without being over the top. It maintains the level of quality you would expect from a developer of Ubisoft’s caliber.”
Over many months of testing in multiple locations, LAI Games iterated on various UI and design elements to polish the user experience. “Over time, we introduced new features like the ability to select a stage, or monetizing the seats individually, observing player behavior and adjusting the user experience to be as streamlined and intuitive as possible,” stated Perell.
Additionally, without the watchful eye of an attendant, everything must be safe and secure. Perell and his team engineered solutions to a range of issues including ergonomics, headset security and player safety. As many of these operation design elements were completely new, testing an early prototype of the product was critical for evaluation and iteration.
“These early technical tests also gave us our first look at player reactions to the ride, and they were hilarious,” added Perell. “Of all the games we have released to market over the years, Virtual Rabbids has been the most entertaining to watch people play. From the awe and amazement of barrelling through these beautifully crafted worlds, to laughing out loud at the Rabbids shenanigans, to screaming in excitement at being flung off a cliff in a tiny bob-sled, Rabbids is almost as entertaining for observers as it is for the riders.”
The Big Ride endured over 40-weeks of continuous on-site testing before its official launch at this year’s IAAPA in Orlando, where it continued to endure a constant line of attendees hoping to test it themselves.
Leading LAI Games during these exciting times is Managing Director, Mirry Glavan, who took the helm back in 2016 after a successful run as managing director of Embed Europe, Middle East and Africa, a sister company of LAI Games. Under her leadership, the company has continued to grow, with 2018 poised to be their biggest year ever.
“Our team has spent countless hours on The Big Ride, researching and articulating the very intricate details that make for a fantastic player experience,” Glavan said. “It has been a joy watching this piece evolve and to see player reactions. I am very proud of the team’s achievements.”
The game is slated for release in the first quarter of 2018. For more information, visit www.laigames.com where you can watch a video showing just how fun and hilarious a ride on Virtual Rabbids can be.