Spaces VR Debuts in SoCal
Terminator Salvation Mixed Reality Attraction Opens to Great Reviews
by Key Snodgress
Carrying a grudge against nasty Terminators, hellbent on destroying humankind? Want to do your part? There’s a new VR game in town to let you do just that! Spaces VR, co-founded by Shiraz Akmal and Brad Herman, opened its first store in the Irvine Spectrum Center in Orange County, Calif., in late August with a fun, four-player cooperative mixed reality experience called Terminator Salvation: Fight for the Future.
Housed in a former restaurant space in the outdoor shopping mall (conveniently just across the way from Dave & Buster’s), this is the first Spaces VR location (the company reports others are coming soon to Los Angeles, San Jose, Tokyo and Hangzhou, China). While they intend to offer additional games and experiences, this first location opened with Terminator Salvation: The Fight for the Future.
Mixed Reality Fun
Players begin by signing in and getting their faces digitized using the company’s proprietary 3D scanning process called “Spaces Faces.” Outfitted with HP Omen X backpacks, guests then get sensors/trackers on their hands and feet, guns for blasting, and Oculus headsets. (Akmal says Spaces is able to work with a wide range of hardware depending on the specific needs of each experience.)
In the mission briefing, players are informed that they’re to become human/machine hybrids who must retrieve a nuclear cell atop a bombed out futuristic L.A. rooftop. It’s heavily defended by Terminators, of course, so it’s no easy feat. Players enter the arena, a roughly 20’ x 20’ stage, and the fun starts the moment they look around and see their teammates’ faces on machine bodies. Haptic feedback, wind effects and physical props, add to the immersion in which there’s no detectable lag as players move and blast away throughout the mixed reality experience.
The whole thing takes about 30 minutes from face scan to mission briefing, gear up/down and rankings with about 12-15 minutes of active play time (the cost per player is $30). Spaces streams the action live for spectators and players get a photo of their rankings emailed to them, plus can download a video of futuristic battle. Akmal said, “What’s great about Spaces VR is that it’s a shared experience. We’re creating memories that people get to walk away with.”
Sharing on social media is, naturally, encouraged and from what we’ve seen, folks are really having a blast. Yelp reviews, for example, have been all five-star so far, even among people who’ve experienced VR before. One player wrote: “This is by far the best VR experience. Way better then the Void at Disneyland’s Downtown Disney. I highly recommend this.” Another reviewer said: “Fun VR experience and perfect for friends and family…It’s different than what I thought, more immersive and social than any other VR experience on the market.”
On the day of RePlay’s visit, we got first-hand feedback from 11-year-old player Grant Goodrich who was convinced by the effects and immersion. “When we dropped down, it felt like I was parachuting or something. I felt a drop in my tummy even though we weren’t really moving. It was really good!”
In mid-September, less than a month after opening, Akmal said response from guests has been “amazing,” adding, “We are seeing growing crowds and week-over-week growth. Spaces is an incredibly social and fun way to play for friends, families, dates, birthdays and company team-building events.
“For most of our guests,” he continued, “Spaces is their first VR experience, which is pretty cool as it’s unlike anything they’ve ever experienced and certainly one of the most advanced immersive VR attractions in existence. Many return the next day with family and friends because they want to play again and share this indescribable experience with others.”
While Spaces is considered a startup, it was spun out of DreamWorks Animation’s DreamLabs where co-founders CEO Shiraz Akmal and CTO Brad Herman previously held leading positions. Their extensive resumés include experience in animation, film, TV, video games, theme parks and, of course, VR. (The two are also inventors of multiple patented VR technologies.)
Along the way, they worked with well-known intellectual properties (including The Incredibles, SpongeBob, ScoobyDoo!, Turbo, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Monsters vs. Aliens), so working to develop content using the Terminators franchise is certainly in their wheelhouse. In addition, the company has attracted a great deal of interest and investment from the outside, inking significant deals including a $30 million joint venture with major Chinese theme park developer Songcheng. They are also partnering with the American movie theater chain Cinemark, which has holdings in the Americas, as well as in Taiwan.
Akmal, whose game design experience goes back 26 years (his first game, Hover Blade, was for the Apple IIGS computer), has a real passion for games.
“I love creating memorable and creative experiences and games for people to laugh, play and share with their friends,” he said. “Taking amazing IP and reimagining it into a creative, memorable experience, that’s my superpower if I had one.”
He’s especially excited about what changing technology has made possible. “A lot of people dream of being ‘in’ these experiences and we’re making that happen. It gets me excited! This is the start of it all. Finally, we have the technology where we can create a virtual environment and don’t have to build it out physically.”
In addition, Spaces is a social, sharable experience. “Our amazingly fun, social Spaces attractions are built to be shared,” said Brad Herman, adding about the Terminators game: “We’re kicking off our first Spaces Center with a prominent franchise that is recognized and loved around the world. We make it easy for guests to share their Spaces experience the moment they take off their headsets, and that social-friendly mentality is built into every one of our Spaces attractions.”
Akmal said, “For us, being a new company, we love being associated with someone’s first time experiencing VR. With the Terminator IP, there are a variety of experiences and alternate game modes. This first one will serve as a template for all other experiences.”
With more to come, Spaces execs say they’re poised to live up to their “Go Anywhere, Do Anything” trademark. Akmal added that they’ll be opening locations around the world, “partnering with premier locations to bring guests closer to the promise of extended reality (XR) than ever before.” So, in addition to their own company stores and deals with top-line theme parks, Spaces is interested in other partnerships (this means FECs/LBEs and such, folks) to expand the reach of their brand of VR.
Visit www.spaces.com for more.