Nothing can prepare you for what you’re about to experience upon entering this fairly inconspicuous warehouse space in North Melbourne...
Last month, Australia's first virtual reality game centre opened in Melbourne; the first in the world to offer a free-roam multi-player capacity. Naturally, we wanted to check it out. Nothing can quite prepare you for what you’re about to experience upon entering this fairly inconspicuous warehouse space in North Melbourne. We’re both avid fans of video games but neither of us had used virtual reality before. Going in, we didn’t think that it would be quite as realistic, in terms of immersion and graphics, as it was; it really exceeded all expectations.
Entering off the street, cast in mid-afternoon light, you walk into a large, dark warehouse and the first thing that catches your attention is its sheer size (400 square metres). Then you notice some hardware and PlayStation Eye cameras, which are on the ceiling in circular formations—the only equipment that you can really see in the minimal space. You’re given a presentation, explaining the objective of the game's scenario, which is to power up a generator and make way to the escape vehicle. You’re also told about the various enemies you’ll encounter during gameplay and trust us, as two grown-ass men, they’re far more frightening than you’d think.
The Alienware computer system that powers the gameplay is given to you in a backpack, which is surprisingly light. You’re also given a gun, about a metre long, which is pretty accurate to a real gun. You have to reload and you’re able to switch between various modes of attack—shot gun, grenade launcher and rifle. The Oculus Rift headset is also surprisingly comfortable and you get pretty used to wearing all this stuff pretty quickly. The last thing you’re given is a headset, also very comfortable, and one of the things we were most impressed with was the audio’s ability to match the gameplay.
You start in a training mode where you test the gun and just moving around in the virtual space. It’s crazy how quickly you’re immersed in this virtual world; the Tuesday afternoon outside and all its banality seems quite far away. In fact, over the course of the next fifty minutes of game play it’s pretty damn easy to forget there even is a real world. The training mode takes place in an indoor, underground firing range and slowly eases you into the actual game. You step onto an elevator, which lifts you into a desert environment—you really feel like you’re actually ascending, and it’s quite hard to believe you’re literally just standing still.
In the desert you walk over to a vehicle, which transports you to a ruined city…
Throughout the game there’s scripted audio and the game master (one of the guys in the warehouse) can speak to you. There’s also a hidden microphone for player-to-player communication. You can see your team member in their avatar form. Team work is integral to the game; if you can’t master that then you won’t progress very far. You have a very small amount of time to survey your surroundings before the zombies begin coming in large waves. They’re incredibly realistic—there’s women and men, who are bleeding, groaning and screaming. The expressions “holy fuck!” and “holy fuck please help!” were used quite a lot between us. The zombies come in hordes of up to thirty or forty (even more at times), the aim being to shoot them in the head made trickier by the fact they have multiple actions—if you shoot them and they’re not quite dead, they’ll come crawling towards you in a very creepy fashion.
Throughout the game there’s checkpoints which will progress you to the next section of the scenario—a green check point means you can move into the next stage, yellow checkpoints mean you can interact with whatever’s in the circle such as switches and elevator buttons. Even though the game goes for fifty minutes and it’s very physical seeing as you’re on your feet the whole time, it doesn’t feel that long and you never get bored or distracted because the illusion is never broken.
Some people who use virtual reality report feeling a sense of vertigo, and we won’t give anything away but most people will experience that in a certain part of the scenario (hint: it involves heights). Taking the headset off, it did take a bit of time to adjust to the real world. Despite what you might think, you’re not looking over your shoulder for zombies; you’re firmly back in reality. Overall the game itself could be likened somewhat to Left For Dead, however the VR element adds a new layer of fun.
Is this the future of gaming? Well, yeah. And the guys behind Zero Latency obviously agree, with plans to go global next year. “VR is the next frontier of entertainment. We saw an amazing opportunity to be at the forefront of that, to create a new category of entertainment that hadn't been done before. It's a rush to be breaking new ground everyday. It’s exciting,” director Tim Ruse tells The Creators Project. “I think a lot of people thought we were fucking insane [when we started the project]. But when you’re in it, seeing it grow and get better, seeing the potential—you have to keep going, it’s addictive,” he says.
Zero Latency has been two-and-a-half years in the making. Tim and Scott Vandonkelaar (software genius) were working together when Scott brought up the idea to make a VR system at lunch one day. The Rift Kickstarter had just taken off, and he was already thinking about ways to take the technology to the next level. “I was in straight away. We pulled Kyel Smith in as the hardware guy and started to make it all happen. It's a weird project, ‘cause it’s not a classic game or software project. You need coding skills, hacker skills, hardware skills, welding skills, electronics skills, marketing skills. We were lucky to have complimentary skills, without them overlapping and causing conflict,” Tim explains.
In the not-even month since Zero Latency has been up and running in Melbourne, the response from players has been overwhelmingly positive. “They love it. They lose all sense of time and space. Most of them remark about this 'tripped out' sense that the real world doesn't seem real, and they take a few minutes to come back to reality. The immersion level is that great. But pretty much everyone wants to go in again. Its powerful that way.” Personally, we can’t wait to play again.
Check out some more stills from the game below:
Zero Latency is located at 22-32 Steel St, North Melbourne. Each game session goes for about an hour, and costs $88 per player with the option to go solo or in teams of up to six. You can book online. Find out more here.