DNA VR in London Blends The Virtual And Physical Worlds -

DNA VR in London Blends The Virtual And Physical Worlds

Remember virtual reality? It doesn’t seem that long since VR was the buzzword at everyone’s lips in the tech sphere, but recently you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was another flash-in-the-pan technology. That’s not the case, but it’s true to say that it’s going through something of a lull in the hype phase. This is because right now we’re in-between major new hardware launches and Zuckerberg has scared people off with talk of creating the Metaverse, where we will spend all our time both working and playing in VR, which is something that people like to write about and nobody wants.

So, it’s perhaps a challenging time for DNA VR in London to reopen the doors of its Camden venue, which had to close due to the pandemic. First founded in London in 2016, DNA VR aims to combine the physical and the virtual and make VR an arcade experience – as a destination that you’d want to go to, with friends or colleagues. I went down, along with a couple of teenage VR fans, to check it out.

DNA VR in Camden is located down a flight of stairs that leads into a minimalist, windowless series of rooms each. PCs with clear side windows line shelves high up on the walls, and in each room, you’ll find VR headsets and associated gear ready to be worn.

For the techy types, the PC spec is high, if not absolute state-of-the-art – I could see Nvidia GeForce 2080 graphics card visible. The headsets are HTC Vive Pros with wireless packs, so you don’t have to be tethered to the PCs.

This is important for the first title we tried called Pirates Plague, which is a “free-roaming” game, which allows you to interact in the same space as up to three other people. This makes the biggest difference compared to playing with your friends in VR from the comfort of your own house. While you may be able to move about, there’s little chance of literally bumping into whoever you’re playing with. In this game, the possibility of doing this is a good thing.

In Pirate Plague, you each take on the role of a pirate, and one of you is the captain. You appear on the deck of a pirate ship, and you are soon attacked by another ship coming alongside, followed by sea monsters (that resemble the Sea Devils from Doctor Who). There is a canon on the deck, along with cannon balls and lighters to ignite the canons, which you can pick up and hand to each other. You have to load the cannons, set them alight, and then aim them at the attacking ship. This works best when you work as a team, and we briefly had a good flow going, with me as Captain directing the others at loading, igniting, and aiming.

Things broke down a bit when the monsters appear alongside and start throwing grenades over the edge, which you have to bend down and throw back over the side. You can also pick up a sword and attack the monsters trying to board. However, when a grenade goes off, your virtual hands become twisted, so you are unable to load a canon or wield a sword, which slows you down.

Next. we went into a horror game, called Hospital of Horror, which was not particularly horrific but did give me one of the most vivid moments I’ve experienced in VR, where the floor falls away and you have to navigate a narrow wooden beam that’s left to avoid. I would have enjoyed seeming walking across a solid floor as if I’ve about to fall to my doom.

As you play these games, the staff are monitoring you and can give you advice if you’re stuck on a puzzle and can come in and sort out any technical glitches. There were a couple of these as we played. Once, one of us wasn’t the same height as everyone else inside the game, but this wasn’t deemed an issue, and when I bent over to pick up canon balls off the floor, my display would occasionally “white out”, so was advised to crouch down rather than lean forward.

After this, we explored the more conventional arcade experiences, where you stand in separate booths, even if you are in the same game. I competed against previously mentioned teenagers in Synth Riders, where you have to hit balls and streams in the air in time to the rhythm. It’s similar to Beat Saber, of which I’d heard but never played and I thought I was pretty darn excellent, only to find myself plump last – youth beats out the oldies at this one it seems. The same happened at Skyfront, where you fly around a space shooting each other in 3D laser tag.

My favorite game turned out to be the someone less high-octane Clash of Chefs, a cartooney style game set in a food stand, where you have to work together to prepare meals for hungry patrons against the clock.

After our time was done, I emerged back into the real world slightly breathless. While I think it might struggle in the hot summer months, DNA VR will be a great option when you want to do something with friends indoors, while the team-building aspects of the experience make it a good option for companies looking for something a bit different.

As a technology, VR is good enough to make a venue like this worthwhile but it’s clear to see that the technology has a long way to go to make it more attractive for the less dedicated. The resolution needs to double, the latency had to reduce, the field of view has to expand, and at the same time, the hardware needs to get lighter. It’s a series of complex and competing technical demands, that will make it challenging to achieve.

VR is still in its infancy – and in my view is akin to where 3D graphics were in the early 90s – but this is what makes it so exciting. It’s at the start of its journey and I look forward to seeing how it evolves. In the meantime, it’s worth checking out venues such as DNA VR as a fun alternative to more conventional fare.

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