Dreamscape and AMC team up again to bring back location-based virtual reality

Russell Holly / CNET

There has been a debate about the future of location-based virtual reality, those places of entertainment in shopping malls where you show up with friends and participate in a 20-30 minute experience together. Some the most popular experiences have closed permanently in the face of the pandemic. And as home parts mapping in consumer (increasingly cheaper) headsets becomes more efficient, how long will those locations make sense? Whereas it is not the only company to try again, the most interesting company answering this question with actions instead of promises right now is Dreamscape, which today unveiled a new location at Westfield Garden State Plaza AMC in New Jersey.

I stopped to take a look at the new location and it left me deeply excited about what was to come for location-based VR spaces.

Ready to go

Dreamscape VR

Russell Holly / CNET

Location-based virtual reality is more than what you can get with a home virtual reality headset, because the space you play in is uniquely designed to provide more than just audiovisual support. You feel a growl under your feet and a rush of air against your body when you perform different actions in games, and frequently when you reach out to touch a virtual thing, there is a physical component to making everything more. real.

Some platforms have also experimented with scent and water, with varying effects, but the overall goal is to make these VR experiences much closer to a holodeck.

Dreamscape’s all-new location comes just four months after the unveiling of its partnership with the Wizarding World store in New York City, where visitors can enjoy two different multiplayer virtual reality experiences. This new location focuses on three unrelated experiences, which means that instead of seeing a single unified theme for the space, you instead get a more general but still very visual space that Dreamscape calls the Departures Lounge.

From there, you select which of the three experiences you want to have and wait in the lounge until your party is called in for their departure. After all, you are leaving this world to temporarily experience another. For this particular location, the options are:

  • Alien Zoo, a collaboration with the International Wildlife Fund
  • Curse of the lost pearl
  • Dreamworks Dragons: Flying Academy
Dreamscape VR

Russell Holly / CNET

Every part of this show is designed to excite you for what lies ahead. There is a pair of large display cases in the middle of the room filled with artifacts for two of the experiments and, as my group stood there, our host used them to establish the tradition of our chosen experience.

We are not talking about the hardware in this space and no VR headset is visible. This piece is just a story. Clearly, Dreamscape focuses on telling these worlds, helping you feel like you’re going somewhere else and then taking you there. It’s unique from other location-based VR rooms I’ve been in so far and it’s clear a lot of people are going to love this approach.

Prepare for your adventure

Dreamscape VR

Russell Holly / CNET

When it’s time for your team to leave, you step into this prep room. Each experience has its own stage room with its own theme, but they all have numbered chairs with ready-made material. You can store your personal belongings there, which is good as photography is not allowed in the room where it takes place and you then have to set up the equipment. For two of the experiments, there are tracking sensors for your hands and feet as well as a backpack to put on before the helmet hits your head.

These are the same Dreamscape sensors and the same HP-made VR hardware that you’ll find in any other Dreamscape-powered experience. There is a backpack system that you put on, but it’s much lighter than what you’ll find at other facilities and has straps to help little bodies carry it comfortably. The collected material is comfortable to put on as long as you follow the directions and don’t pull the straps too much, but a clear limitation of this technology is the lack of finger tracking. With the sensors on your hands you can get great arm tracking, but in the real VR experience if your hand touches a rail or you wrap your hand around something the software doesn’t always reflect this visually. The VR headset itself is large enough to support some glasses, but obviously your comfort level plays a big role in that.

The exception to this setup process is if you choose DreamWorks Dragons: Flight Academy. The VR headset for this experience is actually in the room you will already be going to, as it is attached to the saddle you are riding on to ride your dragon. For this particular setup, all you need in the prep room are the manual trackers. The saddle tilts left and right to help simulate flight, but in my experience it doesn’t lean so far that you might fall over.

What to expect in the headset

Dreamscape VR

Russell Holly / CNET

Want a spoiler-free preview of these experiences? I got you.

Alien Zoo: In orbit above our pretty blue sphere is currently a zoo, run by a man who collects creatures from everywhere. He will show you around his magnificent creatures and let you stroke and play with them as much as you want. It’s a great starter experience for those new to virtual reality and a fantastic option for kids.

DreamWorks Dragons: Flying Academy: Straight out of the hit movies How to Train your Dragon, acclaimed Viking warrior Astrid teaches new recruits how to pilot dragons. Follow his instructions and you can also go on an adventure with Toothless and his buddy Hiccup. It’s a solid VR experience for everyone, but it’s a lot of movement, which can cause problems for those who are easily nauseous in headphones.

Curse of the lost pearl: My favorite of the three experiences, grab a torch and explore an ancient temple in search of lost treasure. It’s best with a large group and it’s an adventure you probably won’t soon forget.

Dreamscape does a great job of providing a fun time no matter what you choose, and it’s clear that each of them aims to leave different audiences totally mesmerized. All three are a ton of fun, and the material on your body doesn’t seem to be a limitation in any of them.

The great thing that you get from all of these experiences is a real world counterpart. When there is a ramp on your VR pod, you can reach out and grab that ramp in real life. If a giant alien tilts its head to be petted, when you reach out you will feel a tough head to stroke and scratch. And yes, if your dragon is flying in water, you will probably get a little wet. Being able to build a VR story with physical interactions is amazing and makes everything even more realistic. Dreamscape isn’t the first company to do this, but it’s better than most right now.

Location-based virtual reality is here to stay

Dreamscape VR

Russell Holly / CNET

There are several location-based VR companies in the US that are currently trying to deliver exciting group experiences, but none of them quite look like what I’ve seen here. Dreamscape is where you’ll stumble into a story, feel like you’re part of a story instead of playing a character or seeing who can rack up the most kills. And having it attached to a movie theater so you can kill time before your movie starts is great, it ensures a constant flow of people already interested in being entertained. The price of $ 20 to $ 24 per person depending on when you visit this new location is extremely reasonable, and everyone feels really invested in making sure you are a part of the story being told.

Ultimately, the humanity and narrative motivation behind what Dreamscape offers is the main reason I think this experience isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Of course, it might soon be possible for a story like this to be told through your home VR headset, but it won’t be the same as showing up and being guided through something new.

About Catherine Sturm


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