6 vir­tual re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ences that don’t cost too much

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - MARKETPLACE - The As­so­ci­ated Press

Vir­tual re­al­ity, what’s up with that? If you are cu­ri­ous about this highly buzzed high-tech form of en­ter­tain­ment but don’t feel like plunk­ing down $1,000 or more on so­phis­ti­cated hard­ware, just visit one of a slew of amuse­ment­park-type rides pop­ping up around the world.

These ex­pe­ri­ences let you shoot aliens while rid­ing a real-life roller coaster, cook a meal with a Ja­panese heart­throb or cozy up to play­ers and cheer­lead­ers at a base­ball game.

One day, home VR sys­tems will likely be com­mon enough to make VR des­ti­na­tions un­nec­es­sary, just as video-game ar­cades are now rare. For now, though, these pub­lic at­trac­tions of­fer your best chance at giv­ing you a taste of VR.

Rolling with VR

At Six Flags theme parks in the U.S., the price of reg­u­lar ad­mis­sion — roughly $50 — gives you ac­cess to a roller coaster re­done with vir­tual re­al­ity over­laid on top.

At Magic Moun­tain near Los An­ge­les, that means strap­ping on a Sam­sung Gear VR head­set to bat­tle vir­tual alien in­vaders while in real life you’re hurtling around a 40-year-old track of twisted steel. You don’t steer or aim re­ally, but you can look around the world as your ship blasts aliens in for­eign space­ships.

It’s a mind-blow­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that com­bines a fic­tional fu­tur­is­tic set­ting with ac­tual sen­sa­tions you can get only from hav­ing your body tossed around. Check it out: https://youtu. be/d-uKEC1JWDk .

Pro tip: Go around twice, once with the head­set on and once with­out, and de­cide for your­self which scares you more.

Vir­tual heart­throb

Fans of Ja­panese heart­throb ac­tor Kento Ya­mazaki have to pinch them­selves to keep from kiss­ing him when he leans in with lazy machismo at a vir­tual-re­al­ity event in Tokyo.

In one restau­rant scene pre­sented by Fuji TV on Sony’s PlaySta­tion VR head­gear, you’ve just cooked a pasta dish. Ya­mazaki, a squeeze from the hit TV show “When There is Some­one You Love,” con­de­scend­ingly but lov­ingly tells you it could use a squeeze of lemon.

He then brings the pasta-wrapped fork to your mouth. Cue melted hearts.

In another scene, you are side by side with him on a bal­cony, look­ing up at the moon and stars. It’s hokey and pre­dictable, but a must­feel out­ing for fans.

The ex­pe­ri­ence was part of a sum­mer fes­ti­val that cost 2,000 yen (about $18). Though you missed this one, Fuji TV is al­ready plan­ning oth­ers and has demon­strated VR dat­ing with a TV show an­nouncer.

Who are you go­ing to call?

Madame Tus­saud’s Ghost­busters.

Ex­pe­ri­ence what it’s like to be a Ghost­buster who zaps ghosts.

A $55 ticket gives mu­seum go­ers en­try to the 15-minute VR ex­pe­ri­ence, too (nor­mal ad­mis­sion is about $30). Strap on a “pro­ton pack” — a clev­erly hid­den VR com­puter — like Ghost­busters wear in the epony­mous movies. Then grab a par­ti­cle thrower, wear a VR head­set and start blast­ing ghosts.

Up to three peo­ple can go through the ex­pe­ri­ence to­gether. Through the head­set, your friends be­come (white, male) avatars of Ghost­busters. A dingy New York apart­ment is soon teem­ing with ghosts. Fir­ing your par­ti­cle thrower wraps a stream of pro­tons around them, just like in the movie. Af­ter en­ter­ing a dim el­e­va­tor, Slimer rushes to­ward you, and be­fore you know it, you’ve been slimed.

And as you and your team­mates van­quish the Stay Puft marsh­mal­low man, the smell of burnt marsh­mal­low hangs in the air.

Play ball

With 10 VR cam­eras near first and third bases, fans of the KT Wiz base­ball team can get up close to the play­ers and cheer­lead­ers.

The tech­nol­ogy isn’t per­fect. The cam­era place­ments don’t make you feel as though you’re on the mound, while fuzzy res­o­lu­tion masks which way the ball is headed and makes the score­board dif­fi­cult to see. And a trans­mis­sion de­lay means see­ing plays on the Sam­sung Gear VR some 15 sec­onds af­ter every­one else around you.

“It was good to see the play­ers close,” said Choi Eun-young, 40, clad in a Wiz uni­form and black wiz­ard hat. “But base­ball games are the best when you come in per­son.”

It’s worth a try, though, if you want to ex­pe­ri­ence South Korean base­ball’s fes­tive cul­ture and see the live K-pop dance up-close. Base­ball in Korea is the equiv­a­lent of a live out­door con­cert; cheer­lead­ers per­form to K-pop songs on stage, and the rest of the sta­dium be­comes a gi­ant pic­nic with fam­ily and friends.

There’s no charge beyond the reg­u­lar ad­mis­sion to the game, which starts at 10,000 won (about $8.50). But the ex­pe­ri­ence is by in­vi­ta­tion only and is meant for lo­cal, Korean-speak­ing fans. KT Corp., which owns the team, se­lects four or five fam­i­lies based on their mes­sages about why they want a seat there.

Though the base­ball sea­son is over, KT says VR will likely re­turn next year.

Not if you’re afraid of heights ...

You can dis­play your vir­tual courage in Tokyo by res­cu­ing a mewl­ing cat perched on a wooden plank that bal­ances from the edge of a sky­scraper.

Walk­ing out on the plank in­cludes one heart-stop­ping mo­ment where the wood ap­pears to bend slightly be­neath your feet with the vir­tual sky stretch­ing in all di­rec­tions. Some par­tic­i­pants were so freaked out they got on their hands and knees — for real — to keep go­ing.

A fuzzy ob­ject that feels like a dead dog gets placed in your hands if you make it to the end. That’s the ex­tent of the il­lu­sion. If you’re not con­vinced, you may feel like drop­ping the thing into the vir­tual abyss be­low.

The cat res­cue is one of eight VR ex­pe­ri­ences cre­ated by game-maker Bandai Namco for HTC’s Vive head­set. Another en­tails shoot­ing fly­ing ro­botic space­ships with a manga-like fe­male char­ac­ter as your co-pi­lot.

Each ex­pe­ri­ence in VR Zone: Project I Can cost 700 yen (about $6.30) to 1,000 yen ($9). This one’s over, but ex­pect more like it to come.

Tak­ing a dive

At Lon­don’s Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum, visi­tors can travel be­neath the waves and ex­plore the breath­tak­ing Great Bar­rier Reef through vir­tual re­al­ity.

The mu­seum’s reef dive VR ex­pe­ri­ence sits head­set wear­ers next to Bri­tish na­ture broad­caster Sir David At­ten­bor­ough in a sta­teof-the-art sub­mersible as it slowly de­scends to the ocean floor off the coast of Aus­tralia. There are vi­brant co­ral reefs, dart­ing fish and sil­hou­et­ted scuba divers against the blue ocean.

Mu­seum of­fi­cials say they aren’t wor­ried these ex­pe­ri­ences might one day re­place tra­di­tional mu­se­ums.

“We see this as a real op­por­tu­nity to show spec­i­mens in a new way, and we don’t see it as re­plac­ing the amaz­ing im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence you have when you come,” says Ce­lena Bret­ton, the mu­seum’s dig­i­tal me­dia strat­egy man­ager.

The 15-minute David At­ten­bor­ough’s Great Bar­rier Reef Dive ex­pe­ri­ence costs 6.50 Bri­tish pounds ($8). The mu­seum ad­mis­sion is free.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A vis­i­tor, wear­ing U.S. maker HTC’s Vive head­set, plays the “Ski Rodeo,” a ski­ing sim­u­la­tor, at the “VR Zone Project i Can” vir­tual re­al­ity ex­per­i­men­tal en­ter­tain­ment fa­cil­ity in Tokyo. The “Ski Rodeo” is one of eight VR ex­pe­ri­ences cre­ated by game-maker Bandai Namco for HTC’s Vive head­set. Another en­tails shoot­ing fly­ing ro­botic space­ships with a manga-like fe­male char­ac­ter as your co-pi­lot.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Riders put on head­sets that give them a 360-de­gree view of an an­i­ma­tion synched with the coaster’s move­ments at The New Rev­o­lu­tion, a vir­tual re­al­ity roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Moun­tain in Va­len­cia, Calif.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Marisa Fer­rito, right, and her mother Michele Fer­rito pre­pare to en­ter a vir­tual re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ence called “Ghost­busters: Di­men­sion” at Madame Tus­sauds in New York.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Visi­tors op­er­ate gi­ant ro­bots as they play bat­tles at the “VR Zone Project i Can” vir­tual re­al­ity ex­per­i­men­tal en­ter­tain­ment fa­cil­ity in Tokyo.

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