• Wednesday, May 11, 2016

    Tokyo's First Virtual Reality Arcade

    If this is your first time hearing about Tokyo’s latest virtual reality gaming attraction VR Zone - Project i Can, buckle up because it’s a crazy cool ride. I first heard about the exhibit online, and as soon as I read about it, I was sold. I needed to go! Now, mind you, I’ve never had an interest in virtual reality before. I didn’t understand the hype. Yeah, it sounded great in theory, but I didn’t think the technology was there yet to make it completely immersive. So, when I saw the promo videos of women terrified on a plank of wood on the ground, I was curious. Could I actually fall for this?

    Short answer: yes, I definitely fell for it.

    Now, after experiencing it, I can see how people get caught up in it. However, the graphics are just crude enough to trigger something in the back of my mind to remind me that this isn’t real. However, there were plenty of times when I forgot that and was completely immersed. It had been a long time since I went to an arcade and felt like that. Now, be prepared that this post is quite long. I was so excited, I couldn’t help myself! 

    At first, I was a little hesitant about them having a reservation system. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to secure a spot, and if I did, I’d be restricted to planning my entire day trip to Tokyo around the hour-half slot I chose. But, the system only allows reservations a few months in advance, so you don’t have to worry about them all being booked up for the rest of the life of the exhibit. However, if you don’t live in the Tokyo area, you have to be vigilant about the reservations opening up.

    I have to say, I’m glad that they implemented a reservation system. First come, first served would be way more inconvenient. And just having it open (no cap on the amount of people who could enter) would make the waits insane. I think they cap the groups off at 32 people. I thought that was a lot at first, but they have a lot of rides open so you can find something to do without waiting. Plus, making the reservations are free and really easy to do! (If anyone needs help with making a reservation, I can post a tutorial for that later...) You can make group reservations too, so if you want to go with others, only one person has to sign up!

    The Location
    The website tells you how to “access” the place, but the map is in Japanese, so if you don’t read much, it can be a bit challenging. You can put the name of the exhibit “VR ZONE Project i Can” into Google Maps and it’s marked and will take you there. Or, if you’re familiar with Odaiba, it’s in Decks (where the giant Gundam is) on the first floor (not ground floor) behind the Bershka.

    I liked that it was at the mall, because it makes accessing it a lot easier. But Odaiba is a pain to get to from a lot of places in the Tokyo area...
    Argyle Shift can host a group of four at once. Next time, you will be mine...

    The Process
    So, the website tells you to come to the exhibit 15 minutes before it starts. Marcus and I stopped by about 30 minutes before (we wanted to get something to eat so we wouldn’t be doing it on an empty stomach and risk nausea like they say) and there were already people lined up! We hung around for a little bit and watched, getting even more pumped, before getting something to eat. When we came back, there were still a lot of people, but many of the faces changed... So I guess a lot of them were just stopping because they were curious.

    Around the 15 minute mark, they started lining people up in a more organized line, and explained the process. Basically, they told everyone that you needed a Namco Card in order to play. This is where you loaded money to play the games. If you didn’t already have one (luckily both of us did because we like to play Taiko no Tatsujin in the arcades) you could buy one at a machine for 300 yen. If you’re in a group, you don’t need to buy a card for everyone. You can use the same card to pay for each person. 

    Then, they explained how loading your card works. (We had to register our cards the first time we loaded them... It was easy. They just asked for your birth year and birthday, and to set a pin.) You can either load 1,000 yen or 100 yen at a time (there’s a coin changer if you don’t have any 100 yen coins, like me). They have a chart of all the prices, so you can load exact amounts instead of carrying a balance.

    Once everyone from the last group is out (there are a few stragglers because some of the games last longer than others do), they’ll start letting people in. Just show them the confirmation/reminder email with your reservation number. They’ll give you a guest lanyard and an eye mask to keep everything hygienic. Then they’ll go over the instructions again for the people who couldn’t hear/weren’t there. You can put any bags you have in the free lockers provided. I put my bag in but kept my camera... Then I realized I needed more money and I ended up forgetting my locker’s code and had to get someone to open it so I could get some bills out... Whoops.

    The Games
    There are 6 games in total. One where you can drive a race car, one where you can drive a train on the Yamanote Loop around Tokyo, one where you pilot a giant mech, the one from the promos where you save a kitten, one where you’re tapped in a grizzly hospital, and one where you can ski. We only had time for three of them: the train one, the kitty one, and the hospital one.
    The Train Meister simulation has room for two people at a time.

    From the get go, lines formed at the kitty one and the hospital one. Marcus wanted to do the train one, and there was no wait (same for the race car... No wait.) so we did that first. The guy explained a bit about how the controls worked, and basically push forward to slow down (the farther forward, the harder you break) and pull it towards you to speed up. I didn’t quite grasp the controls at first, and my first run got me a 1 star ranking. The second run, I got the hang of it and got a 4 star ranking... Then the time was up. I was kind of surprised at how fast it was. It’s supposed to be 13 minutes, and the tutorial and splash screens took up like half of that time! 

    However, it was a great experience. I think these graphics were the most realistic of all the games I tried, but that makes sense because the view never really changed. You were always just in the same area, watching the tracks and platforms through the window. It was a good warm up for us VR newbies. It was fun, but I definitely felt like I was playing a game.

    We checked the time and it was going faster than we thought... We decided to get in line for the kitty one, because it is the main attraction after all! There were about 6 people ahead of us, and the wait took almost 25 minutes before we got our chance. I guess it depends on how long each group takes (if there are a bunch of scaredy cats in front of you, it may take longer...) They had two boards going at once, and, if you’re a pair, there’s a spot you can sit on in the back to watch and take pictures. I was scared, so I had Marcus go first.

    I watched them strap him up (in state of the art technology consisting of knockoff Crocs with puffballs attached and some puffball hand straps for the sensor to map) and tentatively take his first steps onto the board. Then he stopped and kind of looked around for a few seconds. Then he resumed inching along the board. I told him after he finished that when he stopped I got nervous. He said it was a lot more realistic than he thought and he needed a few seconds to remind himself that it wasn’t real. I got strapped in after he finished and got ready to go. If you don’t want to know the details of it because you’re planning on going yourself and want to be surprised, I’ve whited them out below... If you do want to read, just highlight it with your mouse to read:

    The concept is that you’re trying to help a mama kitty save her baby who got trapped on the top of a building. (Sounds plausible. Kitties are dumb but I love them anyway.) You take the elevator up and the doors open to a wooden plank suspended above a cityscape below. The sensors kept glitching a bit and my shoes would go sideways sometimes or my hands would disappear, but I’m kind of thankful for that because it helped me realize it’s not real... Because let me tell you, even though I saw that plank was on the ground minutes before, I wasn’t so sure of myself anymore.

    When you finally muster up enough courage to take your first step, the plank creaks and physically wobbles with the pressure applied and a little gust of wind comes from somewhere and blows on you (or did I imagine that? I don’t think so...). I inched along and finally made it to the kitty. Once again, the sensors were a bit off and the kitty looked closer than it really was, so there was some air grabbing. BUT, as soon as you picked up the cat, the plank breaks in half and you have to find your way back on an even narrower piece of wood! But I made it. I’ve never been more relieved to be in a fake elevator before, and I was greeted to a dancing mama kitty in the lobby of the building.

    So Marcus and I both saved the kitty! I definitely think that this was worth the 1,000 yen, but I definitely wouldn’t do it again. Not so much because of the cost, but because it was terrifying. I was so surprised at how real it became to me. When they took everything off of me, I realized that I was shaking. But I’ll do anything for a kitty. 
    You can do it, Marcus!

    After that, our time was almost up! We noticed that it got way emptier... A lot of people seemed to have left already even though there were at least 20 minutes remaining. A few people were sitting at the tables just waiting. But emptier meant shorter (or non-existent) lines. There were two people ahead of us for the hospital one, so we did that next. It was a short wait. 

    Now, before I continue, I should say that I hate scary stuff. I hate scary movies, I hate scary books, I hate Marcus talking about scary things. I don’t know what possessed me to think I could do it. Before the game started, the attendant mentioned that there was a “panic” button you could press if it got too scary, but if it was pressed then both players quit the game. (And if one player dies in the game, both players die.)

    So, the graphics weren’t the best, but my god they did the trick anyway. The concept is that you wake up in a hospital and find yourself wheelchair-bound. You have to try to navigate your way through the hospital to your freedom. It started out okay enough, just some mutant guy eating a corpse, rolling through bloody puddles, ok I could handle it. But then there were sounds. And then Marcus and I got separated. So I freaked out and closed my eyes and stopped rolling forward. I was content to die alone in this creepy hospital cowering in fear. It was better than going forward...

    Eventually, Marcus couldn’t progress any farther and we realized it was because I was too far behind. Luckily, it was on a fixed track and I could just roll forward with my eyes closed so I wouldn’t have to see all the scary stuff... But I couldn’t cover my ears or stop the chair from shaking during the jump scares. But eventually I caught up to Marcus and we both continued rolling forward.

    Then something happened (I’m not sure what because my eyes were still closed) with lasers and I got hit, and we got separated again, and I had enough courage to open my eyes. There was a creepy zombie thing at the end of the hallway, but I figured I had rolled past all of them before and this time it would be the same. Nope. I rolled ahead and the zombie saw me and started approaching. I closed my eyes again and tried to roll backwards, but he latched onto my chair and ate me alive. Marcus continued on for a little bit, which I was confused about because the guy said if one person dies, both die... But he got abducted shortly after and his head got cut off. The end.

    I came so close to pressing that panic button, but Marcus was really enjoying it so I kept going (plus, the money!). Marcus said he wants to do it again, but he’s definitely not doing it with me... I was really impressed at how immersive this one was. I couldn’t help but scream at a lot of different parts I’m so glad it had mics so we could talk to each other through the whole thing. I would’ve quit right away if I was doing it alone. This wasn’t my cup of tea, but I could see how it could be amazing for a lot of people who are braver than I am.

    When the headsets got taken off (let me tell you how much of a relief that was) we were quickly escorted out. There were about 5 minutes left but the next group was already waiting outside. We were one of the last to leave. I can’t believe the time went by so quickly!

    I had an amazing time. It was such a great experience and I highly recommend it. The prices were a little high, but I think they were worth it for the experience. I definitely want to go back and try the skiing one and maybe the mech one (but I fear that may be a bit too much Japanese for me). There was also a photo booth and tiny gift shop that I want to check out next time. 

    Important Things
    1. Load enough money for what you want to do at the beginning. Lines that weren’t there often formed because I had to keep reloading my card with money.
    2. Do what you want to do first! They’ll close off some rides as time passes to make sure the group doesn’t go over the times.
    3. Some of the games are age-restricted (the kitty and hospital one are 13+)

    〒135-0064, 1 Chome-1-10 Aomi, Koto, Tokyo 135-0064

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