Two of RocketNews24’s VR virgins get to grips with virtual reality—but does the new technology live up to the hype?

My fellow RocketNews24 writer Preston and I recently had the opportunity to try out a handful of virtual reality setups at a special event being held for a limited time in Odaiba, Tokyo, called VR Zone Project i Can. While I’d watched plenty of hilarious videos of my fellow reporters and YouTubers wearing silly VR goggles and freaking out as various digital creatures lunged at them, none of it had prepared me for the reality of virtual reality, and I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

“I still wasn’t convinced that I’d fall for it.”

The word “immersive” is often used when virtual reality is discussed in print and online. In truth, this is something I’d always scoffed at, writing it off as a buzzword thrown around by those in the industry and then latched on to by the media, but it turns out that is exactly how I would describe my own VR experience. Even as I walked into the room and heard the headset-wearing attendees screeching and laughing around me, I still wasn’t convinced that I’d fall for it. I’ve played video games for decades—there’s no way my brain would be tricked into thinking that I was anywhere but an exhibition hall with a plastic box strapped to my face.

Oh boy, was I wrong.

Now that you’ve had a good laugh at our reactions, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

We were given an hour and a half to try out the six experiences on offer, and we managed to get through four of them. (The only two we missed out on were train and racing simulators, which probably wouldn’t have made for such embarrassing captivating footage.) You pay on a per-play basis at the event using a card that you can charge at stations within the area, with each game costing between 700 and 1,000 yen (US$6.50–$9.00) per try.

▼ The VR lineup


▼ Blade-wielding nurses with glowing eyes! What could possibly be scary about that?

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Perhaps naively, we opted for the horror experience first, a grueling 12-minute-long “ride” through an abandoned hospital—or, more accurately, a dark, terrifying building filled with blood, guts, grotesque creatures, and heart-stopping jump-scares. You play as a character in a wheelchair, using joysticks to move forwards and backwards, although you’re essentially on a set path, so the experience is similar to journeying through a haunted house.

“I felt trapped in the game”

Before settling into our seats, we were warned by the booth attendant that the experience was most definitely not for the faint of heart, and she wasn’t kidding. The moment the headset and earphones were placed on my head, I felt trapped in the game. Moving slowly past the grisly set-pieces akin to something out of a Saw movie, I felt completely cut off from the real world to the point that the virtual one very quickly felt like my new reality. When you’re playing a video game, no matter how scary it is, you’re still somewhat removed from what’s going on on the screen, but that feeling of distance shrinks considerably when it comes to VR. The sense of immersion is very real.


Okay, confession time: we both called it quits less than half way into the game! For a very first experience with VR I think we overstretched ourselves a little! Suffice it to say, if you’re not a fan of horror games to begin with, you’ll want to steer well clear of anything remotely scary on VR.

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My second experience was a skiing simulator, which involved standing on a machine similar to a cross-trainer at the gym and leaning left and right to steer. Again, the headset convinced my brain that I really was in the virtual environment, suddenly atop a snowy mountain and whizzing through snowdrifts, to the point that I swear I actually began to feel cold! Unfortunately I wasn’t very good at controlling my skis and it turned out to be almost as terrifying as the actual horror game as I crashed into rocks and sailed off cliffs. However, I have a feeling this might have more to do with the fact that I’ve never actually skied in my life, so I’m sure it’ll be great fun for avid skiers who are missing the slopes.

Upon removing the headset, however, I have to admit I felt a bit queasy. The issue of nausea often comes up when discussing virtual reality, and eliminating it is something the hardware’s designers have worked hard to achieve, so it was something I was wary of going in. It wasn’t too much of a problem for me in-game, however, and mostly set in after the headset was off and my brain readjusted to longer being in perceived motion. This is definitely something to watch out for if you have a tendency to get sick on theme park rides, but the benefit here is that you’re not stuck until the ride is over; you can turn it off at any time if it gets to be too much, and the feeling passed quite quickly afterwards.

▼ Another of the VR experiences we tried—this one putting us in control of a giant mecha.

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The headset used for all the different setups at Bandai Namco’s event is the HTC Vive, the model that received the full backing of Valve, the same company that brought us the Steam software distribution system. In truth, found it quite heavy and it sometimes pressed down on my noise to the point I had to breathe through my mouth—something that was especially troublesome in the mecha piloting/shooting game where you had to move your head to aim at the targets. Still, at least said game was, breathing issues aside, an enjoyable rather than a white-knuckle experience, plus it included a rather busty virtual anime lady helping you out with your mission (I’m sure there are many games in the works that will allow you to get more intimate with characters like this!).

“All was well and good until … CRACK! half of the plank snapped off.”

Probably the most bizarrely realistic sensation of the day came from the seven-minute-long “walk the plank” experience we saw in Bandai Namco’s promotional video last month. The game puts you in an elevator that shuttles you up to the top of a high-rise building where there is, inexplicably, nothing but a wooden plank sticking out over the ground far below, with a tiny cat sitting at the end of it awaiting rescue. It was my job to step out onto the plank—in both the virtual world and the real one—and inch my way towards the kitty (a real-world toy with sensors pinned to it) without falling off.

All was well and good until I had the “cat” in my hands, and then CRACK! half of the plank snapped off, leaving me with mere inches of wood to balance on. Cue being stuck at the end for a while, too scared to even turn around. Logically, I knew there was absolutely no danger, and yet I couldn’t override my base instincts to just freeze and stay where I was, lest I plummet to my certain death.


Overall I was blown away by my first virtual reality experience and, now that I have an idea of what to expect, I would jump at the chance to go back again. After finally trying VR for myself, I’m definitely interested in getting my hands on a headset for my own personal use, whether it be the HTC Vive, an Oculus Rift, or Sony’s Playstation VR headset. That being said, at this stage I’m still a bit concerned about the headsets becoming little more than something to whip out during parties, a gadget that I’d pull out when friends are over and, while we’d no doubt have a blast, never feel the need to use the rest of the time. What I experienced at Bandai Namco’s event is of course way beyond what the average home user will be getting, regardless of which headset they choose, what with the elaborate setups and specialized equipment. But I could totally see an event like this being made into a permanent attraction and becoming the game center for a new generation, where you can hang out at the weekend and experience the thrills of virtual reality without having to drop vast amounts of cash—after all, even the most budget-friendly option, PlayStation VR, is far from “cheap” at US$399.

Will virtual reality become a permanent part of our homes in the near future? Only time, and the quality of the software, will tell. Even so, it’s definitely true what they say about this new technology: you really have to experience virtual reality for yourself to truly appreciate it.


VR Zone: Project i Can experience will run until October and operates on a reservation-only basis. It’s definitely popular, so make your booking now to avoid disappointment! Reservations can be made online at the Project i Can website (Japanese only).

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