When Bryan asked if I would like to visit VR Here, one of the UK’s first dedicated virtual reality studios right here in Liverpool, I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous.
Although the idea of virtual reality (VR) really intrigued me, I did wonder if I was really the target audience. I had visions of me walking into a geek’s paradise full of computer equipment that meant absolutely nothing to me and left me feeling so far out of my depth I’d end up drowning in a technological ocean.
As it turned out, I did end up in an ocean, but I certainly didn’t drown.
How to Get to VR Here
Address: 31 Paul Street, Liverpool, L3 6DX
VR-Here is tucked away in a small retail unit just outside of Liverpool city centre. There was a short moment when we turned off the main road into a residential area and wondered if we were still going the right way, but my advice is to put your trust in your sat nav and it’ll take you straight to the door. If you drive, there’s free parking right outside too which is always a bonus.
On public transport, I’d suggest making your way into the centre of town first and then either walking (around 25 minutes from Liverpool One Bus Station or 15 minutes from Lime Street Train Station), taking a bus from either the bus station or The Met Quarter (around 15-20 minutes), or jumping in a taxi (approx 5 – 10 minutes from Lime Street or Liverpool One).
VR in Liverpool: Inside the VR Arcade
Steffan came along with me for the virtual reality experience. At least if I didn’t have a clue what was going on, his brief career in IT would surely mean that he could make some intelligent conversation, right?
I’d told Bryan in advance that I was a complete VR virgin, and Steffan, who apart from a 5 minute trial on a VR racing game a few weeks back, was also a bit of a novice. This didn’t seem to phase Bryan who promised us a gradual introduction to the wonderful world of VR, mixing both gaming and some completely out of this world experiences along the way.
Entering the VR Arcade, my first impressions were that it looked pretty much like a teenage boys dream bedroom. As my eyes adjusted to the low lighting, I noticed the superhero posters decorating the walls and the retro gaming consoles set up for customers to play whilst they waited for their turn in the VR booths.
The VR booths themselves were three black and one green (I’ll explain the significance of this later!) square 15ft x 15ft empty spaces separated from each other by black curtains. Monitors were situated outside each cubicle so that anyone watching could see exactly what the person with the headset on was seeing.
VR in Liverpool: The VR Experience
Bryan greeted us with coffee and, after a quick tour of the arcade, we wasted no time getting stuck into our first VR experience. Bryan started us off with an underwater experience called TruBlu to get us used to the VR headsets and the feeling of being transported into a different world.
Being submerged beneath the ocean, interacting with the sea life (you can touch the fish and the sea plants and they react!) and having a VERY close encounter with an 80-foot whale (completely to scale!) is just so incredible! I could have spent ages bobbing around underwater, exploring the caves and watching the colourful fish glide past. I can’t believe I spent so many hours doing my PADI scuba diving qualification when I could have just come here and put on a VR headset!
After our magical initiation into VR, Bryan stepped it up a gear and we found ourselves in a real life (well, it FELT like real life!) game of Space Pirate Trainer which reminded me a lot of the retro game Space Invaders that I used to play as a child. I had a gun in my right hand and a shield in my left, dodging and fighting off the little spaceships as they came at me from all angles!
Continuing with the sci-fi gaming theme, we had a go at Raw Data, a multi-player in which Steffan and I could talk to each other through microphones in our separate booths and we had to work together to save ourselves from evil robots who were doing their best to shoot at us. They weren’t the friendliest.
This game was pretty amazing as I could actually see Steffan (well, Steffan in computer avatar form anyway) within my own virtual reality. Mind. Blown. What I found interesting was that there is no way I would play a game like this on a games console (I’m more of a Mario Kart kind gal), but put me INSIDE the game, survival instincts kicked in, and I absolutely loved it!
Next up was Wreck Room. Steffan and I declared war against each other and fought it out in a game of Paint Ball. Again, Paint Ball isn’t something I’m a huge fan of in real life, but I’d definitely come back for a virtual reality version of it (I didn’t come away covered in bruises for one thing!).
Despite being absolutely rubbish at it (Steffan won by a country mile), I was constantly amused by the way I was ducking out of the line of paintball fire (clearly not very successfully judging by my score) and standing on tiptoes to look over obstacles. Steffan got so into it he walked into the partition curtain. It’s crazy how immersed in the virtual reality world you can become!
After all that action, we had a little rest from our headsets and readjusted to the real world for a few minutes. When we returned to our virtual world, Bryan took us straight to the Pier Head Arcade, a game developed right here in Liverpool!
This game divided opinions; I loved it, Steffan wasn’t so fussed. Unlike TruBlu or Raw Data, you’re not doing anything here that you can’t actually do in real life. But there was something about the fact that I was doing normal real life things in a virtual reality world that really fascinated me.
As the name suggests, you’re transported to a pier arcade and as long as you put (virtual) money in the slots, you have the run of the arcade and can play any game you like. Air Hockey, Basketball, Bowling, Whack a Mole….all the favourites are there!
Thankfully, I made the most of the happy, colourful world of Pier Head Arcade, because, after that, things got a little weird….
Dying and Flying – The Magic of VR in Liverpool
To be fair, Bryan had warned us about the Plank Experience in advance, but no amount of warning can actually prepare you for the real deal (did I say real? I was literally losing track of what was real and what wasn’t by this point!).
Richie’s Plank Experience takes you up 80 floors in a lift to the top of a huge skyscraper. But when the doors open, the only way out is to walk the plank.
Cue the strangest battle between your brain and your senses you’ll ever experience.
I obviously KNEW this wasn’t real and that I was in no immediate danger, but that didn’t stop me from feeling sick to the stomach at the thought of having to walk out onto the plank, looking down from a great height at the tiny streets below me.
Half laughing, half whimpering, I stepped forward and tried to sidestep along the narrow piece of wood, but tragically, I lost my footing and went hurtling down the side of the building, watching the ground come closer and closer towards me, before *SPLAT!* Thankfully, it was over so quickly that I felt no pain, and the next thing I knew, a blanket of white light enveloped me, so I can only assume that I was taken by angels to the afterlife.
As if that whole experience wasn’t traumatising enough, there was also a ‘nightmare mode.’ Back in the lift, Bryan encouraged me to key in ‘666’ and I had the pleasure of meeting giant spiders and a crazy masked madman who proceeded to saw the plank off as I was standing on it with nowhere to turn!
And in yet another brush with death, I was also run over by a bus – another weird sensation where I actually jumped when I saw it racing towards me, before freezing on the spot and bracing myself for the impact.
But possibly my favourite experience within Richie’s Plank Experience (or perhaps the whole VR experience), was The Fire Deck.
The Fire Deck is possibly the closest I’ll ever come to knowing what it’s like to fly and, let me tell you, it’s pretty freaking amazing. I think the aim of this is to be the hero and put out fires on burning buildings, but selfishly, I was too excited about the flying part and spent my time whizzing around the city, landing on top of buildings and mountains and pretty much ignoring the fires. Oops.
Our experience of VR in Liverpool was nearly at an end, but Bryan had just a couple more things to show us.
Setting up in the special green cubicle, it was time to experience some mixed reality.
Usually, if someone is watching on a screen outside your cubicle, they can see what you can see through your headset, but they can’t see you inside your virtual world. The magic of mixed reality, however, is that Bryan was able to record a video of me within my virtual world. Confused? Take a look at the video below.
I had a go at being a fast food chef in Job Simulator (this game is very popular with the kids apparently!) and judging by my performance, I’d probably be sacked from my virtual job on account of the bacon I burnt and the tomatoes I dropped on the floor!
I also went back to The Pier Head Arcade for another quick go on the boxing game and the target shooter, before donning my very own light sabre and playing Beat Saber.
Beat Saber is loads of fun but much harder than it looks, and as you can see from the video, I think I definitely need a bit more practice!
Talking With Your Hands
We finished up with a trial of a Leap Motion Sensor – a pretty amazing device which allows you to use your hands (rather than a remote or handset) to do things like manipulate colourful floating particles as they dance around you, or paint a picture in mid-air. The weirdest part was taking off the headset and realising your picture wasn’t actually right there in front of you where you’d left it!
Back to Reality
Going into the virtual reality experience, I really hadn’t known what to expect. It’s not something I ever would have thought to do, and in my head, I had put it firmly within the category of gaming and therefore not something that I would particularly enjoy. I don’t think I’ve ever been so wrong about anything!
Bryan made us feel right at home and he was so skilled at developing an introductory session that gradually eased us into the weird and wonderful world of virtual reality. He took the time to answer our questions and made the complex world of VR somehow seem very accessible and not at all intimidating.
I was surprised to learn that virtual reality isn’t that popular yet, but then I suppose, like me, there are lots of people who have no idea what it really is. I’ve used a VR headset with my phone before and whilst pretty impressive, what I experienced at VR Here was just in a different league altogether.
There seems to be no end to the worlds you can travel to and the experiences you can have with VR. I would actually challenge anyone to have a go and not be completely sold on the brilliance of it. As Bryan pointed out, “it’s about so much more than gaming. You can’t actually begin to imagine what it’s like until you put the headset on.”
VR in Liverpool: Want to Try it for Yourself?
Book online at the VR Here Website
Monday – Friday: 17:00 – 22:00
Weekends: 13:00 – 20:00
Click to visit the VR Here Website for details.
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