Behind the Scenes with the Vive Pro at the Jurassic Park VR Expedition at Dave & Buster’s, Honolulu

This editor had to miss SIGGRAPH 2019 in Vancouver although I was invited because I had to head to Honolulu, Hawaii to see a specialist. Today, I visited Dave & Buster’s, a fast-growing arcade chain that bucks the trend that saw most arcades close in the USA over the past few decades after arcade gaming peaked in the 1980s when I was an avid arcade gamer.

Back then, I was able to play Q*Bert all day long on a single quarter – from opening to close, and I also had the high score for Ms. PacMan (as ‘MAX’; close to 900,000) at the old Huntington Beach Main Street arcade – they actually stayed open for an extra hour until I finally lost while a large crowd gathered to watch me play. Since then I have became a dedicated PC gamer, and my first PC was an Atari 800XL. I stopped playing at arcades because I enjoyed the home experience better. And the largest Pac-Man in the world is also at Dave & Buster’s.

Because the Jurassic Park VR Expedition ride is exclusively at Dave & Buster’s, I decided to pay the Honolulu location a visit, and I got to see first hand what a growing, modern, and lively arcade chain is like. It is very different from the arcades of the 1980s as they have managed to attract both families and single players of all ages with their inspired mix of large-screen TV entertainment, good food, parties, events, rewards for regular players, and even alcoholic drinks are served restaurant style.

A big difference between arcades then and now are the higher prices today. All transactions are now made using a refillable “Power Card” where the minimum buy for playing games is $12. The Jurassic Park VR Expedition ride only costs $5, which is quite a bargain compared with pricing at other VR establishments.

I made a beeline for the Jurassic Park VR Expedition ride and was at first disappointed to hear that it was under maintenance and that it would probably not be working until tomorrow. But I stopped by anyway and I got to meet the lead repairman, and we made an instant connection. He has been repairing arcade machines since the 1980s although I am older than him by probably a decade. I told him that HTC Vive sent me a Vive Pro as a loaner for evaluation, but at first we talked mostly about the past.

He told me that the Jurassic World VR Expedition ride would be fixed within an hour, so I decided to wait while I visited the rest of the arcade to check it out. Eventually I returned and we talked about the hardware and also reminisced about the ‘good old’ arcade days. We both knew about the glitch in Galaga that allowed one to play endlessly, and then we started to talk about the present. There are new attractions here including the brand new Halo: Fireteam Raven which can be played with up to 4 players simultaneously.

Naturally, I was interested in the Vive Pro – which is the only HMD that is suitable for this ride because of its higher resolution and high quality electronics that qualifies it as a professional unit unlike the regular Vive or the Oculus Rift.

The Jurassic Park VR Expedition ride seats 4 people and is powered by 5 computers – one for each rider, and a master server – all using (probably) NVIDIA’s Quadros – he wasn’t sure if the ride was powered by Quadro or GeForce because all of the internal servicing is taken care of by the company who sets it up for Dave & Buster’s out of Seattle, Washington.

I told him that we may well see some new and much more powerful cards from NVIDIA, as the game-changing Quadro RTX series has just been announced at SIGGRAPH yesterday. Photorealistic gaming is finally within reach of desktop gamers!

I asked about the reliability of the Pro, and was assured it was excellent – the electronics never fail, although the HMDs take a quite a beating from the riders as they are used continuously, all day long. Interestingly, he said he preferred to use the wireless adapters over the wired connections. Their setup has been recently updated to use three base stations instead of two for better tracking, and tracking was excellent when I finally got to experience it by myself as the first rider.

There is a warning posted for people with heart conditions, but it is not a scary ride although it seems quite real as you come face to face with some huge beasts along the way. You are advised to strap on your seat belt before beginning the ride and also instructed how to adjust the HMD and the earphones, and you are given a Vive Wand which is your genetic scanner. You do not shoot any dinosaurs, rather you are advised to capture their genetic make-up – and the highest score out of 4 riders, wins. I managed to scan only 26 creatures as I did not realize then that each individual dinosaur, even from the same species, may be scanned.

Well, a long line formed while I was riding, and I captured some video of the ride and the next riders as it moves and jerks along just as though you are running along on a dirt path through the Jurassic Park jungle. Here is a local family enjoying the ride.

The Jurassic Park VR Expedition begins with you and usually 3 fellow riders in a vehicle that descends to the Jungle floor, and you bump along with your seats yawing and pitching in all directions very realistically as though you are actually riding in a vehicle over rough terrain. The impressive visuals are powered by Unreal Engine 4.

The earphones of the Vive Pro provide an excellent sonic experience, and there are kickers for additional bass that you can feel as the dinosaurs stomp the earth and roar all around you. The audio is positional and it contributes to the feeling that you are actually there. And there are some moments of real excitement as your vehicle begins to gather speed and races toward a broken bridge, and it builds to a peak as you fall downward toward the open gaping jaws of a Mosasaurus Maximus with your seats moving exactly as you would expect them to.

The only issue I had with the Jurassic Park VR Expedition is that it is just too short at about 5 minutes long. But the logistics of giving only 4 riders at a time a great experience with a long line of people waiting for it, makes sense to keep it short and inexpensive. I would highly recommend it to anyone!

Dave & Buster’s are planning to set up a new VR attraction next year, and I suggested that they should feature more than one VR ride at a time. However, these VR rides take up a lot of space that can be used for other attractions, and it will probably depend on if VR becomes an even bigger draw in the future than it is now.

All good things come to an end and I had to say aloha, and head back to my rented condo. Stay tuned for our take on SIGGRAPH 2018 Featuring NVIDIA’s Presentation & What it Means for GeForce Gamers tomorrow.  And BTR’s long-promised Vive Pro series’ introduction will also be posted this week,

Aloha from Hawaii!

Happy VR Gaming!