A video of someone walking around what looked like a weird sci-fi set while using a VR headset made the rounds on TikTok recently as new evidence of our inching progress toward the Star Trek holodeck fantasy. A follow-up video explained that it was a staffer testing out an upcoming attraction for a gaming bar and cafe named Aaru in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Aaru is a VR bar, cafe, and development studio with tabletop lounges and private VR rooms. It houses the only commercial version of the Omnideck made for public use for VR gaming. The Omnideck is a massive 360-degree motorized treadmill that lets a user safely walk, run, or crawl around in VR without slamming into a wall. (The reason the guy in the video isn't running is that they were waiting for a safety harness to be installed.)
The Omnideck is made by W5 Solutions, a Swedish company that has designed "high-level military training and simulation" hardware for over 10 years. This is the first time I recall seeing it outside a trade show or tech demo setting. The headset used in the VR room is the wireless Vive Focus 3, which has been paired with wireless hand controllers that run through a mishmash of custom software for each game.
"We chose the Omnideck because it's the best VR locomotion hardware out there right now," Aaru Games CEO Shai Kaiser tells me. He explained that they'd tried things like the KATwalk, a concave slidemill, but it didn't offer the full motion VR experience they wanted, because it required users to shuffle their feet more than walk.
The Omnideck does just enough to "trick the inner ear and avoid the incongruence between what you see and what you feel that contributes to virtual motion sickness/cybersickness," according to Kaiser.
There's a bit of an adjustment period as a player steps onto the Omnideck. Kaiser says it takes about five minutes before someone feels comfortable enough to play. They've recently added a harness system which "is a huge benefit to mental comfort and significantly cuts down the time it takes to get out of your own head and start moving naturally."
If a patron drinks too much, the staff won't allow them to use the system. "If anyone pukes on my nice equipment, I will cry," says Kaiser.
The games available to play in VR are rhythm-based shooter Pistol Whip and one of my favorite games, Superhot VR. If you don't feel like shooting anything, you can create some 3D art with Tiltbrush. Aaru expects to offer at least 10 games in standard VR rooms. The Onmideck room will be reserved for games that take advantage of room-scale experiences with as few menus as possible.
"What we're trying to do isn't about what VR is, but what it could be," says Kaiser. He thinks VRcades are an "important part of the journey" into VR's future, even if they'll have less utility "when people have accessible options and enough content to drive a market."
"Our long-term focus is on content generation and VR esports venues built for that future," Kaiser says, "and my ideal scenario is that we can bring that in line with a solid and fair franchise model so that quality VR gaming centers can shoot up like Pop-Tarts all over the place."
Aaru had its grand opening on October 21, so the combination of booze, tabletop games, and fully immersive VR shenanigans is open for business now. The Onmideck is still waiting for safety certification, however, so it's yet to be available to the public.