You know when you meet people who are making a career out of doing what they love? That’s the feeling you get when you meet Eldar Iskhakov and his team at Anvio, where a passion for gaming and some world-class programming skills are helping the company deliver their own vision of the latest form of out-of-home entertainment.
After less than a year in development, Iskhakov has opened the company’s first VR multi-player free-roam experience in a former warehouse in the Presnensky district of Moscow. The experience – ideally set up for four people, in this case – takes place in an 200sqm (2,150sq ft) room and lasts about 30 minutes, with a 10-15 minute pre-show and instruction session, and followed by a 5-10 minute debrief.
The game we played was a multi-level zombie shooter, City Z, set in a devastated building in post-apocalyptic Moscow. Once you complete a level, you enter a new scenario on the next storey of the building, repeating the process until you reach the roof. Each level is different – darker levels, brighter levels, levels where you walk around, levels where you shoot. Priced at 6,000 rubles per peak-time session – about £20 ($25, €23) each with four players – the experience is expensive by Russian standards, but doing well so far, nonetheless.
“We can host more than four people, but in the space we have, four people is optimum. We don’t want people running into each other. Our priority is always that this is fun for the customer. As we’re charging relatively high ticket prices, we don’t want to impede the experience,” Iskhakov says.
Anvio’s offer has been fine-tuned to provide a stimulating, exciting, immersive challenge for its audience and since the location opened in May, it’s going well and feedback has been positive. Iskhakov now wants to bring the product to other countries and is looking for partners who can help make that happen. At the time of writing, the company was close to securing a site in London.
The company has worked hard to try to set Anvio apart from the competition.The 15-strong team – most of them in their 20s and 30s – has developed an advanced free-roam platform that supports precise full-body tracking including hands, legs, head, torso and weapon – thanks to markers worn on the player’s body, which are tracked by the 30-plus cameras in the game zone. Every movement is transferred into the game so players can better inhabit their characters, able to see their arms and legs and their teammates movements in real-time.
A gamesmaster controls the experience and can adjust in-game elements according to how the players are responding. The media content has been made to be as immersive as possible, with long “views” off into the distance making the player really feel as though they’re in an expansive world. The company has also experimented with having live actors play some of the roles.
Library of games
One learning curve has been gauging what level of difficulty or stimulation works best without either boring people or upsetting them. “With horror, some people will just get really freaked out. We’ve got to try to cater for everyone," he says.
A major selling point of the Anvio model is its versatility. Iskhakov says the hardest part is finding a suitable open (obstruction-free) space, but once you do, “you just need to map the canvas and you can put it up in a day”. With a team of game developers constantly working on new content, Anvio will be able to offer a library of games options which can easily be changed on-site according to the customers’ needs.
“We’re working on an India Jones-style, temple-type, Tomb Raider-type game,” says the entrepreneur. “There are caves to explore, a lost city, a lake, treasure to find and puzzles to complete. There are also environmental elements like planks to walk over, traps and labyrinths. This game will be strictly no guns, so we’ll have a grappling hook, a flashlight, items like that. We’re developing as much quality content as possible.”
There are other companies taking advantage of the gowing interest in VR, who are harnassing the technology in a similar way (see AM/1/17). The Void, a more established Utah-based firm, has recently worked with Merlin Entertainments on Ghostbusters: Dimension at Madame Tussauds in New York City. The company also just announced it is working on an immersive Star Wars experience with Disney – it indicates that the potential for this area of the industry is developing.
In terms of technology, Anvio's platform is graphically and immersively playing at the top of the league. Anvio is constantly on the lookout for ways to improve, eyeing wireless systems and next-gen 4K headsets coming down the line – though there’s no current hardware solution to run that effectively. However, the technology is only getting better, until someday virtual reality will look as crisp and clear as the real thing.
Iskhakov says: “We use the best engine and the best equipment publicly available and put a lot of effort into making it work seamlessly and look as good as possible. Moore’s law says that computing power doubles every two years. Nowadays, that’s more like every 13 months.”