A Hopeful Start of Something Bigger

Starting Saturday, Sol Raiders will launch at Zero Latency locations around the globe. In the coming months the company plans to gather feedback from real players and continue to hone the gameplay to maximize fun and competition. The end goal, says Zero Latency CEO Tim Ruse, is to create gameplay that could support Esports activities at the company’s locations, but Ruse is quick to note that an Esport is not something you can simply manifest.

“You don’t wake up one day and declare you’ve made an Esport,” he said. “It takes time.”

The company spent 6–8 months in the R&D phase to figure out what PVP would even look like on the company’s free-roam VR platform, followed by an equal amount of time actually building out Sol Raiders.

At first, Ruse said, the company tried just tossing as many people into a virtual arena as they could, with the sole objective of killing each other; a 7 vs. 7 shootout was fun at the start, but was ultimately chaotic and didn’t offer much variety. When the company dialed things back to 4 vs. 4, matches became less chaotic, while the eventual addition of an objective (instead of pure deathmatch gameplay) brought an element of strategy and teamwork to the matches that was previously missing.

Image courtesy Zero Latency

Sol Raiders is the company’s first step toward the potential for Esports competition, but it’s still far from it, Ruse admits. The company hopes to foster a community of players who will come back for more, and to learn from those groups about how to further drive the content and gameplay towards ensuring solid competition and a high skill ceiling.

Hardware’s Role in Competition

Photo by Road to VR

Getting there will likely require a step forward in the platform’s tech as much as its content. While Sol Raiders looks like a surprisingly strong step in the right direction, the distinctly ‘first-gen’ hardware of Zero Latency’s platform feels increasingly dated in 2019.

Photo by Road to VR

The core of the system is of course the headset, and while Zero Latency has squeezed a lot of worth from the OSVR HDK2 headsets through various customizations, along with the bespoke tracking system, newer headsets are widening the gap in what consumers might expect from both a visual and tracking standpoint when stepping into Sol Raiders.

To that end, Zero Latency recently announced that it’s working with HP and Microsoft to formulate its next-gen hardware platform, which will hopefully do even more to capitalize on the company’s impressive content development work.

When I asked Ruse about the next step in hardware, he wasn’t ready to talk specifics, but made the point that a VR attraction platform like Zero Latency necessarily needs to move slowly and deliberately with hardware because it needs to be battle-tested and hardened in ways that consumer hardware does not. Reliability is key in an environment where location operators shouldn’t be expected to be VR hardware experts, and where a stream of users will put much greater wear and tear on the equipment than would happen in a home setting.

Exactly what Zero Latency’s next-gen hardware will look like isn’t clear, but we can make some guesses based on the companies with which it’s now allied. Working with Microsoft, we might expect to see the company move toward Windows VR headsets and inside-out tracking. HP—the other company that Zero Latency is working with on its future hardware platform—offers both a VR backpack and just so happens to be working on a new high-res Windows VR headset that’s targeted toward commercial sectors like VR LBE.

Photo by Road to VR

Either way, achieving the next level of visuals and tracking performance is going to be as important for a shot at Esports competition as the content itself. Serious players don’t want to feel limited by their interface into the game; ensuring that the hardware can support their wits and athleticism will be key to fostering a community of players who are willing to return round after round for the thrill of battling it out against fierce competition.

Update (February 7th, 2019): A prior version of this article reported that Zero Latency’s playspace was roughly 30 × 15 ft. This has been adjusted to the correct dimensions of 60 × 30 ft.

Disclosure: Zero Latency paid for travel and accommodations for a Road to VR reporter to attend an event where information for this article was gathered.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Justin Davis
  • Albert Hartman

    how was the attendance and general interest at MGM’s ZL location?

    • benz145

      Hard to say because it was closed specifically for press sessions. However, the location has been there since 2017, and casinos in Vegas are not very interested in wasting space that could be used for something more profitable, so that fact that it’s still there is a good sign that they like how its performing so far, I would guess.

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  • silvaring

    How do they simulate the feeling of being on an elevated platform looking down at another real human player in the distance if that human opponent is in actuality on the same level and just a few feet away? ??

    • benz145

      Good question. At certain points, the player’s physical position and virtual position become unmatched. This isn’t a problem though as long as all virtual player locations are synchronized and the content is built to prevent the player’s real locations from overlapping.

      For instance, imagine two players standing next to each other. One player takes a step backwards onto a lift which takes them up 10 feet. For the player up the lift, they now need to look down over the ledge to aim at the player on the ground, while the player on the ground needs to look up to aim at the player on the lift. In reality, both players are just feet away from each other on the same level, but one player is looking up and one player is looking down. It’s fascinating and a little bit funny to see happening from the outside view : P.

  • Very nice in-depth article!

  • ComfyWolf

    This is old, but I’m curious, if the living players can’t see the dead players then couldn’t the dead players run into the living players intentionally to mess with them?