Virtual reality gaming has become all the rage in Manila — and two new VR theme parks in the city, Virtual PH in Pasig and The Garage City of Dreams in Parañaque, have recently opened in response to this local surge in interest.
For those who are unfamiliar — VR is defined as the digital creation of an environment that is similar to what one sees in real life. Other than gaming, it also has important applications in architecture, medicine, sports, and the arts.
One of the more high profile uses of the technology was in this year’s World Cup, where several matches were broadcast in VR. This was met with mixed reactions — some viewers loved it, while others complained that the experience was more cumbersome than smooth, and wasn’t as good as watching matches on TV.
But, by and large, we’re told VR could change the way we live, learn, and entertain ourselves, for the better. It’s a sentiment echoed across news and entertainment platforms, and Silicon Valley reporters always seem pretty excited about it.
So how does a VR gaming noob fare with this shiny new technology? We went to both of the new parks to give the games a try — here are our takeaways.
Launched late last month by husband and wife Vijay and Anchesca Aidasani, Virtual PH is located at the new(ish) Ayala Feliz mall in Pasig. This is the first time that either has run a VR-related business, which the couple tells Coconuts that they were motivated to do because Vijay has always been big on gaming.
He said that the emergence of products from HTC and Oculus encouraged him to try VR, saying: “I was always fascinated with VR as a kid. In the past few years, you see how HTC Vive and Oculus and other things have progressed so much. They came up with high-end headsets … They’re really nice.”
“When I researched, there’s a lot of VR-based businesses opening up around the world. There’s a lot of content. It’s the fastest growing segment [in gaming and entertainment] so I decided to bring it here so Filipinos can try what they have [overseas],” he explained.
According to Vijay, Virtual PH can accommodate a maximum of 28 people playing simultaneously.
Just a quick stroll around the venue itself is a great experience — like being on the set of the sci-fi movie Tron. It has several stations grouped into activities, such as the VR Karts and VR Motor Racing, where gamers can play race games.
Then there are VR Escape Rooms, where participants are plunged right into virtual settings that require clever moves to escape from various “trapped in a room” type scenarios. The KAT WALK VR, which has an omnidirectional treadmill, allows players to move all four limbs in a contained setting, such as running, shooting, and other more physical forms of role-playing.
There’s also something called the Star Twin Seat, which has two “egg chairs” that allow two people to play a VR game together. We tried this one out — for our first game, we chose a rollercoaster experience where we had to shoot several targets, such as eagles and monsters. The whole experience felt real because the seats were moving as if they were following a real-life rollercoaster, complete with sudden drops.
And, the visuals from the goggles were spectacular. Sure, the graphics were not of HD quality, but they were good enough that the whole game felt real and immersive.
By the time it was over, though, I was entirely nauseated — and I wasn’t alone. I heard at least one person from another station complaining that motion sickness was starting to kick in.
After 10 minutes of rest, I hopped on the Star Twin Seat again to experience a game where I had to kill monsters living in a haunted mansion. This one felt eerily real as well. There was even air blowing out from the bottom of the seats to mimic gusts of mysterious breezes in the game.
Enjoyment factor? High! But, it would have been much higher if the motion sickness hadn’t caused me to throw up everything I had for lunch just a few minutes after the game ended.
This is my biggest gripe with the Twin Seats: Some movements felt too jerky, like being on a small, rickety boat navigating through unpredictably choppy waters.
The same could be said for the VR Karts. I tried this one a few days later, and came prepared: I popped a pill to counter my motion sickness before going in, but the sudden drastic movements of the kart still made me feel dizzy and nauseated. The nausea was even worse this time around, actually, and I didn’t even manage to finish the race.
But, motion sickness isn’t something that everyone experiences — and for those who don’t have to deal with it, I’d imagine that Virtual PH is a blast. Word is that the KAT WALK VR is especially cool, though my pukey self didn’t get to try that one.
Another great thing about the venue is that some of the games only cost PHP200 (US$3.79) per ride. Plus, it’s located in a mall where gamers have other options for entertainment after trying their hand at VR.
Tip: Those who want to enjoy the whole thing probably shouldn’t have a heavy meal before going to Virtual PH. Bringing meds to combat motion sickness won’t hurt either. We were also told that since VR gaming is still in its infancy, future developments might make it more comfortable for people prone to motion sickness. We can only hope…
FIND IT: Virtual PH, 5/F, Ayala Malls Feliz, Marcos Highway (Marikina-Infanta Highway), Barangay Dela Paz, Pasig City
HOURS: 10am – 9pm (Monday–Thursday); 10am – 10pm (Friday–Sunday)
The Garage at City of Dreams
On to City of Dreams’ (COD) The Garage, which also opened last month. The park here uses technology developed by Japanese firm Bandai Namco Amusement, and at present, there are only three experiences available. According to COD’s staff, they do have plans to add more in the near future.
COD in Parañaque is actually a casino, so one possible issue that kids, teens, and parents may have about going to the Garage is the lack of other entertainment options in the building. Because COD caters mostly to moneyed foreign gamblers, most restaurants in the building are quite expensive for most local families. The most affordable option is a Starbucks.
According to a statement from The Garage, there are several food stores which are located right next to the VR zone. But the only one open when I was there was Katsu Sora, which offers dishes from PHP350 (US$6.61) and up. Pack some snacks if you’re budget-conscious.
As for the VR experience itself, the options here are definitely limited compared to the offerings at Virtual PH. I first tried Hospital Escape Terror, where the objective is to exit a haunted hospital, as well as guide another player out of it. A bit of altruism in an otherwise horrifying experience? Neat!
The graphics and sound effects were solid, but those who already have some VR gaming experience under their belts — and therefore likely looking for something more exciting — may get a bit bored by this game.
There’s nothing to shoot at, or a treasure that needs to be found. All a player has to do is to get out of the hospital. The staff told me it’s more fun if there were more players involved, but I was a bit skeptical about that one. Peers or no peers, the objective of the game still feels a bit underwhelming.
Another game I tried was what the staff told me was the “crowd favorite”: Mario Kart Arcade GP VR. It’s a racing game where players have to finish ahead of the pack and take as many items from the race track as they could. The graphics were top notch and the sound effects were clear and stimulating, but not deafening.
It was fun, and I didn’t get dizzy at all — perhaps because the movement of the kart was smoother and less jerky than the one at Virtual PH. It didn’t feel like being in a boat at all, so this one is certainly something that people who get motion sickness, or even older aunties and uncles, could enjoy.
The Garage is vibrant, fun space to hang out in, but those who are more serious gamers will surely be disappointed by the fact that there are only three games available for now. And, there’s really nothing else to do in COD but hit the casino.
It’s also quite pricey — one ticket costs PHP450 (US$8.53). But if that means being able to enjoy a VR game without throwing up, then maybe that’s a-okay.
FIND IT: The Garage, Upper ground parking level, City of Dreams Manila, Asean Ave. cor. Roxas Blvd., Entertainment City, Parañaque City
HOURS: Open daily from 10am – 2am