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Experiences

Immersivecomputing @ Beat Saber, Namco, London

Visited February 2020

During a recent visit to Namco at County Hall in London to see the new Mariokart VR installation (previously at the 02), I noticed a bona fide Beat Saber standalone arcade machine.

Beat Saber standalone arcade machine

I’d read about these online but never expected to find one in London; of course I had to give it a try!

Exciting video quickly demonstrates the concept of the game and makes it inticing

After pushing several pound coins into a slot on the front right side, it all came to life with an electric whirring noise as the HTC Vive headset and wand controllers lowered on a special motorized array.

It looked like something from a transformers movie or cyberpunk game, perhaps a real world example of the matrix now available at your local arcade!

Ingenious array supporting headset and controllers

Getting into the headset was a little tricky because it was attached with 3 armoured cables which resisted my efforts to pull the headset down.

Once fitted I tried to set the IPD but found it fixed, one less thing to go wrong; I guess they set it on an average IPD of 64mm.

Grabbing the Vive wands I navigated through the menus see selecting a familiar track by KDA “popstars” and setting expert mode.

KDA Popstars on expert mode

It was fun to be back in Beat Saber, but also strange being restricted by the 3 cables connecting the headset to the gantry above, and to a lesser degree by thinner cables to the controllers.

I’m used to be tethered on PCVR but this was different and felt perhaps more like a piece of gym equipment?

Whereas in comparison on my Valve Index I can happily dance about very freely / badly with its wireless controllers and 5 metre long thin headset tether which sits on the floor behind me.

Moving took extra effort but it was possible to adapt

Movement here took extra force to overcome the drag I was feeling from the cables making me work harder to hit the right moves; timing was challenging but I quickly learned to compensate especially trying to move sideways

I reached the end of the song with B grade, removed the headset and watched with fascination as the entire apparatus lifted back up into the overhead gantry ready for the next player.

At this point I noticed a plastic bracket or hinge piece was broken and not doing whatever it was supposed to be doing making one side of the headset mechanism to slump; this may have contributed to extra drag in the tethering system?

I alerted the supervisor who immediately shut the machine down, I then noticed I hadn’t used any wipes or santising products before starting! Set several feet further back in the dark on the walls either side of the machine, was a hand santising dispenser and an empty box of wipes. The message at the start now made sense…

Impressive stuff despite the movement restriction, which was the result of an ingenious solution to create a standalone unsupervised VR arcade machine. It certainly would be huge fun to play in a shopping centre or airport and could tip someone into purchasing a home VR system.

Satisfied with the self-service Beat Saber standalone arcade experience but keen to try again once repaired, I went off to find the bathroom and give my face a good wash.

Thanks for reading! Rob Cole, immersivecomputing