The Raft is an immersive location-based VR experience from Two Bit Circus that aims to thrill a small group of up to four players in Los Angeles, CA.
I recently got the chance to check out Two Bit Circus, a modern day twist on the classic games arcade and bar that features a plethora of different gaming experiences. Two Bit has something for everyone – classic arcade machines, their own modern-day semi-digital midway games and a huge variety of VR experiences. One of those VR experiences is a 4-player immersive experience called “The Raft” and the other VR experience was a real-life maze that used VR to re-skin it as an intricate and thrilling labyrinth.
— Two Bit Circus (@TwoBitCircus) September 21, 2018
Described as a co-operative VR arcade game, The Raft will force you and your friends to work as a team to keep your raft afloat and stay safe from dangerous supernatural beings who try to attack you from all directions. Set in the south of America, you play as four hillbilly-looking characters who can freely walk around the raft as it travels down the river. There are a variety of guns to choose from, some of which are mounted to the side of the raft and pack a heavier punch and some of which are just standard rifles. There are also two fire extinguishers, which you can use to put out any fires the aliens start on the side of the ship. You can freely switch between the guns, the mounted weapons and extinguishers, which means everyone in the game generally gets to try a bit of everything.
The experience lasts about 10-15 minutes. As your raft ventures down the river, the aliens and enemies get bigger and more threatening. The tension grows as you’re forced to work as a team to make sure all sides of the raft are covered and any fires are quickly put out. If things get a bit frazzled, the situation can quickly deteriorate. You’ll have supernatural enemies attack the ship from an unmanned side while someone tries to put out a fire on the other, only leading to more fires and more sides of the ship that are open to attack. It can get quite chaotic!
Although things got tense, our group never got to a point where we were so overwhelmed that we failed the game – if that’s even possible. The enemies will never physically climb aboard the ship, so your characters can’t be attacked themselves. The only real threat is to the raft and it potentially going down if too much of it catches on fire. Whether this is an actual outcome of the game is unknown, but it seems unlikely. Despite the seemingly low stakes, the experience is never devoid of tension even you know in the back of your mind that it’s going to be hard, or impossible, to fail the game.
However, there are two different ‘endings’, for lack of a better word, which change depending on how you fare in the game’s equivalent of a final boss. It’s no so much a different story, as true narrative is pretty much non-existent here, but more just a different way the expereince wraps up. Our group didn’t fare well, so – without spoiling – we got the equivalent of a ‘mission failed’ ending to the experience. The Two Bit staff member confirmed there was a better ending if we had fared better against the final boss, but didn’t tell us what it was. While it doesn’t change anything about the experience, it’s still a fun little postscript to the experience that indicates if you did good or bad.
The game uses HTC Vives, with two sensors for all four headsets, two Vive controllers each and computer backpacks for each person, powering the headsets. One frustrating part of the setup was that there are no microphones to communicate with teammates. You’re relying on speaking over the headset’s headphones and being able to hear what everyone is saying in the real world, over the in-game sound and without digital aid. The headphones certainly aren’t noise cancelling or even very good audio quality, so this wasn’t a huge problem, but I would have preferred to have clearer methods of communication. Trying to hear the noise from the ‘real’ world over the VR world kind lessened the immersion at times.
However, perhaps my favorite part of the whole experience was that the theming of the game extends beyond the game world and into the physical room that you play in. When we stepped into the room at Two Bit Circus, it was clear that a lot of effort has been put in to matching the physical space to your in-game surroundings. There’s a variety of Southern decorations and the room is dressed to look like a small hut that might sit by the side of a river, storing a raft that you would drag out every now and then when you wanted to float down the river. There was even a small radio playing country music to set the theme. The whole room matches the theme and the art style of the game, which was amazing.
Most notably, the raft itself had been painted out on the floor in the center of the room. Not only did this mean you could easily stand in place, ready to get your headset on, but is also meant that you had a good idea of the game’s physical boundaries before you even started playing. Once I put my headset on, I was genuinely surprised to see that the raft in-game almost exactly matched the size of the raft that had been painted on the floor.
While this kind of theming isn’t necessary by any means, I think it’s something that is completely underrated by many other similar VR experiences that I’ve tried. While it sounds silly, the difference in immersion that the theming gives you is impressive. You feel like you’re in the game from the moment you step in the room, and it makes the usual tedious process of getting everyone’s equipment and headsets on much more bearable, as it kind of just feels like part of the whole experience, and not a necessary precursor to get into the game world. You’re already in the game world once you step into the room – the headset just lets you play and interact.
For people who are less familiar with VR, this would be a fantastic way to introduce them. Sometimes other VR experiences, where you’re in a sterile white-walled room, can feel isolating or unattractive to those who traditionally wouldn’t even play video games, let alone VR. With a themed room like the one with The Raft, everything feels fun and immersive from the get go. If I was taking my mum to a VR experience, for example, I can see her getting much more on board with The Raft’s fun physical space as opposed to a plain sterile room I’ve been in for other similar experiences. For those who might be a bit apprehensive to try VR at an arcade like this, I think the themed room will make all the difference in getting them on board.
Overall, The Raft is a great VR experience for both those who are well versed in VR experiences and those who might be trying it out for the first time. Even though the theming of the room seems like an unnecessary addition, it actually really helps get you immersed in the game world and makes the experience seem special. The gameplay itself is nothing you haven’t seen before in VR, but in this case the sum of the parts is more important. It’s a fun experience, with a good theme both inside and outside the game world, which you could easily rope your non-VR friends into. And once you’re done, the rest of the Two Bit Circus experience is waiting for you outside.
The Raft at Two Bit Circus is definitely worth checking out.