The Cluster in Montpellier offers a virtual reality experience in players against players. First mixed reality arena in France, it intends to launch e-sport in VR all over the world. We traveled to the south of France for a test that delighted us.
More and more rooms offering virtual reality experiences with free movement are opening up everywhere in France. Renewal of arcades, they are surfing on the growing success of VR as we realize that its potential is enormous. Escape game in VR, shooting and survival games, for the moment the experience models are very similar to each other and offer a unique cooperative adventure. Thus, virtual reality offers that rely on confrontation and competition do not run the streets. This is where The Cluster comes in. This is a mixed reality arena that hosts virtual skirmishes, but very real intense moments.
The Cluster was able to develop with the help of the Montpellier BIC
Located in Montpellier, near the city center, the arena The Cluster opened its doors last December. It is the result of several years of work and has developed thanks to its 3 co-founders. Coming from Tech and Gaming backgrounds, they built the project from A to Z and even designed their own tracking system. It started with a stint at the BIC (Business & Innovation Centre) in Montpellier. This structure supports companies in their development and is part of the Top 5 best incubators in the world in 2019. This precious help also makes it possible to obtain subsidies from various organizations, such as the BPI or the regional council.
From the start, The Cluster’s ambition was to create a player-versus-player oriented experience. In addition, it had to be freely mobile, with a virtual environment aligned with reality. It was therefore necessary to create all the tools to achieve precise calibration and perfect synchronization of the universes. As mentioned above, all the player tracking system has also been developed in-house.
However, the model chosen resembles a combination that each person wears. This allows in particular to make the experience portable and adaptable to all types of interiors. For example, any Laser Game space can be suitable and run the game. It is thanks to this particularity that the founders were able to present their system at CES in Las Vegas in January 2019. And the feedback was very encouraging.
Windows Mixed Reality headsets to connect the virtual and real worlds
The technology used here is based on Windows Mixed Reality headsets to easily support interaction with the real world. The players therefore equip themselves with HP helmets. They are connected to a backpack that we usually find in this kind of experience. Added to this are the sensors that we strap on the belt, arms, knees, on the shoes and on the hands with gloves. Everything is surprisingly lightand you quickly forget that you carry all this on you once immersed in the game.
After months of testing in an 80 m² hangar, the team finally launched their experiment in a room of 200 m². The Cluster was born, and Montpellier hosted the first mixed reality arena dedicated to e-sport in virtual reality. It allows you to play Protocol 223, the game specially developed for and which sees 2 to 8 players compete in several different game modes. In the spirit of today’s competitive games and MMOs, each participant selects a champion who has his own characteristics. Called Mods, they are four in number and take up the archetypes of the genre: Tank, DPS, Controller and Support.
Protocol 223, the new virtual reality game for e-sports
Kara is the more offensive mod, while Ymir is defensive focused. Hel has more of a ranged support role, and finally Tyr can heal his team. They thus have powers adapted to their class. These powers replace the traditional weapons that could be found in another game. Here, no rifle in the hands, skills are activated by gestures. For example, to create healing globes with Tyr, one must grab his left wrist with his right hand, clench his fist, wait for the power to charge, then release by opening his hand. This adds an extra layer to the immersive side and we get caught up in the game quickly.
The game itself takes players hundreds of years into the future in a research lab that analyzes Clusters. These artifacts make it possible to materialize digital data in the real world. However, hacktivists want to corrupt them using Shards, malware that takes the form of crystals. In corruption mode, one team attacks the cluster, while the other must defend it.
Each round, the teams reverse roles and it is played as the best of three sets. Characters have a life bar, called Synchronization, and an energy bar (basically mana) to cast their skills, called Bandwidth. Additionally, these skills have a cooldown (or activation delay) that requires think things through and not rush into the pile if you want to have a chance of winning. There are also two other game modes. The first is more classic team combat where you have to get the most kills. The other puts a player in a dominant position, but who must compete with all the others in order to keep his position.
The replayability of The Cluster, a real highlight of the experience
So, like an Overwatch, or to some extent a League of Legends, it’s necessary to learn to control his character before you get to do something right. During the first games, at least for a few minutes, the term “noob” gamer (beginner) takes on its full meaning. Instead of shooting at everything that moves (not our teammates), we contemplate the scenery, we have fun seeing if our avatar reproduces exactly all our movements, which he does very well.
Then we test our abilities a bit, we play with the virtual decor, calibrated to the nearest centimeter on real space. Each wall represents a real wall. And inevitably, as we discover, what must happen happens, and we are knocked out by another player who has already integrated all the aspects of the game. The vision then changes to shades of gray, and arrows, like a GPS , tell us that we must return to the starting point and resume life.
A margin of progress that encourages replay to improve
Then, little by little, you survive longer and longer and with a bit of luck, you strike your first fatal blow. Indeed, an adversary thought he was well hidden, but a piece of his heel or his shoulder was sticking out and we were able to strike him with a mortal thrust. So we gain confidence and throw ourselves into battle. Based on communication and strategies, the teams try to gain the upper hand. And that’s where The Cluster, with the game Protocol 223, reveals its full potential.
There’s the real room for improvement for players and two levels of approach. Accessible to all, you must nevertheless be aged 13 or over and measure at least 1m40, experience is also suitable to people who want to have a good time and let off steam, than to hardcore gamers who wish to become the best. These will come back more often to progress.
The Cluster: origin of e-sport VR in France
Now, this is the ambition of The Cluster, to be the epicenter of e-sport in virtual reality in France, And in the world. Currently, they are the only ones offering such an experience. Their Protocol 223 game incorporates all facets of the discipline and could become a benchmark in the field. You should also know that The Cluster is not just a room for doing VR. It is also a friendly bar that welcomes spectators who wish to follow the games live.
Indeed, what would a sport, but also an e-sport, be without its spectators? The entertainment component of this discipline represents a non-negligible part that influences its success. The 3 founders therefore called on a fourth partner who was able to help them in the management of the reception structure.
A loyalty program with bonuses
Now all that remains is to create a community around The Cluster. The first advantage comes from the replayability of the experience, a real differentiating factor from other VR rooms. And to encourage players to come back, a subscription system will soon be implemented. This will also give unlimited access to replays of the games, to all its statistics on smartphones and PCs and to bonuses of an aesthetic nature in game, such as skins for avatars. This loyalty program is found in all gyms. Moreover, e-sport has never lived up to its name so well since you come out of a gaming session sweaty and out of breathas long as you are not used to doing cardio.
One can therefore only encourage this type of initiative and hope that it will develop rapidly. For my part, I came out of this experience with the desire to return very soonlearn to master all the characters and play like a real PGM.
For all the information on the experience, visit thecluster.fr website. Above all, go visit them, the team is very welcoming, passionate about what they do and will allow you to share good times with your loved ones.