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E3 virtual reality companies lure gamers into new worlds

E3 virtual reality companies lure gamers into new worlds
A screen shows the video playing inside the goggles of an Omni user, from the company Virtuix, on display at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. (Daina Beth Solomon / Los Angeles Times)

Virtual reality companies at the Electronic Entertainment Expo on Tuesday showcased cutting-edge headset technology meant to lure video game players by immersing them in fantasy worlds, hinting at the next big frontier for the gaming industry.

Texas-based Virtuix set up two prototypes of its Omni machine at its booth, fitting gamers with eye goggles as they stepped onto bowl-shaped treadmills. Armed with mock shotguns, the participants paced in 360-degree swirls while aiming at targets in the futuristic digital landscapes playing in front of their eyes.

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Virtuix employee Doug Shuffield made sure that attendees were buckled into an elaborate harness with thigh straps and holding tight to a circular rim.

"We want you to be safe," he said, adding that the ability to move around makes the game exciting. "If you're sitting on your couch, it's not really as immersive."

According to Omni's Marketing and Communications Manager Lorenzo Adams, the company has presold 5,000 machines so far, set to be delivered by the end of the year.

But Mario Madrigal, watching the treadmill gamers from the sidelines, was skeptical that the machine would take off among game fans.

"This is too big," he said. "Where are you going to put it?"

The 25-year-old had waited two hours to test out the Oculus Rift, one of E3's highly anticipated VR offerings, in a private room. The chance to feel as if he were seated in a spaceship cockpit, even for a few minutes, was worth the wait, he said.

Oculus also showcased its Samsung Gear VR, letting guests dart through new worlds just by strapping on headphones and goggles, and spinning around on their chairs while hitting buttons on their game consoles.

Madrigal said he came away feeling optimistic about the future of virtual reality. "I feel like anyone can appreciate slapping this on," he said. "Then you're flying in space."

Twitter: @dainabethcita

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