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Written by Margaret Griffis, BT Contributor   
April 2018

Dezerland dips into VR gold

ODezer_1n March 11, the Dezer Auto Museum shuttered its doors permanently, but not for lack of popularity. The ever-expanding assortment of cars and related memorabilia has simply outgrown its North Miami location. The fantasy world of fast cars and planes, however, is being replaced with another fantasy world -- an action park and virtual reality arcade.

The cars belong to real estate mogul Michael Dezer, best known locally as the man who transformed Sunny Isles Beach. The 77-year-old’s love affair with automobiles began while he was growing up in Israel. After he moved to New York in the 1960s, his sharp eye for real estate opportunities enabled him to indulge in car collecting. The Auto Museum, tucked away in an industrial neighborhood at 2000 NE 146th St., North Miami, is literally his personal stable.

The collection grew quickly in the 1980s, when Dezer also began acquiring South Florida properties, and it continues to grow. However, not one to pass on a potential financial reward of efficiently used industrial space, Dezer appears to be following his instinct toward amusement parks and similar attractions as well.

About 300 cars were transferred to the Fort Lauderdale Auto Museum, a part of Dezer’s Xtreme Action Park. Others were sent to the Dezerland Action Park currently being built in Orlando and to the Hollywood Cars Museum in Las Vegas, also a Dezer-owned attraction.

Fortunately for spy aficionados, the $15 million 007 Bond Museum, featuring the largest collection of James Bond props and vehicles in the U.S., remains on site for private events and group tours. Dezer acquired the hoard in 2011, when a Bond museum in England closed.

Replacing the car museum will be a new facility similar to the Xtreme Action Park in Fort Lauderdale. The indoor attraction will feature 250,000 square feet of family-oriented entertainment, including go-kart racing, a zipline, paintball, and virtual reality games -- all in addition to the existing Ninja Lounge. With the closing of the museum space, work can begin on the new indoor go-kart track, which is expected to open in May.

Dezer_2The Ninja Lounge itself has been a popular location for athletes of all abilities to try out their physical skills. The youngest have a soft play area, while their older siblings make use of trampolines, ropes, climbing walls, basketball hoops, gymnastics equipment, and the like. Adults can try their hand at the more rigorous challenges of Parkour or indulge in a little mom-and-dad time in the diner and bar areas.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the Ninja Lounge was packed with kids, among them Bradley Gordon of Boynton Beach, who was celebrating his seventh birthday with friends Alex Becraft and Max Mittleman. Mom Amy Gordon, a camp counselor, says she first brought Bradley down to the Ninja Lounge as part of a camp field trip. He loved it so much that he could think of no other place to have a party. This time they arrived in a white limo as part of the celebration.

While the limousine may not be a common element in the average kid’s birthday party or bar mitzvah plans, it likely is at the upscale affairs held on site. The Bond museum has hosted numerous corporate galas and philanthropic events. The renovations shouldn’t affect that aspect, according to Mariana Inkier, executive director of marketing and sales at Dezer Development. She organizes social events like the recent gala for the Larger Than Life organization, which raises money for children with cancer.

But what may be the most intriguing aspect of the new amusement area is the virtual-reality arcade, where players immerse themselves in computer-generated environments. The new game room features more than 20 such attractions.

Before the 1990s, virtual reality was mostly limited to industrial applications, such as training doctors or fighter pilots. Early attempts to provide a heightened experience for consumers included such concepts as Sensurround, a trademarked process that used enhanced audio and very low-frequency noise to produce physical sensations during film screenings. When the 1974 disaster movie Earthquake was released, theaters equipped with the speaker system literally seemed to shake during the earthquake scenes. For consumers, that was considered state of the art.

The explosion in computer and digital technologies over the past 20 years has made the experience increasingly realistic and subsequently more enjoyable than being shaken slightly in a theater seat. But the cost of the specialized equipment is still too high for most home consumers. That’s why so many arcades are popping up around the country. It’s a cheaper way for gamers to explore their interest in the new technology and indulge in the superior quality of the consoles.

Dezer_3Virtual reality may still seem like the stuff of science fiction, and to some degree, it still is. A new Steven Spielberg movie, Ready Player One, now in theaters, follows the virtual adventures of Wade Watts in a dystopian Ohio of 2045. The movie, based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel of the same name, could raise demand for virtual experiences if it becomes the latest Spielberg hit over the summer.

In any case, the virtual reality component at Dezerland Park should prove to be a popular draw. According to a March 2017 report by Grand View Research, a U.S.-based market research and consulting company, consumer demand for virtual reality in gaming is expected to grow from $4.29 billion in sales during 2015 to $45.09 billion by 2025. Researchers also concluded that gaming consoles should remain the favored devices (over desktop and smartphone versions) because they deliver faster response times to the player.

So what really happens when you play? You don goggles and travel to another universe in a rocket ship? Basically, yes.

The goal is to immerse oneself in a realistic landscape and interact with it through the use of special equipment that replicates visual, aural, and tactile experiences. The encounter can be so real that some players struggle with motion sickness.

So what’s your tolerance level? Dezerland Park’s machines run the gamut from the relatively “passive” 5D Cinema to the incredibly interactive Virtual Area. In the 5D Cinema, riders strap themselves into a chair that at times vigorously rocks them while they watch an orchestrated movie. This amusement focuses on unusual graphics and visual special effects that play on perspective and trick the brain into accepting the false reality -- a sort of roller coaster for the mind.

At the other extreme in the Virtual Arena, players wear headgear, backpacks, and motion detectors on their feet and hands. This unique game allows the players to walk and jump around in a simulated environment while shooting at ghastly alien creatures.

Most of the games, however, fall in between, offering some level of passivity -- say a nice, safe cockpit that turns you upside down -- while adding the interactivity of a video game. Even for non-participants, it can be amusing to watch the players interact with an invisible universe. It may even encourage them to leave the boring confines of “meat space” (aka the real world) for a little while.

 

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