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Laser Dance Hands-On: Room-Scale Mixed Reality's Best Demo

Laser Dance Hands-On: Room-Scale Mixed Reality's Best Demo

Laser Dance is an incredible demonstration of mixed reality's potential on Quest 3 and beyond. Read on for our full impressions:

Even if you don't watch spy or heist films, you're likely familiar with the idea of seeing people dodging lasers to reach their prize. Whether it's Vincent Cassel dancing his way past in Ocean's Twelve or Catherine Zeta-Jones carefully dodging detection in Entrapment, there's something fun about imagining yourself expertly avoiding these traps to secure your prize.

Created by Cubism developer Thomas Van Bouwel, Laser Dance understands this well and, by using room-scale mixed reality, I felt like a spy. There's a long way to go still, but Laser Dance is absolutely shaping up as powerful proof that mixed reality is going to fundamentally redefine our understanding of "room-scale" gaming.

There's a story in VR game design from Superhot VR and Space Pirate Trainer to Beat Saber and Pistol Whip in revealing clever ways to make it fun for you to move around your environment. Laser Dance looks like it could start the next chapter in MR.

In fact, Laser Dance joins Creature's upcoming Starship Home as being one of the first games to leave Quest 2 behind in favor of the Quest 3 headset's extra sensing technologies and processing power.

"This was designed from the ground up to be MR only," Van Bouwel told UploadVR.

While Cubism is often better when you can see your physical environment, you don't need to see it. With Laser Dance, though, the simple act of dodging lasers might make you move so quickly that you'll really need to see your physical surroundings before smacking your palm purposefully against the wall to finish the level.

"I wanted to figure out what game could only be in MR," Van Bouwel told UploadVR in a face-to-face interview at GDC 2024. "For Cubism, the answer is no, but it's definitely better in it. For Laser Dance, hopefully the answer is yes. There's not many commonalities between them, but one of the things I hope for is that they're easy introductions to the medium."

Van Bouwel said he fondly remembers Unseen Diplomacy, an early room-scale PC VR game that involves infiltration mazes and dodging lasers.

You needed that free space, so it was a very difficult game for people to set up but you could see the enthusiasm for the roomscale experience. With mixed reality, we can bring some of that magic back. It's why I'm here, I'm so excited to build for MR. It brings back the early excitement of working with the Rift DK2 and early Vive dev kits.

As an alpha testing demo right now on Quest 3, there's no hidden treasure waiting to be pocketed and no secret intel that could save the world. You won't even find a story explaining why you're dodging lasers. What you will find is a shiny red button on the other side of the room that needs pressing, and a field of lasers in your way.

"You want as little friction as possible, so that's why it's just laser levels," Van Bouwel told us. "I want [Laser Dance] to be something you or your friends can jump in and play as easily as possible."

Laser Dance requires you to select locations on opposing walls that establish the alternating start and end points. The key requirement for the demo is that these need to be a minimum of 3 meters apart. For the demo build, I played six different missions split into individual stages, and a straightforward introduction eases you in. Each stage is procedurally generated to fit your environment, so no two people will get the exact same course. That starts simple, with stationary lasers, before gradually forming complicated patterns.

Laser Dance on Quest 3

It's a compelling concept that's both highly immersive and does absolutely feel made for mixed reality. Seeing my living room become an obstacle course was more entertaining than I expected, and that's helped by memorable sound design as you can hear the buzzy hum of those lasers as you pass right by them. You can play it with hand tracking, but with controllers you can feel subtle vibrations when your hands get too close, amping up a slight sense of imminent haptic danger and quietly urging caution.

Different laser types force you to be more strategic. Yellow lasers move in a set pattern, blue lasers gradually disappear and reappear at set intervals, while green lasers only move when you move. Eventually, stages often combine several types at once, building an escalating challenge. Should you fail a stage, you must head back to the starting area and try again.

You're awarded up to three stars upon beating missions if you clear the task, beat it within a set time, and avoid hitting any lasers. I tested it in a small area and my colleague Ian Hamilton tested it in a long hallway, both on the smaller side, but I'm told the target time adjusts automatically depending on your room size. Because of this procedurally generated approach, Van Bouwel explains he's heavily focused on playtesting.

"You have to make levels that adapt well to very different spaces, there's a whole variety of rooms that people might play in," he told us. "That's the thing as an MR developer, you can build and test something only in your own room, and then it suddenly breaks when you go and test it with somebody else or it doesn't work the way you expect it to."

Because of its forward-looking approach to environmental design, Van Bouwel says you won't be playing this on a Quest 2 or Quest Pro. Like Starship Home also on the way from new label Creature, Laser Dance requires a scan of your room with Meta's latest Quest 3-specific APIs and that's why, as Van Bouwel puts it, "on the Quest ecosystem, it's only coming to Quest 3 and future headsets."

In the last few months, I've implemented many new Quest 3-specific APIs. The main one is the mesh API. You can now also do inside-out body tracking for the upper body. When you touch the laser, you see this ghostly image that's like a skeleton of yourself, so you can observe the body tracking as well. It's tracking your hands, head, elbows and your shoulders. If a laser crosses your arms, it'll detect that.

Even at this stage, Laser Dance's execution feels effortless and turns a seemingly simple idea into an enjoyable experience that only mixed reality can provide. It's a promising showcase of MR's potential going forward, and we're keen to see what the full release offers.

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