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Space Needle VR

2-star rating
Free, Travel
Comfortable, Roomscale, Stationary

Looking up from the ground at the Space Needle.

Seattle's space-age architectural icon was built for the 1962 World's Fair and remains an instantly recognizable landmark on the edge of Puget Sound. The 518 foot elevator journey to the observation deck ascends the spine of the structure, and the tower's spire tops off the building at 605 feet in height.

The Space Needle is a highlight for Seattle visitors who marvel at the spectacular panoramic views of the city, Mount Rainier and the surrounding landscape. There's also a cafe and wine bar for those who want to treat themselves to a cocktail as the sun sets over the Pacific coast. After painting such a rosy picture of a visit to the Space Needle, it makes it even harder to recommend this aging virtual reality experience as an alternative to the real thing.

Produced in 2017 for PCVR, Space Needle VR presents you with an opportunity to admire both the tower and the views from the Space Needle in some unique ways. Your first views are from the ground level ticket office and you can crane your neck upward to appreciate the sleek lines of the tower. From here you can also teleport your way around the side of the ground floor building to find an exhibit that details the building of the space needle on a series of interpretive boards. Curiously littered in front of the ticket office are bocce balls and cornhole boards, yet despite notices inviting us to play we couldn't find a way to pick up any of the balls or beanbags.

Tour the Building of the Space Needle Exhibit
Tour the Building of the Space Needle Exhibit.

When you're ready to admire the views from the top, instead of stepping inside a real elevator the experience directs you to the back of the ground floor building where a virtual glass elevator is waiting for you. The glass elevator is a novel idea that positions the visitor outside the Space Needle, providing unique views of the tower and an ascending panorama of the city. Coincidentally it saves the developers from having to model the inside of the tower.

As this experience only includes an exterior model of the Space Needle it's unfortunately not possible to visit the observation tower or cafe as you would in real life. Instead, Space Needle VR gives you a unique opportunity for unobstructed views while standing on the white domed roof of the top-most building, and also the yellow halo that encircles the periphery of the viewing platform. Viewers that don't have a head for heights may struggle with this experience for this reason - there are no virtual handrails to stop you walking off the edge, and in fact its very easy to fall off! Thankfully falling results only in a slow descent back to ground level, but it may alarm those less familiar with virtual reality.

Standing on the white roof of the space needle looking towards a barely visible Mount Rainier.
View from roof of the Space Needle.

The main draw of the Space Needle is the views it affords, but regrettably in this way the experience utterly fails to deliver. Distant views are provided of an over-exposed and over-saturated 360 degree imagery that is lacking in resolution. Mount Rainier is barely visible, downtown skyscrapers are rendered poorly with garishly unrealistic colors. The experience also tries to replace many closer buildings including those of the Seattle Center with geometric models in basic colors with no texture. Not only do they look laughably poor, but the contrast between these models and the distant photography is jarring to say the least. We should also mention that the graphics of this program are not well-optimized and even our modern powerful PC produced janky movement at times.

The best part of this experience is viewing the model of the Space Needle, but unfortunately that's limited to ground-level sights and views from the partially obstructed virtual glass elevator. It would have been better to have a gradually ascending exterior camera shot to show off the structure, or perhaps alternatively offering a free-fly mode so we could move around the model at our own leisure. Closer inspection of the Space Needle model shows it lacks many of the tower's architectural details, so we're possibly not missing much anyway. There is also the curious inclusion of a bungee-jump mode, but that is executed poorly and is nausea inducing for even the most experienced VR user.

Space Needle VR is an aging virtual reality experience that has some good ideas, but implements them poorly. Thankfully it's free to try out, but instead we'd recommend finding a good YouTube video and also checking out the official Space Needle PanoCam and its 'Best Views' section.

Standing on the yellow architectural halo that surrounds the observation deck.
Standing precariously on the halo. Don't fall off - seriously!

✅ Includes a variety of experiences.
❌ Poor models, graphics and optimization.
❌ Basic user interface.

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