Next evolution of arcades
Trevor Nichols - Sep 21, 2017 - Biz Profiles

Kelowna is humming with new businesses that have harnessed technology to solve any number of serious problems, but one of the city’s newest additions is using it purely for entertainment.

The newly opened Kelowna Escape Games takes the latest in virtual reality technology and makes it available to the mainstream, letting its customers rent play time in state-of-the-art VR setups.

Off a short road occupied mostly by industrial-style buildings, Kelowna Escape Games occupies a single unit in long, low building.

Walk up a  simple set of stairs and you’ll find four rooms, hastily painted black, with padded mats covering the floors and HTC Vive headsets hanging from the ceiling.

Slip on a headset and load up a game, and the simple surroundings fade away, plunging you into a zombie-infested sewer, a besieged castle, high atop a skyscraper, or dozens of other scenarios.

The two controllers you hold in your hands become guns, flashlights, dodgeballs, or a bow and arrow.

The games are fairly simple, the graphics aren’t mind blowing, but you will likely find yourself ducking as lasers shoot past you, jumping with fright as zombies appear at your back, or clinging shakily to the edge of a high tower.

Of course, any friends with you in the room will mostly just see someone in a giant pair of goggles flailing wildly around, swiping at unseen foes.

When Escape Games opened in Calgary in 2016, it was the first place in Western Canada renting virtual reality gear along with a fully equipped space to use it in.

The newly opened Kelowna location is the company’s first expansion, but owner Jimmy Tan says he believes they are at the forefront of the next wave of public gaming.

Decades ago, gamers would gather in arcades to play their favourite titles together. More recently, internet cafes have become the new community gaming spaces.

Tan says VR is the next evolution in that trend, ironically bringing groups of friends to the same physical place to play.

Virtual Reality is immersive, so each of the four office-sized VR rooms at Escape Games is dedicated to a single player.

However, multiple players can enter and play the same game. Players can also talk to one another through the headset, making it a surprisingly communal experience.

“The best part of VR is watching your friends flail around,” Tan says.

The technology is also still very cost prohibitive, so most people won’t be able to use it unless they visit a rental place like Escape Games.

“It’s going to cost at least $5,000 to have a normal setup. Then you need to have a dedicated space that’s at least 100 square feet,” he says. “Not many people will be able to afford that.”

Tan also believes traditional video gaming experiences will never be able to compare to virtual reality.

“The difference is huge,” he says. “This is just so much more of an immersive experience.”

“At home, with standard video games, you are just using input with your fingers, pressing buttons. [In VR] if you need to dodge a bullet you don’t just press left or right, you actually have to move your whole body.”

For more information visit Escape Games online.

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