Forget about pinball, pac-man, and pulsing lights– there’s a new arcade coming to town.
District Beta is opening in Sarnia on Labour Day weekend and its owners promise the arcade will stretch the meaning of reality.
This will be Sarnia’s first virtual reality arcade.
“It’s a whole new world of video games,” said Travis Kelly, a District Beta co-owner.
Using HTC VIVE virtual reality technology and custom high-powered computers, visitors at District Beta can don the bug-eyed headset and two hand-held controllers and choose from a library of nearly 200 games. The games range from a bow-and-arrow shooting tower defense game and first-person-shooters, to “experiences” that invite users to simulate exploring Mars or deep-sea diving. One hour of gaming will cost $30.
Currently, Kelly and fellow owner Bo Tait are renovating a space above Valley Axe to house four eight-foot by eight-foot VR gaming booths. If everything goes as planned, they hope to add three more VR stations in a month or two bringing the total to seven.
Kelly was first introduced to virtual reality during a stop in Guelph this spring. After playing a zombie game, the realistic game-play had him hooked.
“I actually got jumping, screaming, and ducking,” said Kelly. “All my friends were laughing at me.”
“I was playing a game for the first time and looking over the edge of a cliff and got scared of heights. You get that sense of anxiety,” said Kelly.
When Tait removed the VIVE headset after finishing a game, he had to double-take.
“It’s weird because I’m actually just here.”
“It’s really hard to describe,” said Tait, who is an owner at Valley Axe. “It’s kind of like trying to show someone a high-definition screen through a low quality screen. You have to come and experience it.”
While modern video games are hyper-realistic, VR puts the player in the game.
“Instead of playing with a controller staring at your T.V., you’re completely immersed in the game and experiencing it first-person like you’re there,” said Kelly. “You get to live it without leaving Sarnia.”
Friends can rent a booth and take turns playing, or each rent a booth and play multiplayer games together. Some games let players connect with others across the globe.
“There are some games where you can be playing here and your friend can be at home playing on his xbox,” said Kelly. “Obviously you’ll be having the better experience.”
Kelly said he think Sarnia will have a lot of fun playing with virtual reality.
“I went to college for computer programming, so I know there’s a lot of nerds in Sarnia,” quipped Kelly, a graduate of Lambton College. “And a lot of not-nerds who want to try out a new experience.”
Before opening, District Beta is offering trials at Valley Axe and Kelly said online booking is already open at districtbeta.ca if anyone wants to be first in line at the official opening on September 1.
“We’re trying to bring more stuff to do,” said Kelly. “It’s a fun environment where anybody is welcome and anyone can do it…it’s something everyone can enjoy.”
Sharing a building with Valley Axe will help both businesses Kelly and Tait agreed.
“There might be some people out there who have been reticent to try out Valley Axe and they’re more interested in the gaming world, but you have to walk right past our door to get to District Beta,” said Tait. “We may have people who look in Valley Axe that may not have otherwise.”
“I feel like this will bring people in,” said Kelly. “People know the name and they know Valley Axe is a reliable entertainment source.”
As for a virtual axe throwing game, Sarnia can only hope.