Richmond opens new virtual reality gaming centre

Reporter freaked out by flesh-eating zombies

I’m on the deck of a pirate ship, and a group of growling, flesh-eating zombies are approaching me. I try to shoot them or burn them with my torch, but there are too many. Meanwhile, my teammate Alex is wounded and calling out for help.

More zombies show up, breaking through the floorboards, and they’re getting closer and closer.

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I try to reload my gun, but feel someone touching my shoulder. I turn around to see a zombie’s face staring at me.

I freak out and take off my headset.

My virtual reality (VR) gaming experience last Monday at Sandbox VR – one of the first VR shooter gaming centres in Canada, launched last month at Bridgeport and No. 5 roads – wasn’t my first time, but it was the first time I’d encountered the undead.

As you may have guessed, I’m not a gaming person and hoped for something like throwing snowballs.

And according to the store manager, Ian Chang, I was the first one, ever, to quit the 30-minute game half way through.

But it proved just how real the experience seems.

Ian Chang
Ian Chang, store manager of Sandbox VR, said the company is planning to open 20 more locations in North America this year. Daisy Xiong photo

“We believe (VR) is the next generation movie theatre. Instead of you sitting there watching a movie or playing a game, you are in the experience yourself,” said Chang.

The company, launched in 2016, has opened stores in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and the U.S. before opening its first store in Canada in Richmond.

“Vancouver is very unique, very multicultural, and a lot of people come to Richmond for entertainment, that’s’ why we believe this is a good place to get our first exposure to the Canadian market,” said Chang.

“We are planning about 20 more stores in North America by the end of 2019, and will be moving to Toronto and Calgary very soon.”

Guests attach sensors on their arms and legs to capture their movements, and a backpack that can vibrate - while being shot at or attacked - before going to a green-wall room where the experience takes place.

After putting on the headset and headphones, they are in a completely virtual world, wearing a different outfit, with their teammates.

“We are using the exact same equipment and film sets as what’s being used for a special effects movie,” said Chang.

He explained that the tracers people put on their body constantly capture and calculate how their body looks according to their movement, while adding effects at the same time.

“The data is pushed into each person’s VR goggles. That’s why you can see your friends, almost without delay,” he added.

The company currently has three game options, ranging from zombie shooting to fighting against aliens in space. All of them are in English, Mandarin or Cantonese, and Chang said eight more games will be added to the collection by the end of the year.

For a one-hour experience, prices range from $135 for a room for three people to $275 for a room for six people.

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