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Richmond video gaming firm gets dose of reality

Exit Canada launches virtual reality-based games that, courtesy of a pair of 3D goggles, immerses players in an electronic playground
Exit Canada’s Jonathan Ng (left) helps the gaming company’s CEO Justin Tang suit up for a turn at the virtual reality system, called Virtreal, that is being opened for customers on Aug. 8 at its Beckwith Road location in Richmond. Photo by Philip Raphael/Richmond News

Richmond’s Exit Canada, which has built its business on challenging customers to use their deductive skills to free themselves from a locked room, has changed things around and given game players plenty more freedom.

And it comes in the form of virtual reality-based games that, courtesy of a pair of 3D goggles, immerses players in an electronic playground where they can choose from deflecting laser bolts with a deft flick of a plasma sword, to creating works of art made by simple hand gestures in the air in front of them. It’s all part of what is called Virtreal, which launches next Monday (Aug. 8) at Exit’s Beckwith Road location, making it the first VR gaming site in the Lower Mainland.

Company CEO Justin Tang said the vision for a virtual reality gaming centre is one he’s long held in his mind. Growing up, he was an avid gamer who dreamed of creating near-to-life game experiences. And Virtreal is the first step in that direction.

Virtreal features a private room with stadium style seating (for up to nine people) like in a movie theatre and is equipped with a 180-inch projection screen, a booming surround sound system and a special 3D headset and motion controllers that players wear on their hands.

Players can choose from more than 40 different games. Some will be familiar to video gamers, such as Fruit Ninja, where you can slice, dice, and in the 3D version, even spear melons, pineapples, and more, that are tossed your way. There’s also Minecraft, the popular fantasy building game that in virtual reality puts the player right into their creations.

“You actually use your hands on the controllers to hammer things, fire a bow and feel the actual tension of drawing the string back,” said Jonathan Ng, Exit’s marketing and creative assistant.

Others take you on fantastical adventures, such as Waltz of the Wizard that gives you magical powers to wreak havoc on a fully interactive, virtual world. For would-be race car drivers, Project Cars puts you in the seat of some fast rides. NoLimits 2 Roller Coaster Simulation gets you aboard some of the world’s most famous thrill rides. And Catlateral Damage puts you in the paws of a cat keen on knocking as many items onto the ground.

Those looking for a different change of pace can try Surgeon Simulator VR: Meet The Medic and see how good their surgery skills are.

“It’s more humour-based. But there’s also the opportunity to see a 360 degree view of a human skeleton, which can be educational,” Ng said.

Tilt Brush, created by Google, allows you to paint in 3D space, making the room a virtual canvas that you can walk around.

For a more passive experience, The Blue places you underwater on the deck of a sunken vessel from where you can watch all manner of sea creatures swim past, including a large whale that gives you an inquisitive stare.

During the Virtreal session those joining you inside the room can watch along on the screen, but only from a two-dimensional perspective.

Cost for an hour in the Virtreal room is $50.

“We want to make it the next hang out for friends,” Ng said. “It’s kinda like an Internet café that meets karaoke.”

To get the concept rolling, Exit purchased the high-tech gaming equipment and library of game titles, but plans are to develop virtual reality games in-house in the same way it did with the recently launched arcade-style game that was produced for its other Richmond location, featuring a zombie-plagued scenario, complete with animatronic threats and a series of physical challenges played out inside a small, darkened room.

Currently, Virtreal is set up to allow just one player to take part at a time. That’s due to space limitations and the fact some games can require physical exertion.

“We don’t want people bumping into each other,” Tang said. “And to be honest, it can be really tiring if you are playing some action games.”

As for space restrictions, that’s expected to change as Exit is in the process of acquiring a special treadmill built for VR gaming which allows a player to move in any direction while essentially remaining stationary.

At the moment there is just one Virtreal room set up for play, but Exit has the equipment and room to get another up and running, once the customer-testing phase concludes.

“Plus, we have a lot of interest from our franchise owners in getting this for their locations,” Tang said.

Exit has a total of 11 locations in B.C. and Alberta, nine of which are run by franchise holders.

“Everyone has been amazed by what they’ve seen when they come in here,” Ng said. “This gives you experiences you can’t really have in real life.”