The last time I played around with Virtual Reality (VR) I didn’t exactly have a wonderful experience.
I had a slight case of motion sickness and the world, for a split second, was a dizzying array of spots and blurs.
So when I walked into the VRCade in Cape Town and was heartily greeted by managing director Zach Joubert and bubbly co-founder Chery Simson, my trepidation was calmed to a small degree.
VRCade is located in the snazzy Water Shed in Cape Town, right next to the aquarium. In its current state, it’s only a pop-up shop in the Workshop 17 space, but in the coming weeks it will be moving to a bigger, better venue across the walkway from where it is now.
VRCade wants to bring the people of Cape Town something special, by making virtual reality gaming accessible to the masses. Imagine an old-school videogames arcade housing the bleeding-edge of current gaming tech and you’ll start to get the picture.
The major barrier to owning a VR headset set, Joubert says, is that they are prohibitively expensive.
What the VRCade does is make around 12 VR set-ups available to the public, so they can come in and play whatever games are available. At the moment there are about 30 games, so punters are spoiled for choice.
Each set is located in a separate room, so players have a bit of privacy. Not that they need it, but some people do get a bit self-conscious when they’re strapped into a headset and under the impression that unseen onlookers can watch them gesticulating.
After a short chit-chat and a tour of the facilities, it was time to get stuck in with the vast array of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift games.
I pulled up a chair and sat down nervously in front of a Rift, which has been connected to a PlayStation racing wheel and Logitech pedals. My second trip down VR lane? DiRT Rally.
I though what better way to start, as I can metaphorically kick dust in the eyes of last experience, as the Vive made me feel a bit queasy. I had a small hope that the Rift will be kinder on my eyes, balance reflexes and mind.
“We just got the wheel in, so it is still a little bit new to us. We just need to make sure that it is calibrated correctly,” Joubert said after I pointed to my first choice.
“In our final location…,” Joubert said while pointing across the walkway, “we will have soft walls with retractable cables.”
The retractable cable will make a difference. The headsets are connected to fairly powerful computers, and as certain games require you to move around, the fact that the cables won’t restrict movement will make the experiences far more immersive.
This wasn’t much of a factor for DiRT Rally; I firmly planted my feet on the ground and my bum in a chair just to the right of VRCade’s main table of operations.
Opting for a quick start, I just selected whatever mode was already on the screen, which turned out to be a simply rally in a Mini Cooper.
And the feeling of nausea returned… somewhat.
Previously I played Elite Dangerous on HTC’s Vive, which made me feel sick in the first couple of minutes. The Rift was different, in the sense that it made my stomach turn at the right times.
That sounds a bit strange, but driving around felt really cool, but as soon as the car went through dips or jumps, I could feel my stomach rise and sink. I really didn’t think that being stationary in a chair could cause my senses to flip out like that, but it did.
All about the games
Needless to say, I was heartily surprised that the Rift works so well. DiRT made me feel like I was behind the wheel of a car. The only thing that was missing was the smell of dust, gasoline and burning rubber.
As mentioned, there are a plethora of games available – and good ones at that. Some of the world’s best developers have made VR games, and most of them is available at VRCade.
Try your hand at rock climbing some the world’s most famous cliff faces in Crytek’s The Climb, survive a plane crash and some very creepy creatures in Edge of Nowhere, let the wind rush over your wingsuit in Volo Airsport, and even try your hand at being a gourmet chef, office worker or convenience store clerk with Job Simulator: the 2050 archive. That last one, incidentally, is a lot more fun than what it sounds like.
VRCade is completely self-funded, but running this kind of operation isn’t exactly cheap. For now, it is doing well enough to be able to give Cape Town a very exciting look at VR, but Joubert said that it might look at other investment funding in the future. While he didn’t mention it, I’m sure that there could be plans to bring the arcade to Johannesburg at some stage.
Virtual reality publicity
Joubert has a background in commercial law, but VRCade is a graduate of the Venture Lab Incubator run by MTN and the UCT Graduate School of Business. Through the incubator, VRCade was exposed to the possibility of funding, but most importantly it was about making connections to take the business further.
A stall at Cape Town’s Electronic Games Expo (EGE) and two recent radio appearances by Joubert also made sure that when I visited their offices, potential players were pouring in at a steady pace – even if they we just curious to find out what all the hubbub was about.
Purely based on that, I saw that there is genuinely a need for a virtual reality arcade. Most people simply don’t have the money or the space to acquire one of their own, and for R200 (provisionally) an hour at VRCade, it becomes a lot easier and affordable.
An hour might not seem like a long time, but I’ll be the first to tell you that you can accomplish a fair deal in that time. I spent almost three hours at VRCade, and it starts to take a toll on you after a while.
Simply put, VRCade saw a gap in the market and it has set its sights on cornering it. Virtual reality is where the gaming industry is moving very quickly towards, so VRCade has already taken the first steps to get ahead of it and make it available to the public.
If you are in Cape Town and desperately want to experience virtual reality, there is no better way than to book a slot at VRCade.
So go on, a brand new world awaits you.