How Virtual Reality is Looking to Reawaken the Joy of Arcades
Once upon a time, in the middle of the night, there was a restless man pacing a residential street with a yellow tape measure in his hand. To the untrained eye, he appeared to be alone—some sort of compulsive insomniac bent on determining odd distances—but throughout the night he was kept company by visions of goblins, wizards and other enchanted creatures. Like the protagonist of most fairy tales, if this man were to be evaluated mid-story he’d be deemed foolish, naïve or perhaps even insane. Interview Jack as he climbs up the beanstalk, and he’s a poor barterer ascending to god-knows-where. Poll Pinocchio as he arrives at Pleasure Island, and he’s the poster child for idealism run amok. That’s just how it is, and how it’s meant to be, because like most things in life fairy tales are a results-oriented business. The man with the tape measure knows this, but still he will persist. That’s because despite the stakes, and the dangers of embarking on destination-defining journeys, attempts at happily ever after are made just about every day. This is a story about three such flights of fancy. A trio of ventures—one in Seattle, one in Utah and one all the way in Sweden—who are not only trying to find success in pair of industries that supposedly died in the 90s, but whose recipe for doing so it based on combining those two thought-to-be-dead things: arcades and virtual reality. Part 1: Just a Bunch of Kids VRCade Co-Founders Mark Haverstock, Jamie Kelly, and Dave Ruddell (Left to Right) show off an early prototype for their virtual reality arcade system. “The idea started back in 2010,” begins Jamie Kelly, co-founder and president of VRcade, a Washington-based entertainment company responsible for the world’s first full-motion virtual reality arcade. “But, at that point, we didn’t want to call it VR. Because virtual reality was just this kind of discarded mistake from the 90s.” So Kelly stayed away from any association with VR though, by his own admission, the original incarnation wasn’t even really virtual reality. The initial idea that Kelly posed to co-founder Mark Haverstock was to create what amounted to Laser Tag 2.0. No headsets, no pixelated realms, but rather focused on crafting a uniquely malleable arena that could be programmed to somewhat mimic videogame worlds. “I wanted to build a room that had one foot by one foot squares in it,” recalls Kelly. “But these squares were actually the tops of columns—attached to pistons below—which could change elevation based on programmed commands and could be used, essentially, to terraform all sorts of different real world environments. Basically, I wanted to create a version of Halo or Call of Duty in real-life.” If you can’t visualize exactly what this might look like, think of as something like a real-life version of the X-Men’s Danger Room. Or don’t bother thinking about it, because eventually that’s what Kelly and Haverstock had to do. There were too many logistical issues (like price, safety and objects getting lost in the transformation) as well [...]