Virtual reality arcade coming to Penn Square Mall

By Jack Money

The Oklahoman

 

The future of virtual reality is about to become the present in Oklahoma City when the state's only virtual reality arcade debuts this weekend in Penn Square Mall.

 

Upward VR, owned by Will Stackable and Brad Scoggin, will make a second-floor space in the mall's north wing (which has been occupied temporarily by the Apple Store) its permanent home by Dec. 1.

 

Meanwhile, the owners plan to get the gaming going with a kiosk space until the larger space is ready.

 

There's lots of gaming options players who dare to don the goggled helmets can indulge in, such as fighting off hordes of zombies, or defending a castle, or racing cars.

 

There also are programs participants can choose that put them on top of tall buildings, touring outer space, painting in three dimensions, designing a miniature house and then expanding it to where the person can see the inside of the home from the vantage point of a mouse, or allowing someone in a wheelchair to visit and tour Stonehenge.

 

Basically, the message Stackable relates is that potential uses for the technology are as unlimited as its ability to transport you into another world.

 

A racing simulator Upward VR is working on right now makes for a good example, Stackable said.

 

"The headset is really what sells it. When you are wearing it, and you are looking around, you are seeing what is going on within the matrix — the virtual reality world — around you.

 

"But then, you have got a force feedback wheel and a seat that vibrates and so the combination of that haptic feedback with those visuals ... there's something called presence, where there is enough sensory input your brain just flips over, and it happens so quickly.

 

"For a lot of people, it is the moment they put the headset on. Your brain tells you this is real."

 

One application Stackable is certain will be popular is Tilt Brush, a Microsoft product that allows participants to paint in three dimensions.

 

As a person creates a painted shape, he or she can interact with it. The shape can be viewed as if it is hanging in front of you. You can walk around it, look under it, over it or rotate it. It also can be reshaped, or reduced or expanded in size.

 

"That is one that always blows people's minds," he said.

 

The technology has progressed impressively since its initial debut nearly 20 years ago thanks to smartphone technology miniaturization that created smaller, lighter helmets and better screen resolutions for both the player and onlookers to enjoy.

 

But as fun is that is, Stackable points out that the technology has far more serious, business-related applications in its future.

 

It offers game-changing abilities in real-world applications such as medicine, engineering, architecture and online shopping.

 

"The gaming aspect is fun, but this technology can transform virtually every industry there is," he said.

 

Also, virtual reality is getting serious attention from the technology industry.

 

Stackable said Deloitte expects the virtual reality industry, which includes hardware sales, software development and experimental environments like Upward VR, to hit $1 billion by year's end, and grow to $35 billion by 2020.

 

Stackable said more than 200 major investments have been made in the industry totaling more than $5.5 billion, including a $2 billion purchase of Oculus Rift by Facebook.

 

Besides Facebook and Microsoft, Google and Apple also are working hard on developing the technology.

As for Upward VR, Stackable said its startup kiosk will be in the main mall near Dillard's, and will have enough space for one stand play area and the race car simulator. It is expected to be up and running this weekend.

 

Once Upward VR is into its permanent home, there will be space for about six players, each in a play space of about eight-by-eight feet. Eventually, it plans to have room for as many as 12 to 14 players at one time, playing either individual applications or working together in teams in a single game.

 

The cost to play is a little less than a dollar a minute ($45 an hour), Stackable said.