IMAX VR Experience Centre


It’s our second post about VR this month, which tells you one thing: we’re super curious about the many ways that VR will integrate into our lives and… we’re pretty sure that the future has arrived.

We dropped into the IMAX VR Experience Centre to see how IMAX is bringing a drop-in VR center to market. For the true fans of VR – consumers who already own their own head sets – a trip to a center to play with VR experiences might not offer anything new besides some cool motion chairs. But for the vast majority of consumers, a destination-based Virtual Reality experience shows off the potential of VR. Not to mention, augments the normal viewing situation — which, after all, is what we have come to expect from IMAX.

IMAX’s groovy new viewing space is situated squarely across the street from The Grove on Fairfax. The facility holds 14 VR pods, small spaces (twelve feet square) with half-walls as dividers, where guests can roam about while they play a game. The facility is sleek and clean, with plenty of attendants to help introduce consumers to the new technology.

We couldn’t wait to get started, and within minutes strapped ourselves into a Subpack rumble backpack (that shook like an amusement park ride), donned the tethered headgear, and were immediately transported to another planet.

Literally another planet, since we were playing Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine, which turned out to be an excellent beginner’s experience.

It was really fun and more about that in a minute.  First, we want to walk you through the set-up experience, so it’s a breeze to do with your crew:

First, you have to sign some waivers at a cool iPad stand, which requires giving the company your email address and choosing a password.

Next, you have to make a selection about which experience you’d like. You might need some advice, because the options vary tremendously. And, if you’re headed to the Experience Center on a weekend, it’s advisable to call ahead and reserve. Options are limited in each time slot.

It’s slightly confusing if you expect this to be like a normal movie theater. In fact, there are not dozens of seats inside — only fourteen pods, and not every pod is programmed with every game. So if four people want to do Star Wars, two people might for first, while the other people watch them play. Games only last 7-10 minutes, so after that time is up, the second group could watch the first set play.

There are simple games for beginners, and more “combat” oriented games for older, advanced players. Each cost between $7-$10. There is also a 25 minute IMAX sampler that gives a good overview of the options (not suitable for younger kids).

Next you sit in the waiting area and are instructed on the basics of safety. And, then you head inside to your Pod, where a friendly technician will outfit you with the gear.

Then, the game begins. Once the headset is on, you lose any sense of being in the pod – you’re transported to the game’s reality. Here are a group of guys playing Rabbids – which is supposed to be excellent, includes motion chairs, and is very immersive (nothing is more immersive than the first person shooter games, however). These guys were playing while their friends stood outside the pod, watching them play on the screens inside the booth. In this way, the experience is participatory, because you can see what the gamer is doing.

This guy is playing a shooter game, John Wick Chronicles, two pods of which are hidden away in the located in the back corner of the facility because of the mature content.

There is another pod which features The Wire, a story about the man who walked between the Twin Towers on a cable – that pod has a raised “cable” for users to walk along.

But, for the uninitiated, you can’t beat Star Wars as an introduction to this new genre. From a sensory point of view, the sounds of Star Wars are so familiar, that players will immediately feel at home, and in a seven minute game, it’s nice not to spend too much time figuring out a new universe.

Within seconds of initiating, a ship descends from the sky —  it seems like it will drop right on top of you! Then, you will hear the familiar whistle and pop as R2D2 comes down the ramp from the space craft. We set to work repairing the space ship when we heard the menacing sound of Storm Troopers approaching. R2 tossed us a light saber and we were thrown right into the heat of battle. It was pretty great that the controller in our hand really looked like a light saber. We can’t claim to be expert at wanding away the bullets coming at us, but it was surprisingly fun to be engaged so quickly in battle. The time was up too fast, just as we were getting the hang of it, so our only regret is that the game was so short!

After all, who doesn’t relish the idea of being R2D2’s assistant and having the chance to wave a light saber at an advancing Storm Trooper!?


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