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President of The Grid VR Arcade, Rob Bryanton holds the HTC Vive Virtual Reality System. Along with hand controllers, the Vive allows the user to experience interactive virtual reality.

A local Regina man has turned his passion for virtual reality into reality.

Since opening in October, The Grid VR Arcade has attracted hundreds of new customers to try out virtual reality for the first time, according to its company president. Operating on a pay-per-hour system, the business has been captivating both old and young to experience the new technology.

“Business is good and we’re growing fast,” said Rob Bryanton, president of The Grid VR Arcade. “We’re still a relatively new business, so the word hasn’t entirely gotten out yet that we’re here, but since October we’ve had some people come more than a dozen times. The bookings come in off of our website and we’ve had no trouble filling our arcade,” said Bryanton.

The Grid VR Arcade offers the unique experience of being able to insert yourself into a selection of VR compatible games, instead of simply controlling a character like a traditional video game. With the help of the VR goggles, hand-held controllers and a spacious room, players navigate a wide variety of games, doing everything from sword fighting to flying through a city.

The most popular games at the arcade include The Brookhaven Experiment, a game where you combat a horde of oncoming zombies, and Richie's Plank Experience, a game where you are taken to the top of a skyscraper, to see if you would be able to walk off a wooden plank protruding from the edge of the roof and fall to the ground. “I’ve played the game probably seven or eight times now,” said Bryanton. “I still can’t get myself do it.”

“It’s truly something you have to experience to understand,” said arcade customer Riley Martin. “The experience of swinging a sword, or catching a ball in virtual reality is amazing, the only disappointing part being when you take off the goggles and realize you’ve just been walking around a room for an hour,” said Martin.

The Grid VR Arcade has a total of three rooms with plans to expand to five rooms by the end of March. Each room allows parties of up to four or six people, and is equipped with all the latest technology, including one HTC Vive Virtual Reality System. High-resolution widescreen TVs allow the other people in the party to view what the player is seeing.

Behind the scenes, The Grid VR Arcade has wide array of high-performance computers outfitted with the latest 10-Series Nvidia Graphics Cards, and Intel Kaby Lake Processors to power the VR systems. “The actual HTC Vive is one of the cheapest parts,” Bryanton laughed, as he described the list of components needed to set up each room. While the HTC Vive can be purchased online for $1,149.99, it takes a powerful computer to run the system. These computers can often be priced at twice or even three times as much as the HTC Vive itself.

Being only the second VR arcade in Canada when it opened, The Grid VR Arcade has so far appeared to provide a proof-of-concept for the experimental business venture; another VR arcade named Aspect Virtual Reality Gaming Studios opened on Feb. 3 in Saskatoon. Due to their rapid gain in popularity, there is no formal tally on how many VR Arcades currently exist in Canada. Bryanton said that by the end of 2017, the idea of going to an arcade or even a theater to experience VR will be one that is widely accepted.

“The concept of mainstream virtual reality is one that I think excites a lot of people,” said Bryanton. “It’s exciting to think that we were one of the first businesses to start something that has the potential to be the next big thing.”