Mark texted the girls and I the other day and told us that we were going to do something FUN as a family after dinner. But, there was a catch. He wasn’t going to tell us what it was.
Of course, the three of us were mad with curiosity but Mark would not budge. The only hint he gave us was in regards to hairstyles. (?!) It was rather mysterious, actually. He told us not to wear our hair up.
AHA. This obviously meant that whatever we were doing involved helmets. Hmm. What could it be? Maybe we were going climbing. Or indoor race car driving. Or to a paintball range. I tried convincing the girls that we were probably going Extreme Bowling, which involves launching people down the lane instead of bowling balls, but for some reason they wouldn’t believe me.
What other activity in Ottawa requires participants to wear a helmet? We were in the car, on our way, and we STILL couldn’t figure it out.
We drove from our home in Westboro along Carling towards downtown (ahhh, DOWNTOWN!) but then we suddenly turned on Preston Street. Hmm. What’s on Preston Street (other than a ton of great restaurants, that is)? And THEN we turned on a little side street, and THEN we passed an inconspicuous doorway with a small sign on it that read: Colony VR.
AHA! This was going to be fun.
This is was the view when we entered.
Mark told us he booked a two-hour session in one booth for the four of us. Note: I am using the term ‘booth’ for lack of a better term, as each set of VR equipment as its own little area that is semi-enclosed. They call it a ‘hex pod’ on their website.
I wasn’t sure if two hours was too long or too short, but for us first-timers it proved to be the perfect amount of time.
We were given an introduction by a staffer, who showed us how to put the goggles and headset on. The whole contraption is connected to the ceiling and the wires prevent one from wandering too far from the centre and banging into the walls.
Our eldest went first. She went through a tutorial – a fun little introduction – and then chose an underwater adventure. The three of us saw a version of what she was seeing on a large external monitor. Her world was a dark one. She was underwater, armed with only a flashlight. She could look up, down, all around. And then, things started to change. Sea creatures started to illuminate the darkness, including beautiful jellyfish.
I am bummed that I didn’t get to see the jellies for myself. :|
What else? We had an all-too-brief stint with Google Earth: balancing on the edge of mountains, looking over valleys and cities and gorgeous landscapes.
I had to laugh because OF ALL THE CITIES YOU CAN EXPLORE – Prague, Paris, Rome, Vienna – Mark took his allotted time to zoom over to Ottawa and look at our house.
When it was my turn I walked around inside a painting and later played a role in saving the rebels from the evil Empire with my buddy, R2D2.
Mark eldest battled skeletons and looked for treasure:
Our youngest entered a world of 360-degree art and made it her own. I tried that for a bit too. It’s hard to describe it in any way than to just say it is Simply Incredible. Your two remotes are drawing instruments and you use them to change colours and tools, but it’s not just pencils and paint brushes. You can spray blue smoke in the air, or spread stars across the sky. You can draw a fire and then walk inside it, and see it from the other side too.
Funny thing. There is a feeling that comes with playing a video game… we have all played video games and we play the role of observer for the most part, but being INSIDE a video game is a very different experience. It’s pretty darn surreal and fully immersive. A rebel ship passed over my head as it was landing and I ducked. Mark hurled his sword at evil creatures with real determination. That jellyfish? It really looks like it is floating in front of your face. You don’t just see it, you hear it all too!
It’s fun even when you’re not playing. We watched the other members of our party don the goggles and navigate in their world of choice. Granted, it’s not the same perspective at all, as it lacks the multi-dimensional world that is offered by virtual reality, but it was amusing nonetheless.
I had more time to look around the place while I was waiting for my turn. To be perfectly honest, Colony VR is a little on the sparse side but I suspect this is only temporary as they grow. It’s obvious that their initial funding has gone into technology and the setup, but I think there needs to be more to it in order to create a sense of atmosphere to encourage people to return and bring other people with them. For example, there are great big walls are screaming for some kind of group graffiti art project.
Worth mentioning: a few snacks are available for purchase (think: chips and artisanal popcorn) but it could certainly be more robust in this area. While I was there I found myself remembering Jumbo Video (ha, I am dating myself here, who remembers Jumbo Video?) and the popcorn they gave out to customers in those little paper baggies. I’m certainly no business expert, but if Colony VR picked up one of those carnival-type machines they sell at Costco and gave away free popcorn they could make their money back on beverages. (Hey, a liquor license wouldn’t be a bad idea either.)
If you’re looking for something new and cool to do in Ottawa, this is it. Teens will be particularly impressed, whether or not they play video games as a rule.
We asked the kids if they wanted to go back even though we already knew the answer. (The answer was a big YES, by the way. I REALLY enjoyed it too.) The cost is $40/hour and you can book a time slot by email or phone via the Colony VR website.
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