VR Arena Adds Cardio to Your Virtual Experience

Virtuix’s new attraction at Pinballz has players running and gunning without moving

Photo by James Renovich

Earlier this decade one could be forgiven for assuming we'd all be brain deep in virtual reality headsets by now. The barriers to entry, like the necessity of expensive, high-powered PCs, proved too much to make it the cultural tsunami many had predicted, and savvy companies adapted to the limited market. Local outfit Virtuix definitely resides in the savvy camp.

In addition to having a good idea, Virtuix nailed the timing of both peak VR hype and Kickstarter heat back in 2013. They crowdfunded more than $1 million for the Omni, a motion interface that produces a sense of mobility in virtual worlds without running into very real walls. Step onto the concave platform, secure yourself in the waist-high ring, and prepare to perambulate without fear.

Originally marketed directly to consumers, Virtuix made the transition to commercial outfits exclusively roughly three years ago. According to CEO Jan Goetgeluk, since then they've shipped more than 3,000 Omnis to 45 countries. And what better place than their own backyard to premiere their latest creation: the VR Arena at Pinballz Lake Creek.

Taking up just a small portion of the 70,000 square feet recently added to the local arcade chain's northern location is the world's first four-player VR experience equipped with Omnis. The overall experience is not unlike laser tag, but despite the sweat you'll raise, you're not actually going anywhere. Instead, the tech monitors your activity and moves your in-game character accordingly. That way, you can focus on taking down opponents in one of several game modes.

Just don't expect Austin to be the sole place for the VR Arena experience for long, Goetgeluk said. "[We're] installing them in places like this all over the U.S."

Anyone familiar with laser tag will recognize the basic setup. Purchase a ticket for $15 ($12 if part of a group) and then go off and enjoy the rest of Pinballz while you await a text alerting you that your time in the queue is up. Head to the play space and sit down for a brief introduction on what's about to happen. There's a bit of multitasking as you input an email, your height, and other pertinent info. You must be at least 4 feet, 8 inches and not over 6 feet, 5 inches tall to fit the Omni's specifications.

After some words of instruction and encouragement from Pinballz staff, players enter into the arena where they cautiously step onto the shallow bowl and are strapped in for safety. Noobs may find the slickness of the Omni's floor unnerving, but it takes all of a minute after adorning the VR headsets and headphones to find your bearings.

From there it's a heart-rate-lifting bout as the four combatants find their movements mapped to their in-game avatar. By the end of the five to seven minutes, the sheen of sweat and taste of victory (or defeat) will slowly subside until photos and video of your time in the arena are sent to your email. Then, memories of your domination or humiliation will return. Ready for another round?

If your legs get tired, try some of the other additions to Pinballz's repertoire including a state-of-the-art, 32-person laser tag arena, indoor go-kart track, and a floor full of classic and cutting-edge arcade games. Older fun-seekers can try a microbrew or whiskey. Just don't expect that to improve your VR Arena performance.

Pinballz Lake Creek

13729 Research. Mon.-Thu., 11am-12mid; Fri., 11am-2am; Sat., 10am-2am; Sun., 10am-12mid. www.pinballzarcade.com.

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VR, virtual reality, Pinballz Arcade, Virtuix, Omni

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