A virtual escape from reality, right here in Fort Worth. Imagine that.
“It’s an out of body experience,” said Kaden Huckaby, team lead at Fort Worth’s Sandbox VR location. “Like if you’re in a dream, that’s essentially kind of how it feels to me.”
Huckaby is talking about the digitally immersive experience that Sandbox VR has been offering since June at its location in the popular West 7th neighborhood. Gamers have a choice of six computer-generated adventures to try — each lasting roughly 30 minutes.
From killing zombies to sailing with swashbuckling ghouls to warp-speed flights of fantasy on the USS Discovery, players are transported into digital worlds that will look, feel and sound real enough.
“There’s nothing like it,” Huckaby said.
Beam me up boss
Sandbox VR playrooms can be found in Asia and Europe. There are over a dozen locations across the US, including three in Texas (Austin, Fort Worth and Dallas).
The Austin venue opened first, followed by both Fort Worth and Dallas earlier this summer. Business at the Fort Worth location has been steady since opening its doors to eager video game fans, Huckaby said.
To begin, gamers check in and sign safety waivers — choosing whether to allow sandbox cameras to record their sessions. Video is only available to players in the form of a QR code. Then it is off to the quartermaster to get fitted with about 20 to 25 pounds of equipment: a haptic vest, backpack, headphones and VR headset.
Properly outfitted players head to “holodecks” where they will be projected to the magical world they picked. The rooms are spacious. Then weapons are furnished depending on the adventure being played. A final check, then players are beamed to a virtual world.
The experience at Sandbox is totally immersive. Movements are not simulated — players are active.
“Here you can physically move around and your knees bend and your arms bend and you can feel it and you can see it,” he said.
Picking a virtual world
There are six experiences to choose from:
- “Deadwood Mansion” — takes players on a zombie-filled trip through a mansion.
- “Deadwood Valley” — expands the zombie experience to a whole town of the undead.
- “Amber Sky 2088” — transports players to the future where they fight as heroic androids.
- “Curse of Davy Jones” — is a swashbuckling affair against supernatural creatures.
- “Star Trek: Discovery” — is a space experience drawn from its namesake show streamingon Paramount Plus.
- “Unbound Fighting League” — is a player-versus-player experience and requires at least four guests.
The other experiences require at least two players.
Trick of technology
Gamers are transported to the virtual worlds with the help of motion capture cameras, 3D body trackers, headsets and the haptic vest, which can relay vibration and feeling to the person wearing it, Huckaby said.
Since people’s vision is impaired while playing the experience, the potential of running into another player or wall in the room is a concern. But since the equipment is run by a computer in the room, a warning is relayed to a player when approaching a wall or obstruction. Staff are also present to assist if needed.
But even with all the precautions, Huckaby said, reality happens.
“I had a guy who decided to use one of the rifles as a bat and smacked the backpack that his wife was using and almost smacked her,” he said. “That’s a whole experience.”
The VR experiences can feel exceptionally real — the haptic vest only enhances that. The vests are wired with vibration technology, meaning that if a virtual zombie was to latch onto a player’s shoulder during the game, the player feels the sensation of someone actually grabbing a shoulder, Huckaby said.
Players respond differently to the experience, some are happy and thrilled to step off. Others can’t believe when the 30-minute session goes flying by — wanting more. Its not unusual to hear people hooting and hollering, immersed in a world they could only ever dream of, Huckaby said.
“I had one lady who played ‘Star Trek’ and screamed so loud that we had to pause (the game) to make sure she wasn’t having a heart attack, because we actually thought she was in a medical emergency,” Huckaby said . “There’s a scream when you’re scared and then there’s a scream from the soul, like someone is chasing you.”
The woman ended up being okay, and its a testament to how real the VR experience can seem, Huckaby said.
An experience everyone should try
It costs $55 a person to book an experience, and at least two players are required for five of the six games. Only “Unbound Fighting League” has a four-person minimum. There is no age limit to play. A player has to be over 48 inches tall and be able to wear around 20 to 25 pounds of gear for the 30-minute session.
Since the sensors and headset are used by different people throughout the day, Sandbox staff sanitizes all equipment after every session.
Huckaby is bullish about Virtual reality. It is something everyone should try, he said.
“It’s a weird experience, it’s something that is hard to describe in words,” he said.
Sandbox VR in Fort Worth is open Monday to Thursday from 10 am to 11 pm and Friday to Sunday from 10 am to midnight at 2956 Crockett St.