Have you ever wanted to wield a light saber? Climb to the summit of a mountain? Fly over your favorite city? Or hang out with forest gnomes? Now you can at vr bar (808B Union Street between 6th and 7th Avenues) where you can experience all these things and more—safely via virtual reality.
Founded by Park Slope resident, Kishore Doddi, VR Bar is Brooklyn’s first and only virtual reality arcade. A Cornell grad who studied business and engineering, Doddi previously worked in sales and operations for a retailer and an energy company where he helped develop software that simplified and expedited workflow.
He then went on to co-found two start-ups—first Everyone’s Mix Tape, a web music player, and then Our Mix, an internet and mobile app that creates a new playlist every day based on what the user’s friends are listening to on Spotify.
While both ventures are still running, the enterprising Doddi became interested in virtual reality and decided to learn more about this booming technology. He explains, “When we were developing Our Mix [we were] developing mobile interfaces and making people efficient on their phones, so I wanted to do that with virtual reality. In order to do that with any product, you need to get exposed to the product.” He says this was around February 2016, and it was hard to learn more about virtual reality at the time because it was difficult to locate and try premium virtual reality headsets.
Doddi was fortunate enough to have friends working at The Future of Storytelling, an organization that presents new communication technologies to the public. He was invited to one of their events on virtual reality where he was able to try first-hand the HTC Vive headset and Tilt Brush. He was blown away and wanted to show his friends what the product could do.
The Oculus Rift headset was then released in March 2016 followed soon after by the Vive in April. At the time, the only place in Manhattan where he could show the Vive to his friends was the Microsoft store. He describes the ordeal, “We trekked to 53rd Street and 5th Avenue and went to the Microsoft store. It was a 3-hour experience for each of us to try it for 10 minutes … it was too fast to get a feel for it.”
From there he began hosting events where attendees could get a sample of the various virtual reality experiences. He started by renting out Brooklyn Game Lab in Park Slope (353 7th Avenue, near 10th Street), “an offline gaming center mainly for kids.”
Doddi set up three Oculus systems that he rented and invited a bunch of friends to try them out there. He then began organizing similar events for various companies’ conferences and happy hours and eventually switched to renting Vive systems. He prefers the Vive system, “In terms of content and the mechanics and the way everything moves, the Vive is much better.”
It just happened that all the events that Doddi was hosting consisted of 21-plus crowds, and he really wanted to test the virtual reality systems with a younger demographic. He also wanted to try opening an actual venue to make the VR equipment more accessible to the public, so when he saw an ad to sublease 808B Union Street (formerly People’s Pops which has permanently closed this location), he took advantage of the opportunity. VR Bar will be in the space until March 1 and will have the option to extend the lease after that.
Doddi says of the brick-and-mortar space, “The foot traffic has been beyond our expectations and people have been super receptive.” He continues, “We honestly thought we’d be able to fit more systems in here, and we probably will, but it’s going be a little more cramped than we hoped.” He currently has two Vive systems set up in the shop—one in the rear corner, and the other by the storefront window.
A virtual reality newbie, BKLYNER was thrilled to try out some of the experiences offered at VR Bar—painting in 3D (starting off in a blank space that gradually becomes covered in your scribbles and doodles); stepping into and exploring a Van Gogh painting; flying over Tokyo; and crossing a ravine and climbing a ladder on top of Mount Everest. It was visually stunning, immersive, and awesome, eliciting many oohs and aahs—a definite must-try!
Doddi patiently explains everything to visitors, from what to expect, what content they can select to play/experience, how to use the controllers, and how to interact with the content. While wearing the headset, you can see a faint blue grid that indicates where walls or other borders (like furniture or the television screen) are so users know not to walk into them. Children under 13 will have to sign a waiver and must be accompanied by someone over 18.
During BKLYNER’s visit, a father came in with his young son who had been to VR Bar once before. Taking turns with the controllers, both seemed to have lots of fun.
Adam Hendricks, who lives around the corner, also came in to play a couple of music-based games, explore a forest inhabited by gnomes and goblins, and shoot and dodge fast-flying arrows. Hendricks discovered the arcade a few days prior and has been back every day since. He says he “wants to try everything” there and engages in the experiences with energetic enthusiasm.
Surprisingly, one of the most popular content options VR Bar has on offer is an experience that allows users to simulate various jobs—like a chef cooking in a kitchen, a mechanic fixing a car in a garage, a cashier ringing up a customer in a store, and an office worker shuffling papers in a cubicle. It may sound mundane, but Doddi says people love this interactive experience.
Doddi is excited to introduce virtual reality to the neighborhood and is convinced that “Anyone who’s never tried the premium virtual reality, they’re almost always blown away.” Non-premium VR includes versions that are made for use with mobile phones, like the Google Cardboard (which retails for $15), the Disney/Mattel View-Master (for use with iPhones), or the Samsung Gear VR (for use with Samsung phones).
High-end virtual reality systems like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive connect to a computer or laptop and cost at least $3,000 for the whole package including a gaming computer and the headset (approximately $800).
Future plans for Doddi include developing new VR experiences himself, “especially ones that will free you from holding all the gear or basically where the wire [connecting the headset] isn’t as limiting.” He’s also interested in “experiences that are augmented by the space… you could have stairs in the software experience that match real stairs in the space…. It adds to the virtual reality experience because there’s something real that you’re touching.”
Overall he thinks the future of virtual reality will offer “super light, comfortable, and easy to use” hardware that “people will probably be using on the subway eventually.” However he believes “we still have a ways to go with all the experiences” as far as the software goes.
VR isn’t all fun and games either. Doddi thinks that companies will start developing productivity tools in virtual reality, and experiences will be created using a company’s data or for advertising purposes. He thinks “a lot of companies haven’t even scratched the surface yet” in VR, and the possibilities are virtually limitless.
The Virtual Rundown: vr bar
Where: 808B Union Street (near 7th Avenue)
Hours: Open daily, 12pm-8pm
Rates: $10 for 10 minutes. VR Bar is available for party rentals and events.