Base Station VR Lounge to bring new type of reality to Johnston

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Reality takes a different shape every time Nidal Battikha comes to work.

It might include instructing a couple on how to fight off zombies, or escorting patrons into a pyramid in Egypt. It’s all in a day’s work for the owner of Base Station VR Lounge, which is moving from its 286 Thayer St. location in Providence to 1478 Atwood Ave. in Johnston later this month.

Battikha told the Sun Rise last Friday that the Lounge is going to eventually double its amount of virtual reality stations – from its current five to 10 – and have a separate room for parties away from the VR park.

When asked what it is like to experience virtual reality, he said there is no way to describe the sensation. It’s meant to be experienced, and when customers try it for the first time the reaction is usually the same.

“What is an interesting thing is – and again I can’t describe it – what happens when at least half the time, more than that, you put on the headset, they’re already in a VR sort of room and you put it on and they say, ‘Wow.’ My reaction is constantly, ‘Yes, that’s the reaction I’m looking for,’” Battikha said. “They see that they’re already in a different room. The reactions of it are pretty intense. You see people laughing, smiling.”

Ironically enough, Battikha doesn’t consider himself much of a gamer. He became invested when he purchased a computer capable of handling VR. He said he tested it out and immediately wanted to share his experience with others.

Two years later – despite VR remaining a “niche market” – there are a growing number of headsets and gaming options available. He said players usually only become interested after visiting a VR park like Battikha’s, and then its popularity grows through word of mouth.

“It’s something where you really want to tell people about it, and then the only way to tell people about it is to say, ‘Hey, you have to go to this place and try it. You have to get your own headset,’ which has its own limitations as well, but that’s kind of what it is,” Battikha said. “It’s a very new and very different experience. It’s very immersive and that’s really important to people.”

Battikha said some of the top-played features include “Beatsaber,” a rhythm game, and “Superhot,” which allows gamers to alter time.

“Arizona Sunshine” – which Battikha said is “great for couples” – is a zombie shooter, and virtual reality escape rooms are starting to emerge as well.

He said VR escape rooms are an example of a new potential in the field, establishing a cross-section between something patrons already know and taking it to greater heights.

“What’s great about that is you can do things you can’t do in a real-life escape room,” Battikha said. “You can’t, for example, climb in a real escape room, you can only do that in VR, or you can’t go to Egypt and go into a pyramid. But those are starting to grow in popularity, it’s still relatively new for us to introduce them but those are great for things like couples and date nights, or a group that wants to do something relatively understandable in the sense that they know what it’s like in real life.”

Battikha said game length varies from title to title, but most players can go as long as they would like. He said, for example, that “Beatsaver” may only last the length of a song, but gamers can play it for an hour. “Arizona Sunshine” can be beaten in three hours, but Battikha said very few have gotten to that point.

Plenty of customers inquire about the length of games, but Battikha said he often responds by saying it comes down to what they really want to play.

“I’m telling them they can do whatever they want, but it really comes down to which do you want?” Battikha said. “You can try a few and find you really don't like any of them, and you find one that you like and play that whole time, or you might find that the first one you play is the first one you do the whole time.”

He said it would be a “cool experience” to see a Spider-Man VR game swing down the pipeline, as only a demo version exists right now spanning five to eight minutes. After all, letting gamers push the limits of reality and venture off into their own world is the center of the industry.

“It’s a very immersive thing, and it’s not just what people think, which is that screen,” Battikha said. “So once you put that headset on, and they just move their head a little bit and they see that they’re in a room, it’s the idea that you’re literally just stepping into another room, which has more capabilities than being in reality. You can only do so much in reality. You can fly in VR.”

Battikha said there will be a soft opening on June 29, for which there are already reservations. The grand opening will take place July 5. The location will be different, but the reactions will be the same.

“It really is amazing to see people’s reactions to that world,” Battikha said. “I sometimes forget it if I don’t do VR for a few weeks and then put on the headset to test something, I forget how immersive it can be, because you look at it on the screen and you don’t see what they see.”

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