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Jerry Nerviano pulls back the string on a virtual bow in the VR game Elven Assassin on an Oculus Rift at ImaginationsVR, a virtual reality arcade based in Allen.EXPAND
Jerry Nerviano pulls back the string on a virtual bow in the VR game Elven Assassin on an Oculus Rift at ImaginationsVR, a virtual reality arcade based in Allen.
Danny Gallagher

You Might Cry Playing the Games at ImaginationsVR, an Arcade in Allen

You know it's not real. You know you're not actually Spider-Man.

You know you're not really standing on top of a collapsing crane overlooking a crowded metropolitan area. You know you'll still be alive if you don't attach your web sling on the leg of the helicopter and swing down from more than 1,000 feet just inches away from the roofs of oncoming traffic on the highway below.

I am cognizant enough and possess all the mental faculties needed to realize all of this as I'm playing the new Spider-Man Homecoming virtual reality game for the HTV Vive at ImaginationsVR. The arcade in Allen gives gamers access to the latest games and experiences on virtual reality, including the Vive, the Oculus Rift and the Sony PlayStation VR systems.

I still screamed five octaves above my normal voice. The rush was so intense that I tried to yank the virtual reality goggles off my eyes so quickly that they slipped out of my sweaty fingers and snapped back against my head like some kind of sight gag from a Looney Tunes short.

"I had someone playing a horror game, and they stepped in a puddle," says Alex Zarac, the business owner who created and founded ImaginationsVR with his fiancee, Gabby Nassans. "They asked me after if I had put some water down when they stepped in it. It feels that real."

Zarac says he came up with the idea for a VR arcade as a project for a business entrepreneurship class at Collin College in Frisco. He spent the entire semester putting together business proposals and marketing schemes for his VR arcade, and after his final presentation, the professor encouraged him to pursue his project as a real business.

"Just from being around video games for so long and all these places were popping up all over the place, I came up with the idea for a VR center," Zarac says. "I thought, why do people have to pay for this kind of equipment when they can just go to an arcade and use it?"

The couple's timing couldn't be better. ImaginationsVR opened last August when VR games just started to find their footing in the gaming industry. The immersive experiences can create and execute their own stories and provide unique gameplay that's more than just extensions of popular video game franchises or basic gameplay action.

Gabby Nassans, the co-founder of ImaginationsVR, adjusts the virtual headset on Adrian Harry for a round of the Western horror shooter Dead and Buried.EXPAND
Gabby Nassans, the co-founder of ImaginationsVR, adjusts the virtual headset on Adrian Harry for a round of the Western horror shooter Dead and Buried.
Danny Gallagher

Director Steven Spielberg's film Ready Player One also shows where VR technology could be headed as these improvements continue and has renewed interest in VR gaming as a medium. The Alamo Drafthouse hired ImaginationsVR to do a demonstration during a private screening of Ready Player One as the inaugural film for its new Lake Highlands location.

"With the movie coming out, it definitely opened up quite a bit of people who are turned on to VR," Zarac says. "I've had quite a bit of people reference it and asking if we can get omnidirectional treadmills for the VR."

The experience varies by game, and ImaginationsVR offers a wide variety of titles, including single-player and multiplayer shooters such as Robo Recall, Arizona Sunshine and Dead and Buried; horror titles like The Brookhaven Experiment and Room 202, which make players the protagonists in horror movie-like experiences; and sillier fare like Job Simulator, Surgeon Simulator and Rick & Morty: Virtual Rick-ality, based on the popular Adult Swim cartoon.

A person's first time in virtual reality can be a moving, all-encompassing experience.

"The first time I tried it, I cried," Nassans says. "I was playing the nicest game in the world, The Lab, and it had a bunch of different mini-games, and I played a game that's not really like a game. You help this robot fix his parts, and he's trying to get help from me. There was this giant robot, and I thought it was going to kill me and I got mad at him."

The Allen VR arcade can accommodate up to eight players at once and has a unit that works with a steering wheel and pedals to simulate driving and racing games. It already has a devoted following of customers, some of whom drive in from out of state just to play for a couple of hours.

"It's extremely diverse," Zarac says. "I get kids all the way from 6 years old to just yesterday, we had people who were in their 70s who wanted to play."

Zach Schrotter and his wife, Kasi, fight off a horde of attacking raptors in Raptor Valley for the HTV Vive.EXPAND
Zach Schrotter and his wife, Kasi, fight off a horde of attacking raptors in Raptor Valley for the HTV Vive.
Danny Gallagher

Nassans says the first-time reactions are always the same, no matter the age of the player.

"Whenever they first put the headset on, they're automatically like 'whoa,' and I'm trying to give them their controllers, and they can't even grab them because they're so amazed," Nassans says.

The hardest part is keeping up with the technology and new games, which seem to be growing exponentially along with VR's growing popularity.

"We try to get the newest games whenever they come out," Zarac says. "We're always looking for the newest, biggest things, and we nitpick on what we like to get in the store. Anything that's popular and gets lots of reviews, we ask the companies so we can get licenses for the store."

One of the latest innovations ImaginationsVR is trying to get adds a whole new sense to the experience.

"At the very bottom of the headset, they are trying to install a smell bar," Zarac says. "They tested it on a game called Sairento, where if someone is shot and blood splatters on them, you can smell the blood through the headset. That's where we're trying to get with our stuff."

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