By Klysha Best
For parents of children of any age, it can be difficult sometimes to find good, family friendly safe spaces to take them to, whether it be for indoor or outdoor recreational fun.
Well, you now have a new option to throw into the mix, with The VR Zone – Virtual Reality Arcade, the first of its kind in Trinidad and Tobago.
The arcade is the brainchild of 38-year-old St James entrepreneur, Rondell Ruiz.
A former Fatima College student and father of one, Ruiz worked in the past as a sound engineer and producer for one of the top radio stations in Trinidad and Tobago.
As a matter of fact, he still runs his own studio, producing radio commercials, jingles specifically.
The VR Zone, located at 92 Tragarete Road, Port of Spain, opened in April 2022 and as Ruiz would describe himself, he is “an old “arcade child” of the ’90s.”
He said one day, it dawned on him that all those really cool arcades with games like Street Fighter, Samurai Showdown, and Ninja Turtles were no more.
“They were phased out with time, with the availability of newer consoles that everyone can have in their home at affordable prices. But I truly missed the nostalgia of going to an arcade with friends,” said Ruiz.
Ruiz pointed out: “These new consoles are so advanced, offering gaming like never before; intense haptic feedback, high tech controls, 4k resolution. Truly amazing stuff. Then there was VR. This really started to show itself commercially over the last 5 years or so and as an entrepreneur, I saw a need for up to date entertainment that persons of all ages will enjoy. So I decided to invest.”
VR stands for Virtual Reality and it is a computer-generated environment with scenes and objects that appear to be real, making the user feel they are immersed in their surroundings. This is all experienced by putting on a headset with screens that cover the outside view totally.
Ruiz said: “Since this is the first of its kind, establishing what was needed; consoles, games, fixtures, pricing etc. took a lot of trial and error to figure out what worked and what didn’t.”
He said it took a lot of time and money to find the right recipe and implementation of all these aspects.
Ruiz said the Covid-19 pandemic was a major hurdle that he had to overcome, and the business launched just as the pandemic was winding down.
He admitted that on a commercial scale, the VR headsets are relatively expensive and acquiring the games for each headset is an added cost, however, he has found a way to make visits to the arcade affordable for parents.
There are one- and two-hour gaming session options and fees currently range between $25 to $250.
It is open to Gamers who are at least six years old due to restrictions regarding the fitting of the headset, but most of the games are for all ages.
The VR Zone also offers birthday party packages and site visits, where they go to different locations and provide the VR experience. Interested persons can visit www.thevrzonett.com for further details on prices and birthday party packages.
Ruiz said everyone loves VR, especially when it’s the first time that they are experiencing it.
“It’s a mind-blowing experience to see how far we’ve come with technology and gaming.”
Some of the most popular games at The VR Zone are Beat Saber, Pistol Whip and After The Fall.
Ruiz said he is hoping to expand their multiplayer games as people love to play together.
The young man, who attends the St John’s parish in Diego Martin, said as a Catholic it is also important to provide good clean fun for the nation’s youth, adding that The VR Zone is for everyone.
He said it may have started out being a place for children only, but he soon realized that adults enjoy the experiences more than children do.
Now that he is getting buzz around The VR Zone, Ruiz said he is already thinking of expansion.
“Expansion is the goal. A lot of our customers come from the far reaches of Trinidad and they always ask, “are you going to have a location in the east/south etc. So hopefully in the future we can expand into the different corners of Trinidad,” said Ruiz.