Do you remember the times when you had to go great lengths to get your kicks – let’s say – maneuver your own submarine, defuse a car bomb, carry out a mission as a secret agent, or tame and ride a living dinosaur? It was horrible, wasn’t it? With VREI, Vienna has now its very own virtual reality café – and with it, a place where all of the above, and so much more, is possible.
Located in a bright and airy space in the 7th district, VREI welcomes all people who are either looking for a nicely equipped bar, for a taste of how VR feels, or for other VR experts.
“A lot of our day-to-day customers don’t know anything about virtual reality before they enter VREI. But we want that kind of curiosity. It’s the only way we can show people all the groundbreaking possibilities VR is capable of,” Timon, one of VREI’s four founders, tells me.
I don’t want to waste another minute and am busting to get on the games.
“Okay, let me get a taste of that new world you’re talking about,” I ask.
Timon guides me towards a metal seat at the back of the room, hands me the VR headset and headphones, and tells me to enjoy the show. I dive into the experience, literally, as I find myself sitting in a metal submarine on auto pilot, experiencing a trip into the dark depths of the sea. Basically, it’s a like movie, but with the distinct difference that I can change my perspective by actively looking around and tilting my head. Look behind you and you’ll see the back of the capsule you’re currently cruising the waters in. Look down and you’ll see a pair of legs and a bit of torso, including a hand that mimics yours when you use the joystick.
I can’t see it, but I know I’m wearing the face of an excited school boy. I love every minute of the journey, taking in as much detail as possible. After that, Timon is there to help me remove the VR headset, and he’s laughing at my lack of words to describe any of the things I just experienced. He then leads me to one of the desktop computers where I become a secret agent. My mission is to actively has to click, drag, point and drop objects to drive a car out of a flying plane (You know, the usual for tough guys in tuxedos). After dying five times, and calling for help more often than I care to admit, I get the job done. Unfortunately, there’s no thank-you intercourse with a Bond girl waiting, not even the virtual kind.
Timon wants me to experience the so-called racing seat, one of his favourite things at VREI. Having in-built pressure springs, the seat adds a third dimension to your driving experience. When you rumble over the green at the side of the course, you can feel how the seat tosses you back and forth – same with hitting the oh-so-many walls along the race track. You can even hold your head out the window.
“VREI is determined to become a hub for everything VR. We’re talking workshops with international guests, Mario Kart tournaments where you can actually drive with your friends and directly look at them through your VR goggles – and at some time in the future, we’ll have a holodeck (a virtual reality facility featured in Star Trek) waiting for you in the basement. But that’s a bit down the road still”, Timon smiles.
The cool thing about VREI isn’t only that you can get a taste of what’s VR, it’s how hardcore determined they are about their hardware and software.
“Our goal is to be the go-to guys when it comes to new technology solutions, rad beta versions, stuff like this.”
So be it the Oculus Rift, new VR games, or Cardboard – the budget option for everybody who can’t spend 600 Euros and more for a full functioning head-mounted display – the guys at VREI are there for you.
Very special thanks to talented – and very handsome – photographer, Johannes Staudenbauer, for the photographs in this article.