Calgary company wants in on boom in virtual reality gaming

Level 1 Escape, a local company, is wading into the high-tech world of virtual reality by opening a unique arcade in northeast Calgary.

Kevin Wong is the managing partner at Level 1 Escape, an escape room and self dubbed virtual reality arcade, the first of its kind in Western Canada.

Level 1 Escape is located at 517 16 Ave. N.E., opposite the North Hill Co-op Store.

Virtual reality has been around since the 1950’s, however, despite the best efforts of people in the industry it has never reached mainstream success.

Wong is determined to change this.

“It’s not like the 90’s,” said Wong in an interview.

The current applications of VR are mostly limited to the entertainment industry and military training, though Wong believes that virtual reality will not stop there.

“The VR tech is presenting almost limitless possibilities,” Wong said.

Plug In Managing Partner, Kevin Wong demonstrates virtual reality game play at Level 1 Escape, Sept. 26, 2016, Calgary, Alta. (Photo by {photog/The Press)
Plug In Managing Partner, Kevin Wong demonstrates virtual reality game play at Level 1 Escape, Sept. 26, 2016, Calgary, Alta. (Photo by {photog/The Press)

The emerging industry may be growing slowly but large companies such as Google and Facebook have invested in, or bought virtual reality technology companies, hoping to be at the forefront of the multi-billion dollar industry.

The progress in the industry hasn’t come without growing pains.

The main problem independent virtual reality arcades such as Level 1 face, is acquiring the proper licensing from game developers.

“The demand is there, but the content hasn’t caught up with the demand,” Wong said.

Despite the tough job Level 1 Escape is presented with, Wong remains optimistic about the future, pointing to the recent 50-year anniversary of Star Trek.

“People are really pushing for that holodeck experience, and maybe who knows, another 50 years everyone will have all that,” Wong said.

The virtual reality headset that Level 1 Escape uses is the HTC Vive, developed by HTC and Valve Corporation.

Virtual reality arcades like Level 1 Escape are a great opportunity for individuals who are interested in trying VR without paying a large sum of money.

“Anyone can go and buy a Vive,” Wong said.

“What we are doing is not that crazy.”

Level 1 Escape is currently going through an expansion, extending its escape room side of the business.

Wong hopes that someday the company will be able to marry the virtual reality and escape room experiences.

Even with the newly developing industry, Wong is not worried about the potential for new competition in the virtual reality industry. He believes that Level 1 Escape will stay ahead of the curve.

“We are always interested in trying something new,” said Wong.


About Jean-Luc Reicher 2 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Jean-Luc Reicher worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2016-17 academic year.