The VR Zone experience

VR Zone staff members. (from left to right) Devonte, Sian, Rondell Ruiz and Tariq. Photo courtesy The VR Zone
VR Zone staff members. (from left to right) Devonte, Sian, Rondell Ruiz and Tariq. Photo courtesy The VR Zone

Jump into the world of virtual reality at The VR Zone if you are searching for some arcade nostalgia.

Rondell Ruiz launched The VR Zone on Tragarete Road, Woodbrook, last year to give customers that old-school feeling of going to the arcade with friends and playing video games such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Samurai Showdown.

“I am a child of the '90s,” he said, recounting memories from his teenage years. “I realised that all those really cool arcades with games like Street Fighter, Samurai Showdown and Ninja Turtles are no more – phased out with time and the availability of newer consoles that everyone can have in their home at affordable prices.”

Aiden, 9, gets the full virtual reality experience at VR Zone, Tragarete Road, Port of Spain. Photo by  Angelo Marcelle

Ruiz said he also wanted to introduce his son, Ethan, to something he loved when he was younger so he could enjoy it with his friends and see how happy families are when they come together to try something new.

"These new consoles are so advanced, offering gaming like never before; intense haptic feedback, high-tech controls, and 4K resolution. Truly amazing stuff. Then there was VR.”

Ruiz decided to invest in a virtual reality (VR) gaming set last year as the world was just coming out from lockdowns and virtual meetings. The technology was just starting to become popular.

VR is the use of a three-dimensional artificial environment in computer games known as virtual reality gaming. VR allows the user to suspend disbelief and see the virtual reality environment as genuine. Virtual reality software creates virtual reality environments that transcend the user's perception of the actual world. The devices Ruiz uses are called Meta Quest 2, formerly known as Oculus Quest 2 and Meta Quest Pro which are available for customers to experience cutting-edge virtual reality technology.

“I saw a need for up-to-date entertainment that persons of all ages will enjoy,” he said.

Thus began Ruiz's journey to becoming an entrepreneur with his VR gaming business.

The 38-year-old businessman began buying the equipment out of his own savings. “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."

These challenges did not deter Ruiz from establishing his business. “It took a bit of time and money to find the right recipe and implementation of all these aspects. Also, covid was a major hurdle that we had to overcome. We started just as the pandemic was winding down.”

Children enjoy games at the VR Zone Tragerete Road, Port of Spain, while their parents (seated on left), enjoy each other's company. Photo by Angelo Marcelle

The VR Zone hosts over 36 top-tier games such as Racket NX, Dash Dash World, Fruit Ninja, and The Walking Dead, to name a few. According to Ruiz, the most played games are Beat Saber and Close Runner up: Pistol Whip.

Beat Saber is a VR rhythm game where you slash the beats of adrenaline-pumping music as they fly towards you, surrounded by a futuristic world. Close Runner up: Pistol Whip is a first-person shooter game for teens and adults.

The zone recently added The Race Track, which features two full racing simulation rigs equipped with force feedback steering wheels and full-size pedals.

“Racing fanatics love it! We are planning to expand the racetrack, allowing multiplayer competitive racing. We think everyone will love it.”

Gamers must be at least six years old due to restrictions regarding the fitting of the headset but most of the games are for all ages. There are one- and two-hour gaming session options; this must be booked in advance and fees range from $25 to $250. The VR Zone also offers professional photography.

The zone can accommodate four active VR players, two active racetrack players and four active Playstation Arena players.

Ruiz said, "It’s so real!' It is usually the go-to expression for almost everyone. It’s truly a unique thing to experience. But generally, the responses are great. Everyone loves it.

“At the end of a session, the best part is seeing the smiles on both kids' and adults' faces and we use this opportunity to take pictures to memorialise the experience for our customers.”

Flavourama food fair on Barbados Road, Federation Park, Port of Spain, recently had its share of fun when The VR Zone hosted a pop-up event at the venue. Flavourama, which is hosted Friday to Sunday, 3 pm-10 pm, usually offers foods and drinks representing various cuisines including Asian and Japanese.

Zoe Rae, 7, on left and Leilani, 7, get the full virtual reality experience at The VR Zone, Tragerete Road, Port of Spain on Tuesday. Photo by Angelo Marcelle

The VR Zone set up its equipment in the open-air space and offered VR experiences, one of which was Richie’s Plank Experience. “Everyone loves this as it is a really good representation of the realism of virtual reality. Persons must walk a plank at the top of a building and encounter other jump scares. Very entertaining."

Among other games presented at the pop-up were Pistol Whip, Beat Saber and Five Nights at Freddy’s which is a pre-teen to teen VR horror game.

Prior to the Flavourama event The VR Zone held its first
pop-up event in San Fernando which was hosted by Road Trip TT.

“Hopefully, in the future, we will make many more surprise pop-ups at different locations around TT.”

This reporter had the opportunity to experience the virtual reality world of Richie’s Plank Experience and it was exhilarating. This game is definitely not for the weak-hearted nor suited for children. It will have your heart pounding every second you are there. The graphics are so advanced it made me feel as though I was falling from a skyscraper.

It is definitely recommended if you want to get your blood pumping.

Asked about the possibilities of opening other branches, Ruiz said he was not sure whether he would actively pursue expanding the business but said the option was one that is being considered.

For those who are considering this type of business Ruiz has this advice: “Be consistent. When I started, business was slow and I felt like I made a mistake. But eventually, as word got around, things picked up.

“So I’d advise anyone getting into their own business to stay focused and consistent and look at the long-term goal instead of just the short term. It may take some time to get started, but be patient.”

For more info on VR Zone: @thevrzone_ on Instagram and TikTok.


"The VR Zone experience"

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