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Colony VR bringing accessible virtual reality to Ottawa

This week's Midweek Mugging features Colony VR. “If you can go out to the movies you can come play in virtual reality for an hour," said co-owner Rebecca Johnston. “People who like to go bowling, well come do VR bowling.”

Rebecca Johnston wants to take cutting edge virtual reality technology and make it accessible and useful to people across Ottawa.

The studio she and her partner started, Colony VR, is providing a space just off Preston Street for people to play and experiment with virtual reality. For $40 per hour people can book one of the six room-sized green pods that lets them step into a fully immersive virtual gaming experience.

“We have this open space where people can come and pay to play. We don’t say arcade, but we certainly invite the public to come in and try the tech and the diverse content that we have,” she said.

Some of the games and experiences available to try include SUPERHOT VR, a first-person shooter, The Blue, which lets people view life at the bottom of the ocean, and Google Tilt Brush, a 3D painting game. Johnston said they have tried to make sure there is a virtual experience available for everyone, no matter their tastes.

Colony VR also observes people to get their feedback and reactions to the content, which are used in the product development side of the business and shared with other developers. As for what products are under development, Johnston said to “stay tuned.”

“We’re trying not to be branded solely as a game [studio], but certainly to illustrate the full potential of virtual reality to be used in business applications and training applications, as well fun.”

The studio uses HTC Vive headsets to immerse people in the action. The headset tracks players’ movement around the pod; taking a step in real life moves the same distance in the game. Players also hold two controllers that let them interact with objects in the game world like they would in real life. A screen above each play area lets viewers see exactly what the player with the headset sees.

“You pull the trigger and you can pick something up,” Johnston said. “You can open a drawer, you can have it be a sword like in Fruit Ninja, you can have a gun to shoot space pirates.”

Colony VR is very much a family business, Johnston said. Both her daughter and son have rolls in the studio.

“Our oldest daughter ran the studio for the first year and a half, so we called this her ‘home schooled MBA’… Our oldest son is our consumer and customer service expert.”

Johnston was a teacher before retiring and starting Colony VR. She said she had always been a fan of technology and the different ways it can be used.

“It’s not about the technology itself but how the technology can be used to educate, to connect people and the intersections between technology and culture.”

She said virtual reality, like that available at Colony VR, is a form of escapism to take a break from everyday life.

“I’ve been a gamer in variations my whole life…. it’s like reading a book to certain degree but I find I like the little quick games just as a stress relief.”

Colony VR also attends events to teach people what VR is and what it can be used for. She said one activity they are trying to emphasize is a VR date night, which turns the technology into a classic night out.

“If you can go out to the movies you can come play in VR for an hour,” she said. “People who like to go bowling, well come do VR bowling.”

Colony VR is located at 58 Beech St., and is open from Tuesday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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