FRANKLIN (Somerset) – Have you ever wondered what Vesper Peak, along the North Cascades in Washington state, would look like from its summit?
How about Venice on a crisp spring day?
Or what Raufarholshellir Lava Tube, an Icelandic lava cave, would look like from deep inside?
Thanks to Arcane Reality, New Jersey’s first virtual reality arcade at 220 Davidson Ave. in the Somerset section of Franklin, now you can — all without ever stepping inside a plane.
At the virtual reality arcade, visitors, who must book their virtual reality experience in advance from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. any day of the week, pay $15 and have 30 minutes to explore about three to five games developed by Arcane Reality and other developers such as Valve Software and Futuretown — small-sized developers trying to take hold of virtual reality, which is budding in popularity.
Some of the other single and multiplayer games offered by Arcane Reality, which vary from competitive games to lifelike explorative experiences, are games that offer exploration of the solar system and exotic locations, archery, paintball, horror-simulation games, job simulation games and more. They have 16 suites of games, each of which houses several experiences, but the number is ever-growing as more games are developed both in-house and outside.
“The other day, I was playing a virtual reality game and I high-fived a guy in France and then we played pingpong,” said Rami Madbouly, CEO. “This is like Six Flags for your face.”
Inside the bare-bones arcade, which is inside a space rented from JuiceTank Innovation Lab, a co-working space for startups, visitors will put an HTC Vive on their face and a Subpac on their back to fully immerse themselves in their virtual reality experience. With the addition of this gear, as far as they can tell, visitors will be transported from Somerset to whatever experience they happen to be playing.
With about 120 customers so far, Madbouly said, “Ninety percent of people who have come hadn’t tried virtual reality yet and 100 percent of them were blown away. There has yet to be a person that wasn’t amazed.”
And there’s one other aspect of Arcane Reality that’s also mind-blowing — it’s run by three 2016 recipients of electrical engineering bachelor’s degrees from Rutgers University: Madbouly of Manalapan and co-founders Ali Rahimi and Hammad Ajmal, both of New Brunswick.
Also, it opened on July 30 — after Madbouly conceived the idea 15 days prior.
Madbouly, Rahimi and Ajmal created a smart necklace called ey3 in their senior design class that intelligently anchors a projection to a point and allows users to share information on a large “display” instead of a traditionally small phone screen. Rutgers offered to patent the product, but the trio turned them down in search of a better deal. Through mutual friends, they came across patent attorney and JuiceTank owner Mukesh Patel, who served as a mentor to the 21- and 22-year-old post-graduates.
Madbouly said that he was on his way to a leadership conference that would help him meet people who could assist him with patenting ey3 when he stopped inside a Microsoft store and tried on the HTC Vive headset, a virtual reality headset. Immediately, he was hooked.
“It totally blew me away,” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it and the potential I thought it had to get young kids more involved and addicted to learning, since every kid likes to play video games and many find themselves bored in school.”
However, Madbouly and his team didn’t know much about the educational system. But they did know video games. So they decided they would hone their skills in entertainment with Arcane Reality, then use what they learned to tackle their ideas on using virtual reality for education.
The next day, Madbouly bought a headset and started developing with it. Within two weeks, he had four headsets, a team of nine people and a startup company in action.
Through word of mouth and without paid advertising, Arcane Reality had 60 bookings in about three weeks. However, what that really means to Madbouly is more feedback for the virtual reality games.
Arcane Reality surveys every visitor on what they liked about their virtual reality experience, what their favorite games were and more, and then they use the information to develop their own software.
“The arcade is just to get people into the door and then tell me what they want to see,” he said. “When I was younger, I would say, ‘They should make that.’ Well, now I’m in this position where I can make something. Plus, we have this location for people to come in and talk to us.”
Now, Arcane Reality is advertising with some flyers at Rutgers, although they have received quite a bit of press from various tech magazines and websites. In the future, Madbouly sees Arcane Reality moving to the New Brunswick campus, where they can be more accessible to students without cars and serve as a respite from demanding studies, as well as a welcome activity that doesn’t involve alcohol.
“This is not only an escape from reality, it’s better than reality because all the restrictions from the real world are gone,” said Madbouly. “I can make anything in your mind look real with just the drag of a mouse. Even I don’t realize the potential of virtual reality.”
Where: 220 Davidson Ave. in Somerset; first door on your right
Cost: $15 for 30 minutes, but they are currently running a promotion where you will play for free if you bring two friends
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; reservations are required
Contact: arcanereality.com, 732-824-7248