Sandbox VR Lets You Fight Zombies, Alien Bugs, Pirates
Virtual reality gaming facility is fully open after pandemic closure
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Photo by Roland Lizarondo
Sandbox VR opened shortly before the pandemic hit and has now fully reopened. Located in Mission Valley Shopping Center, the virtual reality (VR) gaming facility allows groups of up to six players fight zombies, alien bugs or each other.
Not all businesses love to hear their clients screaming. But Sandbox VR does.
"The screaming is basically our customers enjoying themselves to their fullest," explained Jordan Ewing, manager at Sandbox VR in Mission Valley.
The sounds of kids screaming and laughing filled the lobby and when the group of young boys emerged they gave the facility a round of applause.
Sandbox, which launched in 2017 in Hong Kong, is a fully immersive virtual reality experience that offers five different VR experiences: Amber Sky, Deadwood Mansion, Curse of Davy Jones, Star Trek and UFL, a fighting game.
Ewing said his personal preference was for Deadwood Mansion but that "I am warming up to Amber Sky, there's something about bugs swarming me and having to shoot them, that really gets my blood pumping."
I decided to bring a group of friends down to check out the VR experience. If you are going to fight zombies, you definitely want to bring a bunch of friends along. Personally, I cannot describe myself as a gamer. I have played a couple Xbox games and did the Star Wars VR experience by Disneyland but I have been known to shoot my own teammates.
Our group considered the alien bugs of Amber Sky but opted for the zombies of Deadwood Mansion. We dubbed ourselves Team Romero (in honor of the father of the modern zombie film) and geared up to battle zombies with the help of the Sandbox team.
The first thing you do is check in at the lobby kiosk where you can watch trailers of the various games if you arrive undecided about which experience you want. Rates are $40 a player Monday through Thursday and go up a couple dollars a player Friday through Sunday. Each gaming group can be up to six players and the experience lasts about an hour.
After checking in you get funny looking "trackers" that allow the game to see your movements. Two for your wrists and two for your ankles. You will be asked to pick team and player names so be prepared. I took the name Bub, in honor of the first self-aware zombie in George A. Romero's "Day of the Dead." Then you enter the gaming room.
Ewing described the green screen room we were entering where the game play would take place.
"This is Room One. Each one of these rooms look exactly like this one maybe a slightly different configuration," Ewing said. "We do have the backpacks over there and the backpacks is what powers the experience. And then we also have the haptic vests, the haptic vest is what's going to allow you to feel that in-game damage. So if your friend is shooting you or if a villain’s shooting, or a zombie is like hitting and you in your face. That's what you're going to feel."
It initially feels like a lot of gear to put on but you quickly get used to it.
Blanca Osorio was one of our group's screamers.
"We got to shoot zombies and rats, lots of rats. I screamed a lot. My throat even hurts," Osorio said.
Osorio killed more rats than zombies.
"I was the exterminator of the group because rats freak me out and they were coming toward me and I was just like no!" she added.
Her husband, Jose Iturriaga, was also on Team Romero.
"It's crazy how you actually get into the horror feel and you actually get, like, freaked out about things that are coming at you," Iturriaga said.
Vivianna Grondahl is an experienced gamer but usually just plays at home on a computer with a keyboard and mouse.
"This was my first fully immersive VR experience where I got to play with other players and see other players," Grondahl said. "And that part was so much better than just an alone experience with VR, just being aware of your surroundings and your teammates and being able to heal each other. That was hilarious."
Yes, we died a lot but a touch on the shoulder could revive a player and there was a lot of yelling to "touch my shoulder."
Gavin Bowles was trying virtual reality gaming for the first time: "It was intense. It was very immersive. Very realistic and it made my heart pound."
As a concept artist, Iturriaga appreciated the game’s design: "The environment is so well done that you feel like you're in it."
Grondahl agreed: "It was very immersive — the music, the sounds, the visuals, everything was just spot on. It was pretty scary. It was a lot of fun. Very interactive. You get equipped with a haptic responsive vest so when something's touching you or attacking you, you're feeling it. So it is completely immersive."
"It's cool because you get a 360 view," Osorio added. "So it's like you're really in that place. I like the fact that the zombies came out from different places, you have to be on your feet the whole time, like looking out. They come from the ceiling. It's fun. They give you a gun, so you get to shoot at stuff."
Grondahl, like Osorio, opted for the two guns: "Because it reminded me of a 'Final Fantasy' character that I love and I figured I could have a little bit more blast radius if I had two hands to shoot with than just one."
The game starts slow.
"But once it gets going and they explain everything to you and you get everything all geared up, it's very fast paced," Bowles said.
"It starts off like a pretty manageable level," Grondahl said. "And it's quickly picks up pace. You start getting more enemies, different mechanics. So you kind of have to figure out what's going on around you and be aware of everything around you. So it goes by pretty quickly, escalates quickly."
Perhaps the best part of the experience was the video of gameplay that Sandbox provides.
"That video was so funny because you're equipped with all of your gear and you're seeing things that you think you look pretty badass and then you watch yourself and you’re kind of flailing around," Grondahl said.
Iturriage, also known as Bats, was the team's MVP.
"I was pleasantly surprised about that because I did die a few times, but yeah, I guess that shotgun proved handy," Iturriaga said.
Kudos to Team Romero for fighting off most of the zombies. For full disclosure, I brought up the rear in scoring but did amass quite a few zombie kills.
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