Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Engineering professor brings VR gaming to the crossroads

Picture this: you’re standing in a desert as a zombie runs towards you with no intention of stopping. He’s almost caught you, nearly killing you, but disappears as you hear bullets hitting his chest.
You’ve just shot the zombie before he could catch you, narrowly avoiding your death.

This isn’t a dream. It’s a game at FlipSwitch VR, played with the full-immersion gaming experience known as virtual reality, or VR. And thanks to a UMKC engineering professor and his son, it could also be the way you spend your next Friday night with friends.

Jim Mahoney, adjunct professor and former Honeywell engineer, started FlipSwitch VR with his son Jamie Mahoney, an architectural engineer. The gaming company combines the duo’s decades of experience in the engineering field with the youthful, fun world of VR gaming. It officially opened in the Crossroads Arts District in December 2018.

Mahoney describes the VR experience at FlipSwitch as “right on the edge of virtual reality and augmented reality” due to its free-roam and 4D gameplay environment.

For Mahoney, running the company is all about fun, cutting-edge technology. He says he wanted to create a place where people “can get up and move around” while gaming, along with a good community.
The process took almost two years of building hardware and developing their own games.

FlipSwitch VR currently offers two different games to choose from: Arizona Sunshine, a zombie apocalypse-style game, and Skeleton Crew, a skeleton-themed pirate ship game. Players are free to move around the room as they experience the story.

VR requires a “choreography” of gaming hardware and software, says Mahoney. Along with the software, sophisticated computers and high-end headsets, Mahoney and his son also chose to create their own 3D-printed batteries and air cannons, among other technology.

The air cannons, included in the Skeleton Crew game, combine the VR experience with 4D effects. When players reach a ship’s cannon mid-game, a real-life cannon “bomb” of air hits their faces.

Mahoney reports that advancements like these are helping to make the VR experience feel even more genuine and augmented to players.

“Once you’re in, you’re in,” says Mahoney of the gameplay. “You’re in that environment and forget everything beyond you.”

This gives players the chance to feel like they’re really living out the game, without any concern for the world outside their headsets.

The company recently offered a winter tournament, in which teams could experience more playtime and battle it out over four days to see who would land on top. Mahoney reported that the tournament was a success, with 50-75 teams of three players participating.

After trying a demo of the Arizona Sunshine game, I can personally attest to the level of how real the VR at FlipSwitch truly feels. Players can fight off waves of zombies, or become a pirate that battles skeletons and rides aboard ships. As Mahoney put it: once you’re in, you’re in.

Games at FlipSwitch VR are played for an hour with up to three players per game. Peak hours cost $30 per ticket, and the weekday rate is $25 per ticket. Remote events for large parties and companies are also offered.

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