By Morgan Bryce
How would it feel to throw the game-winning pass in a Super Bowl? Explore Mars? Or run away from a horde of blood-thirsty zombies? All of these scenarios and more can be answered at a new Opelika business, Envision VR.
Envision founder and owner Garrison Snelling, who is a computer engineer and web application specialist, experienced virtual reality for the first time earlier this year.
“One of my coworkers … brought the headset in and let me try it on, and I was hooked … I’m somebody that comes up with ideas all the time … and the idea of opening up a virtual reality shop of sorts came to me pretty quickly,” Snelling said.
Virtual reality gaming is different from others in that it allows one to experience a game firsthand. Equipped with a headset and nunchucks, players enter another world entirely their own, and are able to interact and react in games from a first-person perspective.
Over the course of a few months and with help from his fiancé Abby Windham, Snelling was able to develop a solid business plan, and began working on his idea in early August.
The next step in the process was selecting a physical location for his shop, and after several weeks of searching in Auburn and Opelika, he chose to rent the building located at 109 S 8th St., the former home of Music Town Records.
“I looked at a lot of places, but all along, I wanted to end up in downtown Opelika, because I like this area a lot,” Snelling said.
Since early November, Snelling, Windham and business partner and friend David Tice have been renovating the space, preparing for their Jan. 5 opening. One of the most crucial and challenging aspects of bringing Envision together is the actual vision for what it would look like, as it is one of five virtual reality arcades in the country, and first in the Southeast.
“I went to visit New York the first week in August, and missed the opportunity to visit the virtual reality arcade they have, which I think would have helped me prepare a little bit better … I’m just kinda winging it so far,” Snelling said.
Envision will possess, Snelling said, a ‘retro-futuristic’ quality, featuring not only the virtual reality gaming system, but retro gaming stations featuring games found on old Nintendo 64, SEGA Genesis and Gameboy systems.
“I want this to be a place where people come and spend a lot of time … and it’s going to be a place for people of all ages. We’re going to start out pinpointing our target group, 16-24 year olds, but once you get that demographic, parents will start coming too, and those older games, I think, will have some appeal to them,” Snelling said.
In addition, there will be a drink station, as well as a study and hangout area, and will sell gaming accessories like adaptors for older gaming systems.
Since mid-November, Snelling, Windham and Tice have hosted a couple of demonstration parties, which according to Snelling, have generated quite a bit of buzz.
“We had a grand opening/demonstration party of sorts back on Nov. 17, and we knew that a handful of people we knew were coming … but we ended up having more than 50 people we didn’t know come in and try out the VR stuff and ask about memberships and all,” Snelling said. “So that’s exciting, knowing that we have the potential to do good here in Opelika.”
Windham said the turnout and chance to familiarize themselves with Opelika during Envision’s preparatory stages has been enjoyable.
“It’s been a lot of fun … we hang out at Sidetrack (Coffee) a lot, so experiencing the community feel of Opelika has been great,” Windham said.
Snelling said they are still working out final details for prices and shop memberships, but the store’s hours will be Monday – Friday 11 a.m. to 11 pm., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 11 p.m. For more information, find the business on Instagram.