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New Vegas attraction lets you become a player in a video game world

Updated July 1, 2024 - 1:35 pm

A joystick with a pulse, that’s what we’ve become.

An orb of light shoots our way, heading toward our toes.

Kick it!

Contact made, it rockets back in the other direction, where a team of four returns fire.

Back and forth it goes as we volley the pulsating sphere, trying to boot it past each other in order to score a goal.

It’s a Friday afternoon, and we’re engaged in a quick session of “Light Hockey.”

The game — which is kind of like playing air hockey while standing atop the table; also, you’re in cyberspace — is one of dozens featured here at the Electric Playhouse, a high-tech new attraction at the Forum Shops at Caesars, where nearly every surface pulses with visuals so brightly colored and enveloping, it feels like our eyeballs have been swallowed by a herd of hungry rainbows.

The 10,000-square-foot venue, which bills itself as “a social gaming destination,” is designed to be a bridge between digital and physical realms, one that poses the question: Instead of merely playing a video game, wouldn’t it be more fun to inhabit one?

“You can get lost in a video game — they’re just so immersive,” notes Brandon Garrett, Electric Playhouse’s CEO and co-founder. “And so to me, as a parent, what better way to convince my kids to get off an iPad or off the screen than to say, ‘Why don’t we just literally, physically step into that world?’ ”

An ‘infinite amount’ of experiences

Think of it as a VR experience without the goofy headset.

That’s kind of what it feels like navigating the Electric Playhouse, which is posited on state-of-the-art body-mapping technology utilizing around 110 projectors and 50 sensors throughout the venue.

“What we’ve done is installed a series of sensors throughout the entire facility that basically tracks your motion and creates what we call a point cloud,” Garrett explains. “It’s basically an avatar of yourself. And so you become a player in a video game world.”

As you move through the place, the walls, floors and tables react to your movements with 360-degree projection-mapping following your every step.

“I’ve been wandering all over the Strip, seeing a bunch of pre-rendered content,” notes Luke Balaoro, Electric Playhouse’s senior software architect and co-founder. “What’s really cool — and what differentiates us — is our real-time rendering. We’re taking in a lot of sensor data, we’re processing it, and we’re making it react to people, making games out of it.”

The gaming layout is divided among numerous “pods,” designed for one to two players who can choose from around 12 different games that range from “Crystalius,” where alien spaceships are targeted, to “Paint Pong,” where you create your own artwork.

Then there’s the larger arena area, where we play “Light Hockey,” and which can accommodate around two dozen players.

Guests pay by the hour and have access to all the games, which are created in-house in order to maintain a fresh, ever-growing selection.

“We build everything,” Garrett says. “And so, as we’re adding to the library, every time you come back it could be a completely different experience. It’s one physical footprint, but almost an infinite amount of experiences that we can pack into this facility.”

From New Mexico to new digs

The tables and walls flutter with butterflies, swarm with cartoon bugs and pulse with ocean waves, as if we’re plunging through some aquatic depths in the desert, somehow.

We’re in one of three party rooms at the Electric Playhouse, which are designed to host everything from birthday celebrations to corporate events to ticketed dining experiences (the Electric Playhouse’s culinary program is set to debut this summer).

“The magic here is the tabletop itself is actually interactive,” Garrett explains with a swoop of the hand, making the aforementioned bugs scatter.

This is the Electric Playhouse’s second location, having been launched in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in early 2020, just six weeks before the pandemic hit.

“For us, Vegas just made sense,” Garrett says of the company’s westward expansion, “because we’re trying to build our own brand, and what better place to do that than the world stage in Vegas?”

There are some unique-to-the-market flourishes here, namely an outdoor balcony offering killer views of the Strip and a new twist on an old staple: the Vegas wedding.

“We see huge opportunity for weddings within this space,” Garrett says. “You want to get married in the clouds or some total fantasy thing and make it a true destination?”

In the meantime, there are more games to build, more “Light Hockey” goals to be scored.

“There’s just so many ways we can kind of continue to bridge this physical/digital realm,” Garrett says. “I feel like a kid in a candy store every day. I mean, we’re constantly like, ‘Oh, my God, we can do that?’”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @jbracelin76 on Instagram.

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