By Susan Morse
Hampton Union, Friday, March 3, 2006
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Photo by Jackie Ricciardi]
Walking into the video game haven Holodek Gaming Inc. in Hampton is like suddenly being transported onto the futuristic bridge of the starship Enterprise.
At least to this baby boomer who has the added strike against her of being a woman.
Ninety-five percent of the clientele are men, young men, who pay $6 an hour to combat evil, race cars or go on quests. Often they play against each other in front of separate video screens and even in different dark rooms, from behind a desk, a leather couch, or from a bar countertop (no alcohol is served).
There's PC- and Mac-based computer games, PlayStation 2s and Xbox 360s, in five rooms designed to feel like home.
When the players get tired, they can click on the screen menu and order pizza and soda, delivered.
It is a video geek's dream if they ever did see one.
Holodek is built to immerse the player in the video world, much as its namesake, the holodeck aboard the USS Enterprise, transformed a plain white room into a garden, or an interactive setting complete with characters from a favorite book.
It is an amazing concept, one still being tested by its owners, before being franchised across the country.
Even more impressive is what goes on behind the curtain of an off-limits room the size of an airplane hangar. Here are the workings of the gaming business, which began and continues to function as a robotics company.
Grabbing attention right away is a massive video screen, or more correctly three screens, wrapped in U-shape around a robotics chair. Each white panel looks the size of the smaller movie screens now standard at cineplexes.
[Photo by Jackie Ricciardi]
The chair seat is an estimated five-to-six feet off the floor, on a large spring-like looking arm atop a rolling platform. "Rotopod" is the name for this invention that can throw its occupant forward, backward and sideways at 30-degree angles.
On the screen is a flight simulator. Even outside of the chair, it is easy to get the feeling of being in the air. The screen shifts, and we are diving as surely as if inside a real cockpit.
The patented Rotopod is still being designed and tested for game use. It was originally developed for Parallel Robotic Systems.
"Everything out there came from this idea," said employee Torrey McPheters. "Instantly we got something someone else doesn't have."
During the past three years, the owners have blended robotics and gaming in Hampton. The company started up in the early 1990s at Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth.
Holodek Gaming Inc. employs 30 people, with eight to 10 of these part-time.
McPheters is "vice president of fun," a deceiving title for someone who clearly does more than manage a game room. It's the kind of name aliens would give one of their own to disguise the scientific experiments they're conducting in out-of-way places on Earth.
It's easy at Holodek to let the imagination get carried away.
Yet, for a business open to the public, Holodek is very out of the way. It exists in the plainest of buildings on Merrill Industrial Drive.
The company owners wanted to test Holodek in a place that wouldn't get much notice,McPheters said.
"When you think of Hampton in the winter," he said, "it's not a place to do this, at a dead-end street in an industrial park. If we can make this work in Hampton in the winter, with no advertising ..."
Most of those playing the video games at Holodek found the business through word of mouth.
Fred Gillis, 24, of Seabrook, likes the dim lights and the big screens. He comes by every two weeks or so.
"I spend a lot of hours here, about 10 a week," said Paul Heywood, 24, who lives a mile down the road in Hampton.
People here are known by their screen names: Steve Keeper; Devine Pain.T
he goal is to fine-tune what customers want and then expand, McPheters said.
To make parents comfortable, there's classical music on the speakers and the screen savers display artwork.
Videos are marked "E for Everyone" or for teen or mature audiences, but there are no adult video games, meaning none with sexual content, McPheters said.
Parents may request a block on the teen and mature videos for their children.
Beyond the video game market, there is a private room with a large screen that may be used for private movie viewing.
Holodek may be rented for corporate functions, with the company logo blasted on every video screen in each room, except for the large screens showing the PowerPoint presentation.
There's a lounge area for private parties.
"The idea is to give people a lot of room, to make them comfortable," McPheters said.
Get in the game:
Holodek is open seven days a week, from 2 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and noon to midnight on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Holodek is located on Merrill Industrial Drive off Towle Farm Road in Hampton.