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Escape your reality

It’s Friday afternoon and Arcadia is buzzing.

As neon flashes off the muraled walls, the air crackles with laughter, shouts, and even the occasional scream.

A dad lounges on a leather coach, grinning as he watches his son battle virtual zombies. Not far off, a young girl, decked out in a headset and rumble vest, looks to the ceiling, her mouth agape.

“Wow,” she says breathlessly, as a giant whale only she can see glides by.

The rest of the arcade’s nine virtual reality rooms are occupied by everyone from young kids to grown men, darting and ducking as they play through all manners of adventure.

Erik Madsen owns Arcadia, which is Kelowna’s newest virtual reality arcade.

Virtual reality technology has always been on the cutting-edge, but Madsen says it’s taken off in the last couple of years, and has finally reached a point where it can provide a truly immersive experience.

"Until you experience VR, you can’t understand how incredible and realistic the experience is," he says. "Trying to walk out on a plank 100 stories above the ground, for example, kicks your adrenaline in big time. We spared no expense to provide the user with state of the art equipment run by the fastest computers custom built to ensure the best possible experience for our customers."

Slipping on one of Arcadia’s headsets plunges you into a dinosaur-infested island, a dark sewer crawling with zombies, or even some of the world’s most famous museums.

With more than 60 games available, Arcadia has one of the largest libraries in the country. Madsen says it’s that selection that has made it so absolutely anyone can enjoy the VR experience.

“We’ve got something for everyone: from fast-paced shooters to something as tame as a virtual reality museum, where you get to experience great works of art like Michelangelo’s David or the Mona Lisa.” he says. “You can even get right up to the Mona Lisa without security tackling you--that in itself is pretty incredible.”

The technology also allows multiple people to join in the same game, competing against one another or exploring together. You can even be in totally different physical locations and still play together.

“People have this idea that virtual reality is just video games, like you’re sitting on a couch and not socializing, but this is completely different,” he says.

“You’re active, you’re up, you’re dodging bullets, and you’re playing with your friends. This is a very social experience.”

Arcadia has also done everything it can to make the experience as social as possible.

The virtual reality rooms are three sided, with the fourth “wall” completely taken out, so your friends can be a part of the experience, too. The rooms also fan out around a central set of comfy, leather couches, creating a communal atmosphere.

There’s even a separate party room that large groups can rent for birthdays and other functions.

“I don’t think we’ve had a single person walk away from this and be upset with the experience," Madsen says.

Right now, Arcadia is selling gift certificates, which Madsen says are perfect for gifts or other occasions. For more information on Arcadia or virtual reality, check them out online.


A Nutcracker prince returns

Another nutcracker prince is returning to Kelowna to dance in Mission Dance Centre's The Nutcracker.

One of the greatest rewards for artistic director Tanya Bakala is when a student who was home-grown at MDC goes out into the professional dance world and returns to share their talent with the next generation of new hopefuls.

This winter season, David Denton Protsack is that returning student. He's grown into a handsome young man, and will dance the role of the prince in The Nutcracker, along with the dance students of the pre-professional program.

Mission Dance has been blessed in the past years, as students like Protsack come back to partner with the young, up-and-coming ballerinas.

What a treat and wonderful experience for these teen female dancers, who have the opportunity to be partnered with a professional.

Not many teen girls have such a special chance to step into the role of Clara or the Sugarplum Fairy, and to be partnered with
professionals. But here at MDC we strive to make this dream a reality.

This year the role of Clara will be danced by Taria Soames (during the matinee) and Anna Baerg (during the eveing and school shows).

The role of the Sugarplum Fairy will be danced by Annette Bakala for the matinee, evening, and public school performances.

One of the mandates of the centre's ambitious artistic director is for Mission Dance to service the community of Kelowna by making the training and performances accessible to all who love dance.

Proceeds from the silent auction at this year's Nutcracker performances will go to the Mission Dance Centre's scholarship fund.

Protsack was a winning recipient of such a scholarship when he was training at MDC, before he went to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Bakala strives to make dance affordable whether you are a dance hopeful or an audience member.

All of the passion Bakala has for dance was ignited years ago when, believe it or not, she met the great Rudolph Nureyev backstage in Toronto, when he was performing with the National Ballet (now there was a prince in the flesh).

She saw his greatness and electrifying presence during the brief backstage meeting and has been mesmerized all her life ever since.

Holding on to that little girl's mesmerized moment, and never forgetting that one single person can emit so much beautiful and powerful energy, Bakala holds the belief that each of us has this capacity within us when we're living our passion.

Now, as a mentor to ballet students, the poised artistic director wishes for each student to experience themselves in all their grandeur of who they are, on and off stage.

It is important that each performer experiences themselves just as Rudolph Nureyev had the passion and conviction to experience himself. Each person has the capacity to make their own dreams to come true.

Upcoming Nutcracker performances are:
-Dec. 1, 12 p.m. at the public school;
-Dec. 2, 2 p.m. matinee;
-Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m. evening.

For more information on the performance, or to purchase tickets, call 250-764- 2222, or visit Mission Dance Centre online.

Could you escape this?

When Kelowna Escape Games first set up shop in Kelowna a few months ago, it was the first company to bring commercial virtual reality to the city.

But for store manager William Yau, that was just a warm-up.

Now, after months of painstaking work, Kelowna Escape Games is finally making its game-changing escape rooms available to play.

You are probably familiar with escape rooms: they’re themed rooms full of puzzles that you and a group of friends need to solve in order to escape.

Yau, whose main business is creating intricately crafted escape rooms, says it’s time to forget whatever you think you know about that experience, because Kelowna Escape Games is doing something totally unique.

When you think “escape room” you probably imagine being locked in a room trying to find a bunch of keys to open a bunch of padlocks.

But the mere concept of a padlock offends Yau.

“Padlocks are fine, but they are very limited when it comes to puzzle creation,” he says. Why would you mess around with a bunch of locks and keys, when you can build elaborate puzzles using sounds, lasers, and motion sensors?

Kelowna Escape Games is the next generation of escape room, and Yau says many of his puzzle components are hand-made, which creates the most authentic-feeling experience possible.

His The Rise of the Itzamna room, for example, plunges players into a pitch-black Mayan tomb.

As you and your friends cast the light of your lanterns down a narrow hallway, sand scraping beneath your feet, you’ll stumble across hand-carved idols and elaborate art on the walls.

Place a worn wooden statue in the exact right spot and a sharp crack echoes in the darkness, as a hidden door springs open. Cleverly redirect a beam of light, and a secret room rumbles into view.

The effects are all built right into the rooms, so there’s no interaction with the outside world required.

Yau has made this possible by equipping his escape rooms with motion and weight sensor technology--and it’s that pairing of the authentic feel and cutting-edge technology he says takes his escape rooms to an entirely new level.

“All our puzzles are really hands-on, so you get to touch and feel everything, hold objects in your hands,” Yau says. “The way we’ve paired them with our technology also lets you interact in a much more interesting way.”

His technological innovations extend beyond the puzzles themselves, to the built-in hint systems that again mean no outside help is necessary.

An iPad screen built into the room allows players to choose hints for any puzzle they’re stuck on, and even choose between a variety of hints for each, spanning from easy to hard.

Yau says he’s also passionate about his customers getting the most out of their experience, which is why he lets groups take a full hour to try and solve them.

In the end, he says, his ultimate goal is for everyone to feel good about the experience. That’s why he’s designed the rooms to have a 20-80 per cent pass rate.

So while the rooms are challenging, Yau also genuinely wants most everyone to pass them.

“Why would you pay me to spend an hour being frustrated, and end up feeling bad at the end? This is supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be a great way to hang out with friends, I want you to feel good at the end,” he says.

Right now, Kelowna Escape Games has rooms for both beginner groups, and those looking for a little more of a challenge.

He’s also in the process of putting together a Game of Thrones themed room, which he giddily explains will be complete with a full replica of the Iron Throne.

“I want my customers to be blown away by this,” he says, “They are going to be so wowed by the decoration in this room, they will already feel they’ve got their money’s worth before they start the puzzle.

For more information on Kelowna Escape Games, or to book your escape experience, check them out online.


Your own wondrous view

People can tell you about how gut-wrenchingly beautiful the view from Kirschner Mountain is; you can pour over pictures of if; or even look up at the mountain and try to imagine--but until you’ve stood at the top of Loseth Road, with the entire city twinkling below you, you really have no idea.

For a long time, a single family had the right to those views, but the last few years have seen new homes pop up atop Kirschner, letting a lucky few snag a piece of it for themselves.

Now, a handful of new lots have gone on sale, giving a brief window of opportunity to anyone who wants to be part of the community.

Allen Kirschner, the man in charge of development on the mountain, will talk for as long as you let him about how breathtaking it is to gaze out over Kelowna from a Kirschner Mountain patio.

But he’ll also tell you how, despite the quiet beauty that surrounds the community, it’s remarkably close to the conveniences of city life.

Hop in your car and you can be at the Orchard Park Shopping Centre in mere minutes. In just over 15 minutes you can make it all the way to the downtown.

Kelowna International Airport is an easy 10 minutes away, and some of the best schools in the city sit a breezy five-minute drive from Kirschner Mountain homes.

Allen also points out that very few people can make it to the slopes of Big White faster than those who live at Kirschner Mountain.

“This mountain might give you a slice of quiet, country living, but it’s still very much a part of the city,” Allen says.

“Kirschner is a microcosm of what is best about Okanagan living. Expansive views, clean water and the quiet of the countryside, with the convenience of being right in Kelowna,” he adds.

Allen is also proud of the family spirit imbued in Kirschner.

His family, the one that gave the mountain its name, has lived there for generations. That means it’s not a faceless corporation building the community there, but a family that’s invested in making sure it remains a special place.

The fourth phase of that community will soon begin to take shape, and 36 lots are available for sale right now.

Allen points out that the luxury lots are larger than most in Kelowna, and when you buy one, Kirschner gives you the freedom to choose your own builder to create your home.

For more information on becoming part of the Kirschner community, contact Allen by visiting Kirschner Mountain online.

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