Phoenix Tech Company Creates World’s First Virtual Reality City

Written by Wynter Holden Category: Culture Issue: March 2016

Courtesy TimeFire / HypatiaOnce the stuff of science-fiction movies, virtual reality is finally making its way into the real world. A company in the Netherlands recently announced the unveiling of a permanent virtual reality (VR) movie theater. Six Flags is building a virtual roller coaster, and the Oculus Rift gaming system is nearly ready for consumer rollout.

Last week, Phoenix-based TimeFire announced the arrival of the first virtual reality city: Hypatia. “Life in the city is not a game, it’s an experience,” says Timefire founder John Wise. Uninspired by the shooting aspect of most first-person games, Wise had the idea of crafting a virtual reality environment focused on art and culture. After visiting a technical conference for inspiration and sourcing funding through local investors, he came out of semi-retirement and hired a small local staff to help bring his dream environment to (virtual) life.

The result was a picturesque city modeled after the many cozy, historic burgs Wise visited during his European travels; the kind of city where visitors read Tolstoy at cozy sidewalk cafes and stroll down cobblestone streets arm-in-arm after seeing masterworks at a world-famous art museum. “When you travel, you’re not the same person anymore. You change,” Wise says. “When people go into a big city, they become curious.” Visitors to Hypatia will be able to see museums, row a boat on the canal, or read a virtual book from a bench in the park.

Courtesy TimeFire / HypatiaHow does it all work? First, you’ll need a PC with excellent graphics capability and HTC Vive (or another VR goggle and controller system) to experience Hypatia’s fully-immersive environment. The city will be free to visit, though in-game purchases such as an art gallery or virtual apartment will cost an average of $30-$50. Its ground floor will be devoted to commercial retail space – Wise imagines Papa John’s pizza delivery, for example, popping up next to a Walgreens. Imagine a modernized version of Disneyland’s Main Street, Wise says. “Walt Disney designed that to feel like you’re somewhere special.”

Users can pay for upgrades using real-world cash, or perform in-game tasks such as painting a portrait or teaching a musical theatre workshop. “The currency is creativity,” Wise explains. “You earn money in the game by creating something.” The commerce model also allows users to sell their Hypatia “real estate” at a profit, just as a New York investor might flip an apartment when the area becomes trendy.

Hypatia is expected to be available in fall or winter of 2016, just in time for the holiday rush. Visit TimeFire’s website for details and updates.