Virtual Reality

Keegan Francis wants Halifax to experience virtual reality

A second virtual reality business is expected to open in the city

Keegan Francis shoots a bow and arrow, defending his castle in virtual reality.
Keegan Francis shoots a bow and arrow to defend his castle in a virtual reality scenario.   Erin McIntosh

With underwater shipwrecks, mountain top views and arcade style games, Keegan Francis is bringing virtual reality to the people of Halifax.

Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that puts a user in an interactive, three-dimensional computer generated environment.

Two weeks ago, Francis hosted his first VR event at Blue Apples Wellness Centre and Café, on Blowers Street. He plans to continue hosting events there every Sunday until he officially launches his business in February.

“This business is something I believe in,” he says. “Technology is important; it helps us expand our minds in terms of what is possible.”

Francis, 23, was born and raised in Truro, N.S. He went to Acadia University for computer science where he specialized in web development. He currently works as a lead web developer for a tech company in Halifax.

After learning more about VR this summer, Francis decided to build a business and purchased $3,000 worth of equipment.

How it works

Francis has about 40 different experiences and three packages to chose from: travel, therapeutic/art and gaming. He wants to focus more on the therapeutic and artistic side of virtual reality, as opposed to the gaming side.

The experiences come from an online store called Steam. Web developers and designers upload their experiences or games onto the site for people to download or buy them. Those experiences are then streamed onto the VR machine. Eventually, Francis plans to develop his own games and experiences.

Inside the headset, your body becomes invisible.
Inside the headset, your body becomes invisible.   Erin McIntosh

Francis plans for his business to be mobile, meaning he can set it up anywhere. He also wants to have a space for walk-in customers.

“If we can get people actually using it (and it has) a 100 per cent success rate, you won’t not enjoy it,” Francis says. “It’s just a matter of spreading the word and getting people motivated.”

VR in Halifax

There is one other VR business in the area now. The Halifax VR Room, owned and run by partners Danny Baldwin and Shawn Green, opened in October.

Baldwin is excited that another VR experience is coming to Halifax. He wants to get as many people trying the software as possible.

“Our whole goal is to get exposure out there, for people to try it,” Baldwin says.

He predicts that within five to 10 years, everyone will own a VR machine and it will be as common as a laptop.

“If you can experience a movie in VR, why would you ever want to watch it on a flat screen?” says Baldwin.

Daniel Wiseman, co-owner and herbalist at Blue Apples Wellness Centre and Cafe, is interested in seeing how Francis’s VR experiences will go beyond gaming.

Wiseman says having Francis at Blue Apples will “help curb more interest for therapy and artwork.” He says the collaboration between a gaming concept and a wholistic wellness centre will “marry quite well.”

Francis and Wiseman agree there must be a balance in using the technology, with Francis suggesting a 20 to 30 minute time limit for each session.

“I don’t condone spending all your time in virtual reality; it’s probably bad for your brain and bad for your eyes and fairly anti-social of you to do,” Francis says.

Francis is hosting his second VR event at Blue Apples Wellness Centre and Cafe from 10 a.m to 5 p.m.  on Sunday.

Keegan Francis holds his HTC vive headset, which is what you wear to enter VR.
Keegan Francis holds his HTC vive headset, which is what a person wears to enter a VR experience.   Erin McIntosh