A new business in downtown Modesto has taken the experience of playing combat video games such as "Call of Duty: Black Ops" and "Halo" out of the living room and into the basement.
In the 10,000-square-foot subterranean level of World Extreme, a maze of corrugated metal storage rooms serves as a battleground for players of next-generation laser tag. Under black light, combatants toting guns modeled after military weaponry make their way along corridors painted with fluorescent graffiti. Dramatic musical scores right out of video games mask sounds of "enemy" footsteps, heightening the tension as players cautiously pass doorways and turn corners.
It's a pretty intense place.
Owned by a group of investors, World Extreme officially opened for business Feb. 8, though it had a soft opening a couple of weeks ago. Test groups of laser-tag players have provided feedback as the gaming venue has geared up.
World Extreme is at 10th and M streets in the old May Transfer & Storage building that's more recently been home to the businesses DocuStor and A-1 U-Stor Business Center and Self Storage. In a world that's rapidly going more and more paperless, the owners decided "it was the right time to get out of document storage," said World Extreme General Manager Ryan Roth, a Calvary Temple High School alum who graduated pre-med from the University of California at Berkeley in 2005 and just finished law school.
The basement storage units were ideal for creating the laser-tag arena, he said. Narrow cutouts were added to some walls, for players to spy and shoot through, and rolling doors allow employees to change the playing area, even while a game is in progress.
Laser tag is the first element of World Extreme to be rolled out. The building's three other floors, each 9,000 square feet, ultimately will have several more attractions, said Manager Joseph Byous, a 2008 Downey High grad who graduated last spring from Wesleyan University in Connecticut with a degree in mathematical economics. One floor will be an indoor skate park with rails, a bowl ramp and other features. There also will be a skate shop.
Rock climbing planned
There will be interior and exterior climbing walls, and the investors like the idea of having an outdoor ropes course, Byous said. Those outdoor features would be on the side of the building that faces its parking lot.
Plans for the interior include a lounge and bar filled with Xboxes and other gaming systems for free play, along with old-school arcade games such as Pac-Man. A dining area will have daily catering, Byous said. "We're working on a deal with Mountain Mike's to provide pizza that would sell by the slice."
But right now, the draw is laser tag, and the guys at World Extreme are pretty stoked about what they have to offer. The equipment offered to most laser-tag operations has been about the same for 15 years, Roth said, but the state-of-the-art guns at World Extreme look like the ones video gamers are used to based on the M4, MP5 and AK-47. They boast military-grade laser sighting.
There are no bulky vests to wear; players don headbands with sensors that have adjustable sensitivity. Novice players and-or smaller targets, such as kids, can have the sensors pick up a broader range. Higher-level players will prefer a narrower, more challenging "kill" zone.
"It's like playing 'Call of Duty,' 'Halo,' 'Black Ops,' " Byous said. "These games are making more money than movies are, and this is a way of getting off the couch and playing here instead of at home."
"You see people come out huffing and puffing" after playing, Roth added. "There's not supposed to be any running, but people get into it," he said, smiling.
World Extreme's laser tag offers several game modes, including free for all and team combat. Team games include capture the flag and king of the hill and employ devices such as the "briefcase bomb." In the latter, one team plants a light-and-sound "bomb," then the other must find and deactivate it.
"Yesterday was the first day we used the briefcase bomb," Roth said Saturday, "and people went nuts, they couldn't get enough of it."
One of the other games uses a lighted cube that has a button for each team. When a team finds and activates it, the cube starts racking up points until the other team comes along and pushes its button, which halts the opponents' scoring and begins its own. Back and forth it goes, and whichever team ends up with the most points wins.
In addition to its open gaming sessions, World Extreme plans to offer private leagues, advanced-player nights and, for middle schools and high schools, intramural teams. The company is using social media, word of mouth and old-school methods windshield fliers at Vintage Faire Mall and in school parking lots during basketball games to promote itself.
SWAT team joining the fun
It appears to be working. Roth said upcoming events include a party of more than 100 people from a Moms of Preschoolers group in March and a March Madness tournament. He said Modesto police SWAT team members plan to train in the playing area over eight days in March and April.
With all the business plans to offer, there will be nothing else like it under one roof in Modesto, Roth said.
"Not everyone wants to go drink or go to the movies, and there's not much else to do downtown" for entertainment, he said. Parents can drop their kids off in a safe place to play, then go enjoy a meal out.
Blia Vang, 26, was a return customer at World Extreme on Saturday. The petite Modestan isn't a video gamer, or a paintball player, or anyone you'd automatically assume would be at a laser-tag venue. She had played one time, about five years ago. But she learned about World Extreme from Facebook and friends, and gave it a shot.
"I loved it it's really fun. And I didn't think I'd enjoy it," she said. Her first time at the downtown arena, she got "killed" within two minutes and didn't shoot anyone else.
Saturday, Vang fared a bit better. But whether hunter or hunted, she was having a good time. "I like the adrenaline rush," she said after playing. "The actual feeling of going in there and trying to find people gives you a rush."
Was she jittery, worrying about who might have her in the cross hairs? "It didn't even cross my mind," she said, laughing. "It's just go in, find somebody and shoot them."