Would you like to escape into another reality with your coffee, Ma’am?
Cafe Thuc Te Ao in Binh Thanh District (8 Hoang Hoa Tham, Binh Thanh) has been open for two years. Impressively, the cafe’s owner, Nguyen Quoc Khanh, is only 23 years old. With a background in event technology, he integrated his experience in tech and his passion for gaming in the opening of the café: “I love VR. I love technology. I love coffee.”
The distinguishing feature of the place is a large carpeted stage dominating one end of the room. Bordered by large windows on two sides and a mirror on the third, the platform serves as the focal point and main attraction. It’s here that customers can put on a headset, grab controllers and be transported to the realm of virtual reality gaming.
Virtual reality gaming is a unique experience where the player is able to enter into and interact with a threedimensional space. The equipment includes a tethered headset that connects to a PC as well as two controllers that loop around the wrists. VR games range from classic adventure and puzzle games to new challenges that come alive in three dimensions: Explore space, oceans, racing, painting, escape rooms and more.
There are several gaming options at Café Thuc Te Ao. Customers interested in VR have their choice of two different VR systems: the HTC Vive (retailing at USD600) and the Oculus Rift (retailing at USD400). There are also two PlayStations and wireless VR headsets compatible with any iPhone or Android smartphone. With over 700 games to choose from, including the latest and top-rated in VR gaming, repeat customers always having something new to play. Most importantly, the use of the all systems is free as long as you buy a drink.
Khanh’s love for tech is evident in the café’s decor. There are large collages of Google and Windows icons as well as a giant clock with pictures of different VR games in place of numbers. A friendly barista offers a menu of coffee, juice, smoothies and snacks.
During our late morning interview, the café is quiet except for two men with laptops and paperwork spread across one of the tables. As we talked, school ended for the morning and high school students trickled in and ordered drinks. Most patrons are students and developers, and their peak hours are 6pm to 9pm when school and work have finished for the day. “It makes me so happy when I see the customers play,” says Khanh.
As we talked, a few students stepped onto the platform. The barista, who doubles as the game guide, ventured out from behind the counter to assist. The first gamer donned the HTC Vive tethered headset, grabbed controllers and was soon shooting a laser gun and avoiding meteors in Space War. His friends sat and stood around the platform watching the monitor and yelling encouragement.
Khanh offers me a VR headset for use with a smartphone. “These are 3D,” he says as he pulls out his cellphone and opens YouTube. A quick search of ‘Video 3D sbs’ produced endless options for 3D videos. He chooses one of a snake, places his phone inside the headset and snaps it shut. He handes it across the table and I slip it over my head. My vision is now filled with a jungle scene with a large snake hanging from a tree branch swaying back and forth before lunging towards me. Other YouTube searches produce videos of animals, rollercoasters, skydiving, zombies and more.
When I ask Khanh about his competition, he shakes his head. The only other venue in Ho Chi Minh City offering VR gaming is a pay-to-play establishment that lacks the atmosphere and food and drink options of a coffee shop. The casual and friendly vibe at his café welcomes even the most novice of gamers to learn about VR technology, watch others play, and try their luck at a new three-dimensional adventure.
“This is my favorite game,” says Khanh motioning to the stage, “Fruit Ninja.”
A teenage boy leaps around the platform swinging his arm wildly through the air. His friends laughs as watermelons and pineapples are sliced open on the screen. Having seen this game played on cellphones and tablets, it was both familiar and exciting to see it played on a VR platform. Customers throughout the cafe turn to watch the player as he whips his ‘sword’ back and forth.
Khanh has big plans for the future, hoping to expand to seven different locations and bring his unique café-forgamers all over Saigon.
Images Provided by Nguyen Quoc Khanh