Velocity Games is a universe unto itself, a dark chamber echoing with the sounds of cars, weapons and the cheers of video game players. They perch on large leather sofas under black lights that illuminate their white clothing, likening them to characters from the movie Tron. And appropriately so: Tron is about a young man who enters his computer and inhabits a video game world. This is the experience Velocity's owners are shooting for.
The video games here are not the big upright boxes found at old-school arcades. Instead, the popular home systems -- PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, Dreamcast and Nintendo 64 -- flash on 60-inch screens with stereo sound. Each gaming station is named after a movie or a celebrity, like Driven, Fight Club, Michael Jordan or Bruce Lee.
"I've got a TV in between each match," explains owner Taft McWhorter. Big-screen TVs are staggered throughout the arcade, situated so no team can spy on its opponent to observe or compare strategy -- here, a veritable crime.
McWhorter and co-owner Matt Wood, video game lovers themselves, decided to bring games meant for home consumption into a public arena after realizing that the typical arcade will soon go the way of the dinosaur. At home, they had mastered their favorite games. But the pair wondered just how good they really were.
They opened Velocity Games in October 2001. Now several leagues compete against one another here, vying for cash prizes. In its first year, the arcade hosted a tournament for the popular video game Halo, in which players try to save the world from a menacing alien race. This year, there will be a national Halo season in arcades across the country. One of eight regional tournaments will be held here, and enthusiasts from across Texas will converge to compete.
Official tournaments aren't the only draw. People who could stay home and play games come to Velocity for the huge screens and the challenge of competing against an entire roomful of players. "We have four TVs linked up on an Xbox," says McWhorter. "Sixteen people can play at one time at one game."
Kids make up a large part of the Velocity clientele; in fact, the place opens early on school holidays. But adults play here, too. According to McWhorter, the average customer is around age 25. Older players are especially fond of sports games, like the football game Madden. And when they rent the place for private events, like bachelor parties, they can bring their own booze.
Velocity has also become a popular kids' birthday party destination. On such occasions, McWhorter knows just how to entertain the mothers: by offering them a chance to play. "They'll usually say, 'No thanks, I'm not into video games,' " he says, "until I sit them down at a station with Ms. Pac-Man. Then they're in front of the TV the rest of the time."