Neon lights, music, sound effects, and laughter are what greet people entering CyberZone. Occupying what used to be an abandoned grocery store in downtown Opelika, CyberZone Arcade and Laser Tag serve as a hub for anyone wanting to scratch that arcade itch.
CyberZone features all the most modern arcade games, including Doodle Jump, The Walking Dead and Giant Tetris, to standards like ski-ball, air hockey and arcade basketball. They even have a separate room which has classic arcade games like Street Fighter II, Galaga, and Rampage.
Open since June 2013 in Opelika, CyberZone is a corporation of arcades that originally started in Tennessee in 2005.
“We moved to the area in 2009 and basically looked for a few years for a location," director Simon Bak said. "We weren’t sure whether we were going to go with Auburn or Opelika, with it being a dual city. We finally found this location. It used to be a grocery store and it had the square footage we needed."
When asked about what prompted him and his partners to start an arcade business, Bak said, “I was a Disney cast member for eight years, and I went to college in Orlando at UCF. Working at Disney, I got to be an Imagineers intern working on Space Mountain. Space Mountain used to have a giant arcade, Starcade Arcade, and people would go crazy in there. I mean you’re in Walt Disney World, but you’re playing Daytona USA. I realized that these small square footage machines are quite magical. It immerses you in an environment.”
His love for arcades dates to his own childhood.
“I grew up in the '80s and arcades were a dime a dozen when I was younger," Bak said. "It all comes from there.”
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Most gaming today is done at home on either a personal computer or a home console, but Bak said there is something unique about the arcade experience.
“You kind of lean into the cabinet and you’re kind of enclosed in this area," Bak said. "It doesn’t feel the same on the computer. It’s something about the sound and everything around you. The games are more immersive.”
Bak also mentioned how in today’s world, players want something more quickly.
“Redemption style games [are] a big deal, where you win tickets to get prizes," Bak said. "People are looking for a quick swipe the card, hit a button and something happens. A lot of these games are designed for very quick, spontaneous rewards.”
The classic game section, or Retrocade, is tucked off into the right area of the building. It's a room that sees a lot of traffic from classic game enthusiasts and parents wanting to revel in the nostalgia of games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.
This section is often curated to maximize the value of trends. Thanks to Dwayne Johnson’s new film adaptation of the video game Rampage and other nostalgia-heavy titles like Ready Player One hitting theaters this year, there’s been a large upswing in interest in these classic titles, according to Bak.
“You see seven-year-olds playing Rampage and you think, ‘Man, that’s a game from 1983,’" Bak said. "I think this new era of retro-type of nostalgia is coming back. We’re hitting the nostalgia buttons on people. It can be fuller than the main room on weekends. It’s all still 25 cents.”
The other main service provided by CyberZone is laser tag. Featuring two teams all equipped with laser rifles, the games can be set up in a variety of ways that mirror many modern first-person shooters like Call of Duty and Halo.
“It’s 6,200 square feet of actual play area, which is huge for a laser tag," Bak said. "Most laser tags are half that size. It’s always been a major component for us."
While the entire package itself seems fitting for both parents and children, Bak said it’s also a great destination for college students.
"We didn’t know this was going to happen, but we became a date destination," Bak said. "We don’t sell alcohol, so we get a lot of college students who want to get away from the bar scene. A lot are really interested in retro tech who will just hang out in the Retrocade.”
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