Take a trip to the 31st century at The Airlock

Did you know that it’s possible to find yourself in the 31st century by simply visiting The Airlock in Totem Square?!  The retail video gaming facility located next to Laughs Comedy Spot is the brainchild of owner Kelly Harnden.  He combined his background as an avid video gamer with his expertise in low voltage electronics to open the Pacific Northwest’s only virtual entertainment venue featuring multiplayer virtual combat in the fictional Battle Tech Universe.

The site features eight futuristic Tesla II pods that serve as fully enclosed cockpits with multiple screens, joysticks and rudder pedals.  Players control a thirty-foot tall 75 ton walking tank, known as a Battle Mech. The goal is to use the Mech’s  tons of ammo, cannons, lasers and missiles to destroy your opponents while trying to withstand their vigorous attack on you. The game is multi-layered, with the cockpit featuring over 60 buttons and controls to manage everything from coolant levels to ammunition and generators. Players choose the Mech they wish to pilot from a selection that varies in size, speed, weapons and controls.

When not duking it out with Battle Mechs, players can take a trip to Mars and play Red Planet. The game involves flying  in a futuristic armored hovercraft through the canals of Mars in a high-speed death race. The goal is to score points on a race course filled with closing doors, twisting tunnels and other obstacles. The object is to do it as fast as possible while preventing your opponents from doing the same.

Battle Tech has a rich history and a dedicated fan base. The game was introduced in 1990 by Virtual World, and only 160 pods were produced. Kelly has fond memories of countless hours of Battle Tech play at the Wizards of the Coast (of Pokemon fame) flagship gaming center on the Ave in Seattle’s U-District.  Its closure in 2001 was like a death in the family for Kelly and his fellow Battle Tech aficionados.

After putting a business plan together and securing financing, Kelly was able to purchase eight pods in Madison, WI.  He had them transported to Kirkland where he re-furbished them. The Airlock opened in January 2010, and is on track to celebrate its first year anniversary.  Kelly relies primarily on word of mouth and social networking sites to get the word out about his business. Affinity listserves at companies  like Microsoft, Nintendo and Amazon have proved to be successful  in bringing  both nostalgia types and neophytes through the doors.

Knowing no one more qualified than a 13 year-old boy to assess the coolness factor of a video game, I pressed my son Paul into service.  After watching a short training video, he entered his call sign – Ricky P. Jangles - and strapped into a pod. Kelly counted down  to the launch of the first mission, and then the mayhem ensued. Paul piloted his Vulture Mech to a first time score of eight kills. Not bad for a beginner. He completed four more missions and was able to watch an instant replay of each one on a large flat screen T.V. while reclining with his opponents on a comfy leather couch. He found the other players to be friendly (at least after the battles) and happy to provide tips and tricks on how to play the game more effectively. Paul found Battle Tech to be very cool and engrossing. A return visit with his buddies is already on the calendar.

Kelly knows that most retail sales are made after 4:00 p.m. The Airlock is open Monday – Saturday from 4:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. (or longer if the mood is right). Missions last about 10 minutes with an equal amount of time devoted to instant replay. Prices are per mission and are based on a sliding scale. Paul’s five missions cost $20, and provided him with a couple of hours of adrenaline pumping excitement.  More information can be found at www.the-airlock.com.

The Airlock 12093 124th Ave NE Kirkland, WA 98034 (425) 823-9999

[box]Duncan Milloy is the author of a new column for Kirkland Views which focuses on local businesses.[/box]