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Childhood memories get an extra life at Okotoks arcade

Opening in early January, Retro Oasis Escape Rooms and Arcade brings back the childhood games of multiple generations.
Steve and Gina Smith stand in their arcade, Retro Oasis Escape Rooms and Arcade, on Jan. 11.

An entrepreneurial couple is levelling up its love of classic arcade games.

Opening Retro Oasis Escape Rooms and Arcade in early January on Stockton Avenue in Okotoks, Steve and Gina Smith have taken the pursuits they’ve loved for years into a new business.

“We can hopefully give people that experience we had as kids, that sense of wonder and excitement,” said Steve.

His pride and joy is a vintage Gauntlet arcade cabinet, and, over the years working in oil and gas, he was able to acquire more.

“While I was certainly paid well enough to begin accumulating this mass of arcade cabinets, I didn’t have time to play them very often,” Steve said.

“I would be working in the basement and would just turn them on and listen to them make their bleeps and bloops.

“That was pretty calming and cheered me up.”

The pandemic came along and shook up priorities.

“Part of it is during COVID, it was clear to me I really needed to do something different,” Smith said. “That was when I decided it was really time to make a change.”

Visiting the arcade days after opening, Sky Hrycyk brought his young daughter in to experience the games of his youth.

“It’s a pretty awesome experience actually – she’s used to the new technology, where this is bringing old school back to life,” Hrycyk said, having just finished a round of the 1991 Simpsons arcade by Konami.

Also playing a big part of their business model is escape rooms, with two under construction: a fantasy dungeon themed room and a witch themed room.

As escape room regulars themselves, Gina said the aim is to maintain atmosphere.

“We tried to make them as immersive as possible, so that you really feel like you’re somewhere else,” said Gina.  

Given the size of their commercial bay, the rooms are geared more towards smaller groups of three to five compared to some of the larger ones.

The rooms are expected to be completed by the beginning of February.

That portion of the business was also born out of love for the hobby, as the two build haunted houses for trick-or-treaters each year and are avid escapists themselves.

“We just kept doing more and more escape rooms every time we would go somewhere," Gina said. "We decided that would be something to complement the arcade."

There's also a sci-fi themed party room, which entertained a birthday on its opening night and re-introduced a whole new generation to the joy of beating an arcade game in front of friends.

“There was nothing better than watching a nine-year-old playing Simpsons on the weekend, and all his party guests are surrounding him,” Gina said. “Then he beats the boss and the cheers go up.”

Getting the old arcade cabinets up and running, many with original hardware cannibalized from other games, is a game of its own.

“You just do a whole lot of Facebook questioning and online research,” Steve said. “You learn to just figure things out.”

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Brent Calver

About the Author: Brent Calver

Award-winning photojournalist for the Western Wheel newspaper covering Okotoks and the Foothills region.
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