By most accounts, it’s been a breakout year for both augmented and virtual reality, attracting something like $2 billion in investment.
This grouping of technologies that add to or replace a user’s field of vision with a mix of hardware and software is cresting into that special place where enough high-profile efforts are bringing it all mainstream. In Baltimore, a region aflutter with game developers and designers, a tech community is incubating its own movement.
One of those gatherings is the nearly year-old BmoreVR meetup, led by Will Gee, the founder of development studio Balti Visual (the firm’s HoloTats are up for a Baltimore Innovation Award this year).
On Tuesday night, for Baltimore Innovation Week 2016 presented by 14 West, more than 150 people stormed the historic extension of Living Classrooms in Harbor East to see an array of locally built displays on offer. Gee, with help from Enradius staffer Nicole Wright and others, led the journey.
This reporter walked through the space, with a still growing crowd, and played with a handful of VR experiences. Here are notes on five of the game developers on display.
At 23, Russell Allen may have been the youngest of the event’s developers.
Last summer, the University of Baltimore senior (now at Shady Grove) was the lead developer on a 10-person student team that launched DEL:VR, a super simple point-and-click augmented reality game. His teammates all graduated, so now Allen has inherited its future. This beta version is available as an Android app, among the simpler ways of getting a game into a virtual reality headset. In the game, you are walking through an apartment searching for found objects (a pair of crutches here, a fire extinguisher there). There is plenty of room to experiment.
“Design is so important for VR,” said Allen. He was also showing off Wildfire VR, a game he helped develop at a game jam that earned a chance to be displayed at an event at the Smithsonian, Allen said. He made with, among others, Chau Tran, who was on-hand (and is behind him in the photo above). In it, you’re fighting a wildfire by directing a hose. Below, watch his original pitch for the game.
- Seven Hills Games
Unveiled at the #BIW16 kickoff on Friday, Greg Aring of Seven Hills Games was showing off his totally addictive home run derby game (this reporter did his best with nine home runs at the kickoff). Aring is among Maryland’s earliest stars of augmented reality.
Here's @earthborngames demoing at the AR/VR Meetup from @BaltiVirtual during @binnovationweek #BIW16 pic.twitter.com/6fKyZHUXse
— Technical.ly Baltimore (@TechnicallyBMR) September 27, 2016
- Earthborn Interactive
With a screen for looker-on playback, Hadar Silverman had one of the more advanced AR games to play. In it, you’re battling skeletons.
- Digital History Studios
A quirk among the rest, Robert Cloutier is an animator with a speciality in historical visualization. Find him at 3DHistory.com. Based in Annapolis, he was showing off an on-going demo reel he updates that shows his work, and had users spinning in front of his display table. See a version of that demo reel below.
- Molecular Jig Games
If you’re looking for one of those lovely little examples of the intersectionality of gaming, find Melanie Stegman. The biochemist is the D.C. chairperson for the local International Game Developers Association (lovingly known as IGDA around the world). She had two games on display. First was her Immune Defense, a biochemistry strategy game that is “a year and a half past its deadline” from her original goal for launch she promised her Indiegogo backers (you can demo it here or watch the trailer below).
Advice for other game developers using crowdfunding?
“Don’t get a year and a half past your deadline,” she said with a sheepish laugh. “But really, you need to have a real, truly scoped project that has a realistic deadline.” Even if it’s a longer-term deadline than you might want to admit at the start, she said.
Now she’s on track: the game is planned to launch March 2017 on tablets, she said. Stegman, friendly and welcoming, was also showing off her Cell Runner, a virtual reality game launching this month.
Stegman is among a patchwork of connectors between the D.C.-Baltimore gaming community, ensuring there’s coordination and event support.
Watch her speak in Seattle in 2014 about Immune Defense below.
Also exhibiting were Jon Powell and Brian Mahoney from LookOn Media and Chris Wren from WrenAR.
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