A Pittsburgh founder has the ear of a one of the world’s top tech executives.
Last week, Schell Games founder and CEO Jesse Schell sat down with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg to discuss Project Cambria, a new high-end VR headset the tech giant has in development as part of its broader effort to increase product development and business in the metaverse after its rebranding last year. The two also discussed Presence Platform, a mixed reality experience platform for the Oculus Quest headset that Meta announced in October 2021.
Founded in 2002, Schell Games is one of the top gaming tech companies in Pittsburgh, a heavyweight in a growing community that also features startups like video game coaching firm Metafy, which raised a $25 million Series A at the start of this year. Currently, Schell Games’ portfolio of original virtual reality games include I Expect You to Die, Among Us VR (launching later this year), Lost Recipes and Until You Fall.
Schell himself has long been a pioneer in the world of VR technology. Prior to coming to Pittsburgh and launching Schell Games, he worked as the creative director of the Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio and was previously the chair of the International Game Developers Association. He’s also a distinguished professor of the practice of entertainment at Carnegie Mellon University.
In his conversation with Zuckerberg, Schell shared footage from a new game demo, Home Sweet Home, that uses Meta’s Presence Platform and its passthrough and spatial anchors capabilities to turn Schell Games’ I Expect You to Die into an augmented reality experience.
“The thing that I love about the Presence Platform is this ability to kind of move back and forth between VR and AR experiences. Some of the early augmented reality platforms that have come out, they involve just this little postage of stamp that you could look at,” Schell said during the conversation. “But when you take the VR and AR and bring them together, now you have the ability to kind of just start with a VR experience that you know is solid and then be able to bring in a reality to it. To be able to choose when to do that, when not to do that is great because it lets you kind of get the best of both.”
The two went on to talk about Project Cambria, which Zuckerberg noted will have several new sensors, including depth sensors and high-resolution color outward-facing cameras to create a color pass-through experience. In the future though, Schell shared that he’d like to see Meta develop capabilities to both detect and augment human elements in the room, whether it’s for people themselves or objects that involve interactions with people, like furniture. That, he said, is where the line between virtual and non-virtual reality will start to blur in a really cool way.
Interestingly, Zuckerberg and Schell agreed that they’ve seen more excitement around the augmented reality space than the virtual reality one, and are hopeful that use of the tech overall will become more common as augmented reality headsets and tools become readily available and accessible.
“I didn’t understand this for a while,” Schell said of the interest in augmented reality over virtual reality. “But the more I spent time talking to people, [I realized] that augmented reality says, ‘no we’re going to bring virtual objects into the room, in the space with you,’ which for a lot of people is a much more comfortable experience.”
Augmented reality allows people to remain connected to the space and people and objects around them, while virtual reality is typically a total departure of those things. Zuckerberg didn’t miss the chance to note Meta’s ongoing augmented reality work, called Project Nazare — a set of augmented reality glasses that aren’t expected to hit the market for a few more years. He and Schell both shared hope that customers will be more willing to adopt augmented reality tech even if they’re hesitant to take on virtual reality tech that’s available today.Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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