THE VIRTUSPHERE, pictured above, allows players to walk through virtual-reality worlds like the one created by New England Institute of Technology student Naveed Sameja, his classmate and his professor, which was on display at the school’s booth at the PAX East gaming convention in Boston last weekend.
BOSTON – The New England Institute of Technology showcased student-designed video games harnessing the power of virtual reality at the annual Penny Arcade Expo gaming convention held in Boston April 11-13.
The VirtuSphere, a 10-foot hollow sphere that rotates in any direction like a three-dimensional treadmill, allows the user to walk through virtual worlds while wearing a head-mounted virtual-reality display. The headset was designed by Irvine, Calif.-based Oculus VR, which funded the first Oculus Rift developer kits through a Kickstarter campaign before being acquired by Facebook last month for $2 billion.
Collecting data on the player’s movement in real time, the VirtuSphere then replicates that movement within the virtual environment of a game. The VirtuSphere itself was designed by Ray and Nurulla Latypov of Binghamton, N.Y.-based VirtuSphere Inc. and has served as a training tool for military, counter-terrorism units, police and firefighters. It was New England Tech students, however, who used an Oculus Rift kit to create the game on display in the VirtuSphere at the school’s PAX East booth.
Strapping the Oculus Rift onto his or her head, the player steps into a virtual world – a dark copse of crooked, spindly trees enclosed by a ring of white mountains. It is a dim, night-time world, but weaving among the trees are formless beings of golden light, so close as to seem within reach. The player lurches forward in the VirtuSphere a little awkwardly, knowing the creatures are an illusion like everything else here, but the game and the virtual-reality display work their spell well enough to make the player believe it might be possible to catch the light-orbs with outstretched hands.
“We needed a game that would showcase the school very well and be short and fun to allow many people to try it,” said Naveed Sameja, one of the students who designed the game, in an email interview. “My group had come up with freeze tag, and that was the concept of the project. Unfortunately, we needed to discourage people from running in the VirtuSphere, so we changed the concept to collecting orbs and exploring the level.”
The game Sameja created with fellow student Harold Ramsay III and their instructor, Assistant Professor DJ Johnson, was not the only Oculus-inspired game on display at PAX East, but it was the only one displayed via the VirtuSphere, and the number of gamers and prospective students who signed up for a chance to experience the virtual reality – what many industry experts have hailed as the future of gaming – far exceeded the number New England Tech could accommodate during the three-day convention.
“This was the first time I ever used/developed for the Oculus Rift,” said Sameja. “I was excited that we were going to be working on this game utilizing it. I feel like this is going to be the future of video games.”
This year was New England Tech’s first as an exhibitor at PAX East, part of an initiative to attract new students to the school’s Game Development and Simulation Programming Technology and Video Game Design Technology programs. New England Tech was the only Rhode Island school represented at PAX East, one of the largest video game conventions in the country that this year attracted about 70,000 game enthusiasts and industry representatives.
For more information about New England Tech’s game-design degrees, visit neit.edu.