Berkeley-based startup More Equal Studios demos new virtual reality game

More Equal Studios/Courtesy

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More Equal Studios, a Berkeley-based startup, showcased a demo of an elemental manipulation virtual reality, or VR, game to more than 50 community members at the Virtual Experience Convention, or VXPC, held on campus Oct. 8.

The game, Project Aether, was inspired by the cartoon show “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and allows players to use the company’s new gesture recognition system to control earth, water, fire and wind in the simulation. The six-member team at More Equal Studios, composed entirely of campus alumni, has been working on the project for approximately three months and hopes to make the game available via Steam Early Access by March 2017.

“Our gesture recognition system is completely new to the industry,” said Zain Nayer, co-founder of More Equal Studios. “It is driven by a complex machine learning algorithm, allowing for more immersive controls than simple button clicks.”

Nayer and his team allowed each player to test the demo for five minutes, in which they battled groups of simulated archers.

“(At the convention) we received a lot of positive reception for the demo,” Nayer said. “Our immediate goal is to develop a polished and complete gaming experience. … Our emphasis on natural gesture controls will allow viewers who have never even tried the game to understand and enjoy watching it.”

The convention was organized by the campus student group Virtual Reality at Berkeley in an attempt to increase public awareness of VR and allow attendees at the event to examine demos from start to finish.

“Out of all the amazing demos available during the VXPC, one that might have caught the eye of a virtual reality enthusiast would have been Sony’s (PlayStation) VR,” said Jesse Paterson, events manager at Virtual Reality at Berkeley. “Project Aether is still in the early stages, but it shows great promise.”

According to Paterson, Virtual Reality at Berkeley also works on augmented reality, or AR, projects and often collaborates with the Center of Augmented Cognition.

“The advantage of AR over VR is that AR can actually use the power of modern cellphones. AR requires a presence and place, so you have to have the reality in front of you,” said Richard Koci Hernandez, member of the Center of Augmented Cognition. “VR is getting most of the attention right now, but the reality is that AR will surpass VR and will probably be first to be adopted at a mass scale.”

Nayer said More Equal Studios believes VR will soon be the most compelling platform for eSports and that it intends to host tournaments allowing players to compete against each on stage in front of a live audience.

“Imagine a MMA fight, but instead of throwing punches, the competitors are throwing fireballs at each other,” Nayer said.

Contact Parth Vohra at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @ParthVohra622.