Three months ago, development studio Valve shocked the video game
community by firing somewhere around twenty-five of its staff - an incident referred to by one of the employees as "the great cleansing." In order to assuage the concerns of the studio's fans, Valve founder Gabe Newell - affectionately dubbed "Gaben" by many in the industry - quickly assured everyone that the organization wouldn't be cancelling any projects; it'd be business as usual for Valve.
As it turns out, that wasn't entirely true. At the time of the cleansing, there was a peripheral in development at Valve: a pair of augmented reality glasses secretly being built by two engineers at the studio. When those engineers found themselves among the employees fired by the organization, they took the glasses with them.
"We believed in it...that this is going to change the way that people interact with computers and played games," explained former Valve hardware engineer Jeri Ellsworth. "This is what I'm going to build come hell or high water. It was just a no-brainer that when we were not at Valve, we just had to do it."
Along with former programmer Rick Johnson - who he'd been working with on the project for well over a year when the two were still at Valve - Ellsworth formed an organization known as Technical Illusions, with the intent of commercializing the technology, known as CastAR.
Of course, AR and VR glasses are hardly anything new to the technologically inclined. Consumer AR is already handled by Google Glass and its ilk, while the Oculus Rift has a pretty good handle on virtual reality. CastAR, though...it's different. If this catches on, it's got the potential to blow even the Rift clear out of the water.
The CastAR glasses have a pair of miniature projectors attached to them. These projectors beam images from a connected PC onto a special reflective projector screen (which is separate from the glasses). The glasses themselves filter out images for the left and right eyes; a virtual reality mode blocks out everything not related to the images being displayed. Last, but certainly not least, a camera built into the glasses tracks the exact position of your head to allow the software to adjust the 3Dperspective in realtime. The glasses are configured so that they can work with multiple screens.
"If you really wanted to go crazy," mused Ellsworth, "you could even turn an entire room into a holodeck."
Basically, they're closer to true virtual reality than anything we've seen yet. Players wearing the glasses can move around the room at their leisure, and multiple people can wear multiple pairs of glasses with each person being granted their own perspective. Last, but certainly not least, the glasses can be used to augment a wearer's field of vision.
This project is definitely going to happen. Two days ago, Ellsworth and Johnson took their project to Kickstarter. It's already blown well past its $400,000 goal, with almost a full month left to go.
The primary focus of CastAR isn't gaming, but rather experiences such as Dungeons & Dragons. Imagine, if you would, a game of D&D in which players could see the walls, their health, and the monsters. Imagine a game of D&D which makes the players feel as though they're actually in the game.
The basic package will cost $189 and include the glasses and a single reflective board. Additional peripherals include a device known as the Magic Wand (a pointing device able to interact with the environment projected by the glasses). Those of you who'd care to donate to the Kickstarter can go here.