Hidden away on Los Angeles’s west side is a little-known lab that is changing the nature of video games. The University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies is best known for launching the Oculus Rift headset and for groundbreaking work with Google Glass and Internet videos. Now a new startup with ICT roots has received $4 million in funding—and plans to use it to make video games a full-body experience.
Survios is a gaming company dedicated to creating hardware and software for what founder James Illiff calls "full-motion virtual reality"—video games and interactive worlds where a participant walks, jumps, and climbs through a computer program. Venture capital firm Shasta Ventures led a $4 million investment round yesterday; the startup itself comes out of ICT’s Project Holodeck. As the name implies, Project Holodeck is an attempt to build simulated realities that summon images of Star Trek’s on-board holodeck using off-the shelf, commercially available equipment.
"We build VR experiences that don’t tether you to a couch or chair," Illiff says. "In our games, you can reach behind your back and pull out an arrow, string it in a bow, and then fire the arrow. It feels natural and comfortable. You can pull out a sword, pump a shotgun, holster a pistol, there are a whole lot of visceral interactions you can do to make gaming more exciting."
As part of the $4 million funding round, Shasta partner Rob Coneybeer—a major early investor in home automation firm Nest—will join Survios’s board.
The company’s current hardware combines Oculus VR headsets with a positional tracker and Sixense controllers that let players manipulate in-game objects with their hands. Current demo games include a zombie shoot-em-up and an airship adventure game.
"A lot of interesting deep design is going into this," says Illiff. "If you want something that's like the holodeck or the Matrix, you really have to be able to use your body naturally. Not just use buttons."
The $4 million funding round will be used, in part, to make revisions and improvements to the company’s platform ahead of a commercial launch in 2015. What those will be is not clear yet—and Illiff wouldn't say. Game on.