When author Neal Stephenson admitted his ambitious sword-fighting project Clang was never going to be completed, he promised that he was not ready to leave the gaming world just yet. Today, he’s shown up somewhere new: Magic Leap, a company that is working to bring Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality to life.
Stephenson wrote a lengthy welcome letter on the Magic Leap blog, describing the day four men appeared on his doorstep clutching Thorin Oakenshield’s sword Orcrist.
It’s not every day that someone turns up at your house bearing a mythic sword, and so I did what anyone who has read a lot of fantasy novels would: I let them in and gave them beer. True to form, they invited me on a quest and asked me to sign a contract (well, an NDA actually).
After the NDA, Stephenson signed up to be the company’s Chief Futurist, promising something big. While the technology will not be used exclusively for video games, Stephenson says that gaming is “a good place to start talking about why this tech is different”. He’s also predicting applications for Magic Leap for “readers, learners, scientists and artists”.
But what is Magic Leap working on? Stephenson explains, vaguely:
Magic Leap is mustering an arsenal of techniques–some tried and true, others unbelievably advanced–to produce a synthesized light field that falls upon the retina in the same way as light reflected from real objects in your environment. Depth perception, in this system, isn’t just a trick played on the brain by showing it two slightly different images.
Predictably, it’s a complicated process, involving both biology (an “intimate understanding of how the eye sees”) and applied physics, two realms that Stephenson finds fascinating – and ones that he hopes he can share with the general public.
I sometimes feel that the creative minds who make games have done about as much as is possible in two dimensions. It’s hard to imagine how the current crop of games, for example, could be more finely tuned to deliver that particular kind of entertainment. It feels like the right time to give those people a new medium: one in which three-dimensionality is a reality and not just an illusion laboriously cooked up by your brain, and in which it’s possible to get up off the couch and move–not only around your living room, but wherever on the face of the earth the story might take you. Making such games is not going to be a matter of porting existing ones to the new system. It’s going to mean redefining the medium from the ground up.
Like Clang, Stephenson is embarking on an ambitious project, with no guarantees. Still, the author behind the concept of the Metaverse is arguably one of the best people to have on board, as a part of the team of developers, application wizards, game developers, story-tellers, musicians, and artists… we eagerly await the next update from Magic Leap.