From humble beginnings making retail display units, Kenzan Studios has set its sights on becoming a leading player in the world of creative content development. The path it has chosen to take in order to achieve this? Virtual reality (VR).
“The company exists for ten years now, and originally did glass cabinets for luxury products; watches fashion etc. Holographic imagery, a kind of an augmented reality, to sell customers to that shop,” stated Ronny Tobler, CEO of Kenzan Studios, in an interview with VRFocus. “The logical step for our studio which does creative content development and also CGI imagery was to take on virtual and augmented reality.”
It may be somewhat of a leap to have faith in Tobler’s train of thought – after all, the transition from passive viewing to interactive entertainment is much greater than simply swapping one digital display for another – however the development team’s comprehension and excitement for new technology is what drives the studio.
“You would not believe what happens when we get a new ‘toy’!” offers Dr. Marios Karragiannis, senior developer at Kenzan Studios, clearly excited by the opportunity to work in a new medium. “We’re doing something that people, for sure, have not done yet. And I’m sure might not do any time soon… we may be the first and only studio in Europe who has this.”
Karragiannis is referring to Noitom’s Project Alice, a multi-user VR solution utilising motion capture, physical props and a large tracking space. It’s this technology that gave rise to the Kenzan Arena franchise, recently announced by Kenzan Studios at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality (SVVR) Conference & Expo 2017. Kenzan Arena is an out-of-home multiplayer VR solution that utilises PC backpacks to deliver a free-roaming VR experience.
Several titles are in the works for Kenzan Arena, but the most exciting is arguably The Lost Pit; a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter which is directly targeting the eSports audience.
“The gameplay is very simple. It’s shoot, kill and capture,” states Milan Ivanov, creative producer at Kenzan Studios. “You have to teleport from platform-to-platform; there’s one certain platform which is the platform to catch.”
The Lost Pit will launch as both an out-of-home experience via Kenzan Arena, but will also be made available on Steam to play at home. The idea behind this being that players could practice at home, before travelling to a full-scale set-up for tournaments.
“There’s no big game like this yet,” adds Tobler. “When we envision our Kenzan Arena franchise it needs to apply for adults, but it also needs to apply for businesses. We need to set a certain bar when you have a shooter game.”
VRFocus has gone into some detail hypothesising the future of The Lost Pit in a recent preview, and also touched on the other big title heading to Kenzan Arena: EnigmAttic VR. This second title is co-operative puzzle videogame designed for teams of players. Each player uses a backpack PC, Oculus Rift and a physical wand tracked within the Project Alice volume.
“Each of the players is actually a historical figure,” reveals Karragiannis. “They use the physical objects to solve a puzzle inside the virtual world.
“There is a huge table; in VR you could actually walk through the table. In this system you cannot because there’s an actual physical table where the virtual one is, which really adds to the experience. You can touch the virtual table.”
This blending of real and virtual isn’t new. Canadian studio Artanim showcased something similar at SIGGRAPH 2015, and of course companies such as The Void are making it their raison d’etre. However, producing such an experience on the mass scale that Kenzan Studios are aiming for is definitely unique.
Kenzan Studios’ array of VR titles will be experienced by 2 million people through Coop’s 2017 Virtual Reality Roadshow this year, according to the company, and the Kenzan Arena franchise is ready to roll-out internationally shortly thereafter. Whether or not Kenzan Studios can achieve its lofty goals – mass market penetration, eSports recognition, worldwide out-of-home installations – remains to be seen, but the latter half of 2017 will undoubtedly be an exciting time for the 40 employees of the Swiss company.