Google-backed technology firm pulls out of TED conference talk but shares video of robot-blasting ‘game we’re playing around the office right now’
Magic Leap, the “cinematic reality” startup that raised $542m of funding from Google and other investors in 2014, has revealed one of its work-in-progress games in a video published on YouTube.
Its release came as the company’s chief executive Rony Abovitz cancelled a planned speech at the TED conference in Canada, while colleague Graeme Devine pulled out of an Ask Me Anything (AMA) interview on Reddit.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it to TED, but we wanted to share one of the things that we’d planned to share at the talk,” explained Magic Leap in the description for its new video, which shows an augmented reality game called Dr Grordbort presents Victory.
“This is a game we’re playing around the office right now,” added the listing, with the video indicating that the American firm produced the game with New Zealand-based creative studio Weta Workshop, which has worked on film franchises including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
The game is played with physical gun props and an (unseen) headset that overlays robot enemies on the real-world office, shot by pointing the gun and squeezing its trigger. “No robots were harmed in the making of this video,” quips the description.
It’s based on steampunk brand Dr Grordbort’s, which was created by Weta designer Greg Broadmore, and has spawned a book and several raygun models since 2007.
The video is one of the first detailed glimpses at what Magic Leap is working on since it completed its $542m Series B funding round in October 2014. Google led that round, with its senior vice president of Android, Chrome and apps Sundar Pichai joining the company’s board of directors.
Magic Leap is often described as a potential rival to Oculus Rift, the virtual reality firm bought by Facebook for $2bn in 2014.
However, there’s an important distinction: Magic Leap appears to be working on augmented reality (AR) – overlaying characters and data on the real world – rather than the entirely-virtual worlds provided by the Oculus Rift headset.
A recent profile by the MIT Technology Review described Magic Leap’s prototype product thus:
“I’m staring wide-eyed through a pair of lenses attached to what looks like metal scaffolding that towers over my head and contains a bunch of electronics and lenses. It’s an early prototype of the company’s so-called cinematic-reality technology, which makes it possible for me to believe that the muscular beast with the gruff expression and two sets of swinging arms is actually in the room with me, hovering about seven feet in front of my face.
He’s not just visible at a set distance. I’m holding a video-game controller that’s connected to the demo station, and at the press of a button I can make the monster smaller or larger, move him right or left, bring him closer, or push him farther away.”
Magic Leap is more of a direct rival for Microsoft’s Hololens, then, although some observers of the AR and VR worlds think they’ll ultimately merge, if headsets capable of both are released.
There remains the question of why Magic Leap pulled out of two planned public interviews before releasing its video demo. “I am unfortunately restricted from saying more than this right now,” the company’s spokesperson told Recode.
As that site hints, one reason for pulling public appearances at short notice would be if Magic Leap were about to be acquired. If so, Google would be the prime candidate, given its investment and board-level involvement in the company.