Philadelphia. A city known for brotherly love, cheesesteaks, and
murder soft pretzels is also home to a game development non-profit, Philadelphia Game Lab. They focus on small-team game creation and game technology, like using virtual reality devices such as the Oculus Rift. I had the opportunity recently to try their virtual reality game, Third Eye at a local event. The game shifted my entire position on virtual reality games. I love them! I spoke with Karan Parikh, the 23-year old, 2014 Drexel graduate responsible for Third Eye. Check out our conversation below!
Where are you from? Philly? Jersey?
I’m actually born and raised in Mumbai, in India. And then I came to Drexel [University] after that. I transferred to Drexel in my junior year. Before that I went to Manipal University in India.
What was your major?
I majored in Electrical Engineering.
How did you go from electrical engineering to working with games?
Even now I think I want to create experiences more than games. The game I’m working on right now, Third Eye, revolves around sensors and biofeedback. I’ve been using devices like the Microsoft Kinect v2. I wouldn’t call myself a gamer. I’m a bit of an anomaly because I come to gaming obviously from a very different background than most people. I did end up taking a lot of programming courses at Drexel and that’s something that I really enjoyed so gaming is also a lot of programming so that’s something I enjoy. That’s another reason why I see myself in gaming world today.
When did you join Philadelphia Game Lab?
I joined Philly Game Lab last April and it was during my co-op at Drexel, which is a little like an internship but you also get college credits. After my co-op I was offered a full-time job at Philly Game Lab.
What is your role there?
I am the lead immersive game developer at Game Lab. I look at all things to do with virtual reality, sensors, and augmented reality. I’ve also been instrumental in starting other projects related to audio technology.
Yes, I heard you guys were working on a project revolving around sound called Sonic?
Sonic is a library we’re developing, an open-source library, to have game designers and musicians access. We’re essentially creating tools to help people incorporate audio into games and experiences. I started working on Sonic before I came up with the idea for Third Eye.
How did you come up with the idea for Third Eye?
I came up with the idea halfway through my co-op at Drexel. Microsoft Kinect had a developer program before the device launched into the market so we were fortunate enough to be a part of that program. I was doing research for the Kinect at that point and seeing what’s possible and how we can use this device differently. I realized that there were no meditation experiences. My mother is actually a yoga teacher so the idea for meditation kind of came from her. I’ve always looked up to her and have seen how meditation helps in her day to day life. I always wondered if we could incorporate this into some sort of game or virtual reality experience. Another influence was the art by Alex Grey. I really like his art and his vision. That was another influence for the look and feel of the game.
Garden of the Third Eye is an immersive game. How is that different from other games?
The biggest difference is the way you end up interacting with the game itself. There’s no controller in this game. It is your body that is controlling things directly. It’s a gesture-based game. So the Kinect is able to register gestures and we have a whole gesture database created for this game. The second difference is the virtual reality experience. It slows you down. You’re catapulted into an alternate reality. The third difference is the biofeedback element which is not found in too many other games. We use a heart rate monitor that we’ve created. It’s your heart rate that affects things around you in the game. That’s another key difference.
What’s the goal of the game?
One of the goals of the game is conscious relaxation. The first level is pretty calm and serene; it relaxes you. The second and third level, we try to recreate events that would cause a spike in your heart rate or make you anxious or somehow make you lose your focus. Your goal is at all times to remain focused physically and mentally. Physically because your posture is being tracked in real time. There are events that make you lose your balance. If you remember, at the end of the first level, the raft you’re sitting in starts to rise. A lot of people have a fear of heights, so this could help you conquer fears at the same time.
What’s it like working with Oculus Rift?
It’s amazing. It’s a device that is going to change the way we play games. It’s never been so consumer friendly like the Oculus Rift or the Morpheus. With so many new devices coming to the market I’m sure that consumers will have a lot of choice. This is going to be a whole new beginning.
What is your goal for Garden of Third Eye?
The immediate goal is to port to PlayStation 4. We’ve recently signed up for their developer program and we’re waiting for our PS4 development kit and Morpheus to get here. Morpheus is like the Oculus Rift, it’s another head-mounted display. We want to port to the PS4 so hopefully more people can experience this. That’s one of the immediate goals that should be done by June or July 2015. In the long run we want more people to have this experience. We’re looking at doing a lot of installations. We were at Design Philly, Young Involved Philadelphia, Love Fest, and we’re always looking for investing events. If everything works out we’re going to be at E3 this June. So that’s why we’re working with PS4 so people can try it at E3 with Morpheus.
Will Philadelphia Game Lab games be available for mass consumption?
That’s not the immediate goal yet. We have no immediate goals to get these out to the market yet. One reason is due to hardware limitations. The devices we need are not available on a consumer level. Like the heart rate monitor we’re using right now is still a prototype.
Where do you want to be in 5 years?
I like the direction I’m headed in right now. I see myself working with new devices. I always want to be working in a division where I get access to new technology before it reaches consumers. I’m very fortunate that I get to do that at Philly Game Lab. I’d really like to be here for another five years and push the company forward and make sure we’re doing good research and creating great applications that people can use with these devices. Third Eye is an experieence for meditation and I think there are so many instances where the virtual world and physical world can merge. I think of other applications like martial arts, I’m really interested in that. I’d like to see a whole gesture-based martial arts game with devices like the Kinect. Instead of pressing buttons on a controller you’re actually punching, kicking, etc.
What are your favorite games?
I think my all-time favorite is Crash Bandicoot. I’m also a huge Tekken fan. I played a lot of Tekken 3 back in the day.
Xbox or PS?
World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy?
World of Warcraft
Donkey Kong or Sonic?
Nintendo DS or GameBoy?
Star Wars or Star Trek?