Ready Player One: How Microsoft Brought New Meaning to Arcade Games with Mixed Reality

 |   Kayla Carmicheal, Microsoft Garage Intern

Massachusetts is one of the country’s oldest states, owning a long list of fruitful identifiers. A deeper lifeline of Massachusetts is innovation, the heart of invention. Academics, engineers, experimenters, and creators are rich within the population, all with a desire to achieve. At Microsoft, employees are dedicated to the spirit of creation that enforces coming together, and this was shown in a project for Boston TechJam.

Microsoft’s NERD (New England Research & Development) Center, located in Cambridge, Mass., is proud to be part of Massachusetts’ rich history of creation and innovation. NERD’s Garage space, launched this April, is a place where employees can work on projects meaningful to them, inspire others, and achieve more. For those willing to create, the Garage is home base, as it was for the Commercial Software Engineering team after deciding to work on a project for Boston TechJam.

Boston TechJam is a summer collaboration celebration of technology as the bond that brings the city together. The event, now in its sixth year, is known for being a fun, inspiring, and inventive evening that showcases what tech companies, academic institutions, and so many more can achieve. Because of its dedication to achievement, technology, and community outreach, Microsoft was more than excited to participate in the festivities and hone in on the spirit of innovation.

“MArcade” was Microsoft’s contribution to TechJam, the virtual reality-infused result of a software development team effort led by Ben Greenier, software engineer.

“With VR and AR progressing…something I’ve been wanting to do for a while is bridge physical and digital. VR I think is a really good fit for that. It exists in the digital world, but it is also tied to the physical space around you,” Greenier said.

The idea is simple, taking a new spin on a retro concept. A Mixed Reality game was built into a classic arcade standup machine, providing a VR headset stealthily hidden within the “screen”.

“It’s a 6-foot cabinet, branded sides, and a screen that folds up and is powered by an actuator.” Greenier said. “So if you’re looking at an actual arcade cabinet, the front on the screen comes up and there’s a cavern underneath, and the VR headset comes up that the player can take out and use.”

By “reaching into the past and grabbing the future”, users experience a new world. The MArcade enables the community to discover a realm of possibilities — much like what happens in the Garage, where the assembly of the machine took place.

“We heavily modified the internals, wired up all the actuators and Arduino system, which powers the whole interactive element,” explains Greenier. The team also utilized the Garage’s vinyl cutter to incorporate branding on the machine’s external surfaces.

Greenier and his team had 72 hours to build. With such a small time frame, there were many obstacles that popped up during, but the Garage’s atmosphere of employees empowering each other and perseverance carried through to TechJam and helped the project to completion.

“Christian on my team helped me with a lot of last minute wood-working we had to do to anchor the actuator into position and basically adjust heights and make sure everything was physically right.” Greenier mentioned about the importance of teamwork.

By working long hours up until the very last possible second, the MArcade was completed and ready for its debut at TechJam. Though nerves were buzzing, the long lines and positive reviews were quickly dispelling. The community was enthralled by the vibrant machine and accessible design.

“Part of the reason we built that first experience to be pretty ambient is because if you put someone in a new world with a new way of interacting with things, they’re like, super overwhelmed. When you can see someone who’s new to it get overwhelmed at how cool the tech is, I think that’s why I work on this tech,” Greenier said.

Microsoft’s Hackathon is an answer to the overwhelming feeling of constantly being in wonder about tech. The 3-day event was created for Microsoft employees to bring their skills and ideas to the Garage and hack them out. Employees can create teams or work alone with a vision to bring the thrill of technology and innovation to millions. Visions that mirror the experiences amplified with the MArcade.

“People were like, ‘This is so much more immersive than I was expecting!’ and getting really into it. I really liked seeing that progression” Greenier said, remembering highlights.

After all, the spirit of Boston is fostered by new discoveries and implementation. The Garage was a facility built upon these principles, and MArcade is a channel of continuous learning, showing the capabilities of Windows Mixed Reality.

The MArcade now lives in NERD Garage. A perfect fit for our Reality Room within the makerspace, the game can now flourish among the other mixed and augmented reality devices, ready-to-use, innovate, and discover.
For more information about TechJam visit this website.