Images from the locally-designed virtual reality game The Gallery: Six Elements

Stepping into the virtual action in Qualicum Beach

Digital arts studio set to open in March at train station

There are big things stirring in the video game world, and local designers hope to be at the forefront.

High on the list of contenders is The Gallery: Six Elements, a virtual reality game being designed by Qualicum Beach’s Denny Unger and his CloudHead Games team.

While virtual reality (VR) — usually involving a video headset that puts you in the action — has been promised for decades, there is a lot of buzz about the new Oculus Rift VR platform which may finally reach affordability with graphics that meet the high modern standards.

Jared Shaw, another local digital media expert suggests, like many, that the Oculus VR system is on the verge of overtaking the big home gaming consoles like Play Station and X-Box, and The Element will be one of the first games available.

That would be a huge boost for Unger and his small company that has been working on the graphic heavy adventure game with funding pieced together from many sources including a Kickstart campaign where they have raised $82,000 from more than 1,500 online backers.

Shaw, who moved to Qualicum Beach two years ago when he could have gone anywhere, said like many he chose the area for the lifestyle and with modern technology he’s able to continue working with companies in Silicon Valley and around the world.

But like Shaw and Unger, people working in video games and other high level digital work still benefit from interacting with others in their industry, which is where Qualicum Beach’s Digital Arts Studio comes in.

Last September town council asked staff to develop a co-working space for digital industry talent in the train station for a one year trial.

Patricia Huntsman, the town’s cultural development and communications consultant said the idea came partly from last year’s digital media symposium which attracted more than 140 people including huge figures like Jason Kapalka, who’s PopCap Games (which developed Bejeweled) sold to Electronic Arts for $750 million in 2011 and Syd Mead who did the concept art for many films including Blade Runner, Aliens, Tron and Elysium.

Shaw, who has been a key volunteer in the town’s studio project, said they were also inspired by big digital media events like Victoria’s famous Orca Jam video game designer conference and saw this as a kind of ongoing event.

“When you put people together great things can develop,” Shaw said of the studio they plan to open in March.

He added that while game design can seem like solitary work, they often get together in coffee shops or public places to discuss projects and the studio will give them a place to do that and set up a bit longer term.

He said he imagines the studio eventually developing into an educational centre and showcase to entice more computer companies and individuals to the area.

While people wait for the digital studio in March, The Gallery: Six Elements will be introduced to local audiences next Tuesday, Jan. 21 at the Qualicum Beach Lefty’s Food from 5-8 p.m. For more check their extensive website at www.thegallerygame.com.

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