The most unusual meeting that I had at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) video game trade show was with Martin Kenright, the founder of Starship. In our brief half hour, the creator of the Motorstorm racing games showed me a vision for the future that was truly ambitious. It wants to disrupt video games, cooking, and health lifestyle apps.
The London-based company has its roots in hardcore video games. Kenright founded Evolution Studios to make racing games like Wipeout and Formula 1, and he sold it to Sony in 2007. He retired and sat on the sidelines for a while and watched the hardcore game industry become narrower and more polarized. But in 2013, he decided to try something altogether new.
“I thought about what would happen if we took some of the best gaming talent and moved into different sectors,” Kenright said in an interview with GamesBeat. “I don’t know whether it’s brilliant or folly. I’ll let the market decide. We wanted to create something for children, for mothers and wives, and for elderly people.”
Call it gamification, or the use of game mechanics in non-game applications. Or something like that. The most familiar project for gamers is Playworld, a mobile app for children that encourages them to create their own worlds. Kids ages five and up can create their own crafts using a tablet’s touchscreen. They can use it to cut out a super hero mask and then assemble a full uniform. Then they can fly around in the world in an Iron Man style jet suit.
“Children have forgotten how to be creative, a little bit,” he said. “When we were kids, we would dress up. We want to encourage that. Adults might see a cardboard box. But children might see super heroes.”
You can pretty much craft anything. To enable that, Kenright’s team built an awesome 3D game engine that can generate animations on a tablet at 60 frames per second, or as fast as the speediest console games. They started with the Unity 3D game engine, but modified it with a lot of custom code.
Playworld Super Heroes will come out on iOS and Android in the fourth quarter. It will also be modified for virtual reality platforms in the future, as those systems launch.
“I think of it as a console-killing intellectual property,” Kenright said. “We are aiming to produce some of the best 3D out there. It’s a little bit of The Matrix for children.”
He added, “We’re treating kids like young adults. And our only competitors are Marvel and DC.” It will start out as an app, and then will evolve into its own virtual world.
Kenright’s team is also creating CyberCook, an interactive cookery platform. Featuring the world’s first “hyperrealistic and time-sensitive cooking simulation,” CyberCook is a next-generation ecosystem for cookery, based around 3D animations, rather than video imagery of cooking.
With CyberCook, you see a fully functional stove with burners and an oven, all rendered as 3D animation. You can then start pulling out food ingredients by moving your fingers across the touchscreen. Then you can slice them up and throw them into a skillet. You cook them in a realistic fashion, and then see how it turns out.
“We believe this is the first true temperature and time-controlled simulation of cooking,” Kenright said. “We have a matrix of what happens when you cook foods and mix them together. It’s the world’s first virtual kitchen.”
If you cook something too long, it will burn. Undercook it and it will be raw. The only thing you can’t do is eat it.
But Kenright believes it is a great way to learn to cook. For instance, the tablet keeps exact track of the ingredients that you use and how much of them. It thus keeps a record of what you have done. It saves the physics of cooking and the inputs. Each 3D food object is designed to have the real characteristics of the real world food. So far, there are six oils and bases and hundreds of different ingredients.
“It’s wonderfully simple, and it all comes from our gaming heritage,” Kenright said.
So CyberCook keeps a perfect recipe of your dish. If the simulated food looks like it turned out well, you can then share the recipe with others. And they can use it the recipe to cook real food. If it turns out good, they can rate your recipe. The user doesn’t have to keep track of the ingredients, as the app does that itself. And the user doesn’t have to type up a recipe, as the app keeps it in memory.
“It’s like having a cook next to you when you get the recipe, and we’re using everything we know about physics and rendering,” Kenright said. “There are opportunities for product placement and new virtual channels for fulfilling those recipes, like grocery stores.”
CyberCook can sort the best virtual cooks via a ranking system. Over time, Starship can create its own virtual cookbooks.
CyberCook is also slated to come out in the fourth quarter of 2014 on smartphones and tablets.
“What we are trying to disrupt the whole cookbook and TV cooking genre,” Kenright said.
The third project at Starship is the e-health and lifestyle product Forget-Me-Not, a memory aid with multiple patents pending, which Kenwright describes as a “wearable second brain.” You can use it to track objects and, through something like Google Glass, ask the software to remember something that you are looking at. It can replay them when you look them again and the app will tell you. It can work with any wearable device or tracking camera.
“In five years, I fully expect memory aids to be as ubiquitous as hearing aids,” says Kenwright. “We’re now in a position where we’re waiting for the hardware to catch up with what we’ve created. We need the use of low-energy chipsets in the wearables sector to increase massively before the true power of Forget-Me-Not can be fully realized.”
Kenright said that virtual reality applications of these IPs are very much a part of the studio’s future plans.
“It’s a memory aid,” Kenright said.
There’s a fourth project in the works, but Kenright isn’t talking about that yet. All he will say is that it is a virtual reality application for boys. Everything is self-funded.
Starship launched in 2013 and has 20 employees. Altogether, the people on the team have shipped more than 69 games. But this new project seems like their most ambitious to date. Starship is seeking partners.
As for the game industry, Kenright said, “I stepped back in 2007. I feel like only six months have passed since I left. Only the blood is better in games. It’s a race to the bottom among the hardcore game companies. I’m contrarian. We can use gamification to disrupt other sectors. We can go from the least loved to the most loved overnight. We have to take the blinkers off. We are on the verge of something remarkable.”